Alex Salmond, Scottish PM (left) and David Cameron, British PM (right) in 2010. (Flickr)
Note: This article was first published on the French blog (but in English) on May 17th, 2012.
The Scottish local elections on May 3rd 2012 reflected the Scottish public’s strong desire for independence from Britain, a dream that goes back centuries. The Scottish National Party (SNP), whose primary aim is for full independence, won the most council seats with 424 out of 1,223 whilst the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who are currently ruling Britain in coalition, won only 186 between them . Combined with the SNP’s majority win in last years parliamentary election, winning 69 out of 129 seats (53.9%), compared to just 20 won by the two ruling coalition parties , signals that the Scots undoubtedly want independence, but will Britain willingly give up one of it’s earliest colonies?
A frequently espoused reason against independence is the uncertainty over currency; the strength and stability of the sterling has been a major factor of Scotland’s industrial and economic development and a national currency may be weak internationally, thus adversely affecting trade and Scotland’s autonomous potential. However, the Euro is a constructive option, although currently experiencing rough times; it could provide Scotland with a chance of becoming a fully integrated and independent European nation, as opposed to a mere region of Britain, of whom many Scots atavistically perceive as foreign conquerors.
The European community is relatively open to talks with Scotland, although there is considerable uncertainty and antagonism, which may delay any developments . Countries like Spain for instance have announced the possibility of vetoing the accession over fears that it may encourage independence movements in Spanish provinces .The Economist recently reported that “The Catalans, among other disaffected European groups, see Scottish independence as a harbinger of their own bid for nationhood.” Such extraneous and potentially establishment-threatening ramifications need to be considered. Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, remains eager to discuss EU membership, pending a national referendum, but if accepted by the public and the EU, Scotland will inevitably have to cede a certain amount of power, potentially replacing foreign influence from Britain with Europe, and Scotland may find that they have a louder voice in the UK parliament than in Europe.
The Conservative Party has historically been against Scottish independence, but there are many benefits for David Cameron and his party for doing so. For example, it could improve his approval rating, which is at record lows , especially as a recent YouGov poll found that “by 52% to 32%, English voters favoured either maximum devolution for Scotland or independence.” It could also divert attention from some of his highly controversial policies such as decreasing the highest rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, effectively making the rich richer, whilst the poor are seeing rising unemployment, huge rises in living costs and their treasured National Health Service slowly being privatized bit by bit. Cameron needs some positive press to increase public support and this could have the desired effect. A third major reason how Scottish independence could benefit Cameron is that it would improve his chances of re-election, as Labour, the strongest opposition, will lose over 14% of their seats whereas the Conservatives will only lose 5%. With such benefits and the majority of Scots wanting an end to the 300-year-old union, is it a matter of time?
In conclusion, the Scottish people want independence, the Scottish government wants independence and there are significant benefits for David Cameron for giving it to them, albeit alongside sacrifice. If the EU accepts Scotland’s membership application as an independent member state, it could be mutually beneficially for Cameron,Scotlandand the EU for Scotland to leave the UK and join the Euro, although it may spur separatist movements in Europe, which can potentially snowball into a major problem for Europe as a whole. Overall, leaving the UK and joining the EU is Scotland’s best decision, considering the SNP’s election performance, the European integration process and Cameron’s position.