Monday, September 08, 2014

The Scottish Referendum on Independence

Indian media has so far maintained a surprising silence over a remarkable event unfolding in the United Kingdom, one that any country facing secession demands should be watching very intently. Even our Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj betrayed her complete ignorance of the issue when a British journalist asked for her comments.

Scottish voters go to polls in less than two weeks to give a yes or no answer to this question: 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' With opinion polls showing that the vote will go down the wire, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could soon see Scotland's secession, and become the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (how long Northern Ireland stays within the Union is also debatable). 

Of course regions have had referenda in the past to decide questions of secession. Quebec had one. Nehru promised one in Kashmir before circumstanced changed. What is especially interesting in the debates over Scotland is the prominence of the economic issues, with nationalistic jingoism rather muted. A taste of the concerns of the voters may be had from these two guides. The pound, welfare spending, heath care, devolution--these seem to be the most important concerns of the Scottish voter. Rest of the UK seems to be offering far greater autonomy to Scotland if it chooses to stay. The main problem on these economic concerns is that Scotland has traditionally been left-wing, but much larger England often puts right-wing Tories in government, who typically like to spend far less on the welfare state than what many Scots would like. The devolution in 1998 secured many powers for the Scottish Parliament anyway. If Scotland stays, many more will undoubtedly be devolved. But the allure of Tory-free governance may be attractive to the Scots (it may also condemn the rest of the UK to a near-permanent Tory majority--it will certainly make it much harder for Labour to form government without the left-leaning Scottish MPs, at least in the medium term).

More than mere geography, the character of the nations involved is at stake. It is still remarkable that the issue is being settled without a bullet having been fired.
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