Europe
3:02 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Will Scotland Go Independent? A Primer On The Secession Vote

Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 9:06 am

An intense campaign is underway for the future of the United Kingdom. On Sept. 18, the people of Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. Here are answers to a few key questions about the issue.

1. Why would Scotland want to leave the U.K.?

There are some reasons grounded in logic and others based in emotion.

Scotland wants more control over the oil and gas in the North Sea. Scots bristle at regulations from London. People in Scotland, who tend to be more liberal, feel that the conservative-led coalition government in London doesn't adequately represent them.

"We must become independent if we are to provide the economic and social advances that people who live here deserve to have," First Minister Alex Salmond tells his people.

But there are also reasons that have nothing to do with economics.

"It's a bit like getting a divorce, right?" says Monique Ebell of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. "We know that divorce is financially painful. And I'm not saying that independence for Scotland necessarily would be. But even if it were to be financially painful, people still choose for noneconomic reasons to get a divorce."

Political consultant Steve Morgan says Americans, of all people, should understand this. "You were once part of the empire. And you very sensibly broke away and got rid of all the trappings that go with it," he says. "Those of us who live here are stuck with it."

2. How is the British government trying to keep Scotland intact?

Prime Minister David Cameron's government is playing a good cop/bad cop game. The good cop is Cameron himself, talking about a "family of nations" that is "better off together."

The flip side of that message is that if Scotland breaks the family apart, chaos will ensue. That ominous warning comes from the bad cop, Chancellor George Osborne. He warns that an independent Scotland would have to abandon the British pound.

"The pound is one of the oldest and most successful currencies in the world. I want Scotland to keep the pound and the economic security that it brings," Osborne said in a recent speech.

3. Would an independent Scotland remain part of the European Union?

Not automatically. EU President Manuel Barroso says Scotland would have to wait in line and apply with other hopefuls. Current members of the European Union would have to vote. "It will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the member states to have a new member coming from one member state," Barroso recently said.

Still, many economists believe that an independent Scotland, even if not a full EU member, could easily obtain a status similar to Switzerland, which has trade agreements that make it easy for the Swiss to do business with EU members.

4. How is Scotland's business community reacting?

Major businesses in Scotland have recently become more vocal about their concerns. Standard Life, the insurance firm based in Edinburgh, says it might leave Scotland if the independence vote passes. Royal Bank of Scotland warns that independence could cause real financial harm.

Ebell at the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has estimated that in an independent Scotland, "borrowing costs would be higher than those in the U.K. by 0.7 to 1.5 percentage points, which is fairly significant."

5. Will the referendum pass?

It's impossible to know six months before the vote. So far, polls have consistently shown votes for unity outnumbering those for independence by a significant margin. In the latest survey by the polling firm Ipsos MORI, 57 percent of respondents said they would vote against Scottish independence, while 32 percent said they would vote for it. Eleven percent were undecided.

You can follow Ari Shapiro on Twitter @arishapiro

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The fight to keep the United Kingdom united is on. In six months, Scotland will vote on whether to break off and become an independent nation.

NPR's Ari Shapiro lays out the chess board.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: British Prime Minister David Cameron is desperate not to become The Man Who lost Scotland. His government is playing a good cop/bad cop game to keep the United Kingdom together. Good cop is Cameron himself. He recently held a cabinet meeting in the Scottish town of Aberdeen, where he spoke with the BBC.

DAVID CAMERON: I think this family of nations is better off together. And not just that Scotland is better off in the United Kingdom, but we in the rest of the United Kingdom think we're better off with Scotland - that we want you to stay.

SHAPIRO: Of course, there's a flip side to that message, a warning that if you break the family apart, chaos will ensue. Enter bad cop, Chancellor George Osborne. If Scotland leaves the U.K., Osborne says the newly independent country will have to abandon the British pound.

GEORGE OSBORNE: The pound is one of the oldest and most successful currencies in the world. I want Scotland to keep the pound and the economic security that it brings.

SHAPIRO: Soon after Osborne gave that speech, European Union President Manuel Barroso said an independent Scotland would not automatically be in the EU. Scotland would have to wait in line and apply with all the other hopefuls.

MANUEL BARROSO: Of course, it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the member states, to have a new member coming from one member state.

SHAPIRO: The combination of losing the pound and losing EU membership kind of freaked out the Scottish business community. Standard Life, the insurance firm based in Edinburgh, said it might leave Scotland if the independence vote passes. Royal Bank of Scotland warned that independence could cause real financial harm. Economists have been studying what the impact would be.

At the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, Monique Ebell found that interest rates in Scotland would go up if the country breaks away.

MONIQUE EBELL: We've estimated that borrowing costs would be higher than those in the U.K. By 0.7 to one and a half percentage points, which is fairly significant.

SHAPIRO: But many Scots see economic advantages to independence, like control over oil and gas in the North Sea, and freedom from regulations that come out of London. On top of that, Ebell says there are reasons that Scots might vote for independence having nothing to do with economics.

EBELL: It's a bit like getting a divorce, right? We know that divorce is financially painful. And I'm not saying that economic independence for Scotland necessarily would be. But even if it were to be financially painful, people still choose for non-economic reasons to get a divorce.

SHAPIRO: And what are those non-economic reasons? Political consultant Steve Morgan says Americans, of all people, should understand.

STEVE MORGAN: You were once part of the empire. And you very sensibly broke away and got rid of all the trappings that go with it. Those of us who live here are stuck with it.

SHAPIRO: The leading voice for Scottish independence is First Minister Alex Salmond.

ALEX SALMOND: We must become independent if we are to provide the economic and social advances that people who live here deserve to have.

SHAPIRO: He has been appealing as much to Scottish pride as to logic.

SALMOND: To be told there are things we can't do will certainly elicit a Scottish response that is as resolute, as it is uncomfortable to the no-campaign. It is: Yes, we can.

SHAPIRO: The very existence of an independence vote shows that they can. Now the question is whether they will.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.