Independence?: Scotland will decide in one month

Scottish independence referendum will take place on September 18. Read few comments.

Questions:

1. Shortly in general, what you expect from both camps during the campaign?

2. What is the biggest advantage of pro-independence camp and what about against-independence camp?

Answers:

James Mitchell, Professor, Co-Director, Academy of Government, University of Edinburgh

1. Each side will continue with same themes as we have witnessed over many months. Supporters of independence will emphasise what they see as the opportunities independence offers, in particular to follow a different public policy route from that of the rest of the UK while opponents will emphasise what they see as risks and uncertainty. We will see less of the Prime Minister over the coming months and less of any senior Conservative politicians in Scotland and more of Labour politicians, and an effort by opponents of independence to play down the fact that the Conservatives are in government.

2. Supporters have the advantage that most Scots do not support the Conservatives and would prefer a very different Scotland than is likely to emerge within a United Kingdom. While opponents of independence have the advantage that most Scots may be hostile to the capital ‘C’ Conservatives they are nonetheless fairly small ‘c’ conservative and are fearful of change.

James Ker-LindsaySenior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, London School of Economics and Political Science

I think the greatest disadvantage the ‘Yes’ camp faces at this late stage is a lingering sense of uncertainty amongst voters on several important issues. In particular, two questions stand out: membership of the European Union and the currency of an independent Scotland.

On the first issue – EU membership – there has been a lot of debate about exactly what would happen if Scotland leaves the UK. Some have suggested that it would have to leave the EU and queue up behind the other prospective members in the Balkans. This is a ridiculous view. However, I do not believe that it would be an automatic process, as some have suggested. It seems likely that it would probably have to reapply for membership. That said, I think it would be a radically different from the usual accession process. I see absolutely no reason why an accession process could not be handled in parallel with independence negotiations. Therefore, as Scotland becomes independent it simultaneously joins the EU. The EU has proven time and time again that it is adaptable and innovative. Of course, there is the question as to whether the other member states will allow this to happen. I think they will. Amongst member states there seems to be little opposition to a consensual process. (I think even Spain would accept a democratic decision accepted by the UK.) Moreover, I think the EU institutions would facilitate the process. For instance, Jean-Claude Juncker has signalled his belief that an independent Scotland should be in the EU. If there is the political will to have Scotland in the EU, and I think there would be, then I believe it can be done relatively easily.

In contrast, the currency issue is a far trickier question. It was very telling that during the first televised debate this was where the pro-independence campaign faltered. It did not have a clear and convincing answer to this question. I think the ‘No’ campaign will really capitalise on this over the next month. It really does seem to be the ‘Yes’ camp’s weak spot. Interestingly enough, the one option was not mentioned was the possibility of Scotland adopting the euro (although it could not happen immediately). This seems to be out of the question. The irony is that if the Yes camp decided to support euro membership, it could well make the EU, of which the majority now use the euro, even more inclined to accommodate an independent Scotland.

To my mind, the greatest achievement of those arguing in favour of independence is the way in which the question of whether Scotland could stand on its own two feet as an independent state is no longer in question. There is a very real sense that Scotland could survive, indeed thrive, on its own. Assuming it does join the EU, Scotland would not be a small member state. It would be one of the smaller medium sized members. It would also be considerably wealthier than many members. Meanwhile, there are likely to be few problems for an independent Scotland to take its place on the international stage very quickly after independence. For example, I would expect it to be a member of the United Nations within a week or so. Membership of other international organisations would soon follow. The campaign at this stage is therefore about whether Scotland would be even better off staying in the Union, not whether it is viable as an independent state.

Neil McGarvey, Teaching Fellow, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde

The polls are sitting roughly at 60-40 at the moment.

The No camp message is essentially a conservative one. Why leave a successful Union? Separation poses great economic and security risks. The Scottish nationalists use a short-hand label of ‘Project Fear’ to caricature their campaign. All three main unionist political parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats) have all promised increased devolution and autonomy in the event of a ‘No’ vote. Their biggest advantage is that the power of the UK State, most of its media and business are behind a No vote.

The ‘Yes’ campaign has, in general, tried to promote a more positive projection of a Future Scotland post-independence. It would use its oil-wealth to promote a fairer, more equal society. However, it has struggled to move the campaign beyond the fundamentals of economy and currency. It was widely perceived to be winning the campaign (but not by enough to win the vote) until the televised leaders debate last week when Darling (Better Together leader) is perceived to have performed better than Salmond (SNP Leader). The Yes campaign advantage is that it has a much stronger, more vibrant grassroots campaign that the ‘No’ campaign. Whilst it is simple to say that the poorer you are the more likely you are to vote Yes, the richer you are the more likely you are to vote No, there is more than an element of truth in both statements.

Thomas Carl LundbergLecturer in Politics, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow

Each campaign is continuing tactics used earlier, with the No campaign trying to scare voters by highlighting the uncertainties associated with independence, particularly the economic uncertainties, while the Yes campaign tries to scare voters into fearing what remaining part of the UK will do for social justice and the welfare state. This is a bit of a change for the Yes side in recent days, since it used to be more positive than No by promising lots of good things – Scotland would be pretty much the same after independence, only nicer. The rosy picture of an independent Scotland painted by the Yes campaign, however, is based upon very wishful thinking and unrealistic assumptions (that we can have Scandinavian-style public services funded by Irish-style taxation). The No campaign also makes some unrealistic claims about what will happen if Scotland votes ‘no’, saying that there will be more powers (autonomy) for Scotland. Of course there will be more tax powers – these have already been passed into law and will come into effect in April 2016. The main UK parties have promised further powers, but these are mainly about more of the tax raised in Scotland staying in Scotland – with a corresponding reduction in the grant that is paid to Scotland from the UK.

Most voters probably are not looking carefully at the details of the claims of both sides, but they can see that there are shortcomings. People often claim that they don’t have enough information, which is not true – there’s a lot of information out there, possibly too much information! I think what people mean is that they don’t understand the information or that they don’t trust it.

The biggest advantage for the No campaign is simply that independence is a big risk and while the status quo is not perfect, most Scots do not feel oppressed by the UK government and might believe that there can be more autonomy for Scotland within the UK (in other words, most people want to have their cake and eat it, to use an old British expression). For the Yes campaign, the biggest advantage is, or at least was, the popularity of the Scottish National Party government in Scotland, which was seen as competent and as a strong advocate for Scotland. Recently, though (particularly since the debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling), this image seems to be coming apart as it starts looking like the claims of the SNP about how independence would work are unrealistic, particularly the claim that there would be a formal currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. No matter what the SNP says about such a union being in the economic interests of the rest of the UK, it is actually a political question, and I cannot see how a UK government could manage to get the rest of the UK to take the risk. The Treasury will certainly oppose this, as it did when eurozone membership was considered.

So, I think the No campaign has the main advantage and I would be very surprised if there is a ‘yes’ vote. The prospect of much greater autonomy, however, is unlikely because anything that would give Scotland big advantages or privileges that put England at a disadvantage will be rejected, so the Yes campaign should be making a lot more of this point. The Yes campaign also should be more realistic about the challenges that face small independent states – this would make their campaign more credible. For example, people in the Nordic countries have very good public services, but they also pay very high taxes, which the SNP does not discuss and probably should (I think most people understand that you get what you pay for). I think undecided voters just don’t believe the claims of the Yes campaign.

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