Scotland’s Independence Referendum: What You Need to Know

On Sept. 18, Scotland will vote to decide whether or not they will become an independent country. With the polls showing that Yes and No are neck and neck—with Yes ahead in some polls last weekend and No once again gaining ground in more recent polls—it is looking to be a potentially close vote with implications for both the United Kingdom and the world.

The independence referendum came about through the addition of a Scottish Parliament to the UK government in 1997. This led to a devolving of some powers to the Scottish Parliament and a call from many Scottish citizens and legislators for Scotland to be given more power. In 2011, the centrist liberal Scottish National Party (SNP) gained a strong majority within the Scottish Parliament. It is their efforts that have led to the referendum.

The No Camp

UK Prime Minister David Cameron leads the No camp, working under the Better Together campaign. On Sept. 12, Cameron and other No campaign leaders went to Scotland in an effort to win voters after a poll showed the Yes campaign ahead for the first time. Cameron gave an emotional plea for the UK to stay together and warned Scotland that their decision, once made, is irreversible.

The No camp focuses on the questions left by those supporting independence in an effort to convince voters to stay with the surety of the UK instead of the unknowns of independence. For instance, in the case of independence, the pro-independence leaders state that they will continue to use the pound and will be able to join the European Union within 18 months of voting yes. However, leaders in Westminster stated that they will not make a currency union with Scotland for them to official use the pound, and the European Union has not stated they will definitely let Scotland join since there are some conflicts in the desired policies.

Other No voters are worried about funding for things such as universities and academic research. Many don’t trust the Yes campaign’s economic focus on North Sea Oil and gas fields as enough to support an independent Scotland. They’re worried about the businesses, such as Standard Life, that say they will leave Scotland if independence wins.

Finally, the No camp assures Scotland that if the vote is No, the Scottish Parliament will still be given more power within the security of the UK. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a plan to give Scotland more power over taxes and welfare to be pushed through Parliament before the next elections in the event of a no vote.

The Yes Camp

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, leads the Yes campaign. He, along with many others, does not believe that the UK is ready and able to give Scotland the kind of power they desire. They also emphasize that if the vote is No, Scotland may not have another chance to choose independence for decades.

Many Yes voters believe that without being part of the UK, Scotland will be one of the richest countries in the world and they will be able to control and increase Scottish trade. In the event of a Yes vote, they will negotiate a constitution, work with the EU on becoming a member, and work with the UK on fundamentals of their departure, such as whether and how to share the UK’s debt. Scotland’s leaders have decided that in the event of independence, they will keep Queen Elizabeth II as their sovereign and join the Commonwealth.

For many Yes voters, independence is about having full control of their own country for the first time in over 300 years.

Polls show that women, undecided voters, and Labour Party supporters are moving towards a Yes vote in increasing numbers.

So what?

Scottish independence weakens the UK since the UK will be losing a third of its area. It also will almost certainly weaken their economy for a few years at least, which could affect other areas of the world. Ninety-seven percent of the Scottish Electorate is registered to vote on Sept. 18, showing just how important this unpredictable decision is to the Scots and the UK.

The devolution of powers to Scotland in the case of a No vote and Scotland’s independence in the case of a Yes vote is sparking similar thinking within other parts of the UK that want more power over their countries, such as England and Wales, instead of having so many decisions be made for the UK as a whole.

It has also sparked similar thinking in places such as Catalonia in Spain.

Sources: The Guardian, Business Insider, The Washington Post, EuroNews, and the International Business Times.

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