Scottish independence could become a reality
At the beginning of August, polls in Scotland had the anti-independence forces ahead by a comfortable 22 points. It appeared that Prime Minister David Cameron's gamble to allow an up or down vote on Scottish independence would pay off, strengthening the unionists in Parliament and dealing a blow to the pro-Labor Scottish National Party.
But a debate betwen the two sides in mid-August turned the prospects of an easy win for Cameron into a nightmare where pro-independence forces made a stronger case for their side and appeared to flip the mood of the Scottish electorate toward breaking away from the 300 year old political union.
Bad news for Cameron because a successful pro-independence vote may very well mean his ouster as prime minister.
To head off independence, and drive a wedge between lukewarm Scottish nationalists and avid supporters of a "yes" vote, Cameron's government is about to offer Scottish voters an alternative; a bevy of measures that would vastly increase Scottish autonomy whille keeping them in the union.
On Sunday, Mr. Osborne, a close ally of Mr. Cameron’s, responded to the tightening race by promising more powers to Scotland if it votes no.
“More tax-raising powers, much greater fiscal autonomy,” Mr. Osborne told the BBC. “More control over public expenditure, more control over welfare rates and a host of other changes.”
The plan will be revealed “in the next few days” after the government gets agreement from all three major parties in the British Parliament, including the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, Mr. Osborne said.
“Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds,” he said. “They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be.”
That position is sometimes known as “devo max,” or maximum devolution, an alternative that Mr. Cameron did not allow Mr. Salmond to put on the ballot. Instead, Mr. Cameron insisted on a simple yes or no vote for independence. In return, he allowed Mr. Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, to extend the vote to people ages 16 and over but limit it to those who are registered in Scotland, which excludes many Scots living and working elsewhere in Britain.
Mr. Salmond dismissed Mr. Osborne’s proposals on Sunday as “a panic measure.” Mr. Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, calling the new polls a “very significant moment” in the campaign, said the offer of new powers had come very late.
“I don’t think people are going to take this seriously,” she told Sky News. “If the other parties had been serious about more powers, then something concrete would have been put forward before now.”
Alistair Darling, the former Labour cabinet minister who leads the “no” campaign, known as “Better Together,” said that the polls showed the referendum would “go down to the wire” but that his side would win.
“We relish this battle,” he said. “It is not the Battle of Britain. It is the battle for Scotland, for Scotland’s children and grandchildren and the generations to come.”
One factor driving independence is that the Scots are largely a center-left country, while Great Britain is more center-right. The Scottish people would welcome more of a Scandanavian style economy with massive government investments in health care and welfare.
But there are serious problems with Scottish independence that don't lend themselves to easy solutions:
Business leaders are also taking the prospect of dissolution more seriously, especially given the statement by all three main British parties that an independent Scotland would not be able to use the British pound.
Mr. Salmond has said Scotland could use the currency regardless of the result, much as Panama uses the American dollar, and has vowed to renege on Scotland’s share of British debt if it is not allowed to share in the pound.
But if the British parties follow through, Scotland will have no say in the Bank of England and in monetary policy governing the pound, undermining independence. Even Scottish banks would almost surely have to move their headquarters south, because only the Bank of England could serve as a true central bank and lender of last resort.
There are also serious questions about how Scotland would finance itself, given its dependence on royalties from the flow of North Sea oil and gas, which has been declining. A vote for independence would also mean tense negotiations with London on issues like fishing rights and the future of Britain’s nuclear submarine base in Scotland.
There are some analysts that believe even if the forces for independence win, that the Scots will return to the fold in a few years when all the reprecussions emerge of destroying a union that features such extraordinary integration both economically and politically. The problem with that notion is that the Scots are a separate people, with their own history and culture. The union with Great Britain was considered an expediency by many Scots, although the union of the crowns was never really questioned. Will the offer of "devolution" turn the tide? The Cameron government is counting on latent pro-union sentiment to emerge to rescue the vote. Whether that happens will depend on how wedded the Scottish people are to striking out on their own.