Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Scottish independence: Who would get the nukes, and other questions

Outside on an ancient stone plaque on the wall of Scotland‘s parliament building, lines penned by Sir Walter Scott reminisce about an independent Scotland, lamenting rule from London. Inside, on Sept. 27, opposition leaders and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon fired off salvos at each other in a debate reminiscent of Westminster exchanges, complete with customary jeers and catcalls from each side.

If Scottish nationalists have their way, such discussions will soon be a feature of an independent Scottish state, as per Scott’s wistful lines etched on the wall outside. Ms. Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party is campaigning on the back of a big 2011 election win for Scotland to secede from the United Kingdom.

Although the vote is two years away, it is already generating heated debate – unsurprisingly, given the stakes. If Scotland, which currently has a devolved government, votes for independence, it would dissolve a union in place since 1707, during which the UK built the largest empire the world has ever seen.

Think you know Europe? Take our geography quiz.

Now pro-independence voices say that Scotland is better off outside the UK. “Scotland, under Westminster control, is not realizing its potential and that is why becoming independent is so important,” says Stephen Noon, chief strategist of Yes Scotland, the nationalist party-backed independence campaign.

Nationalists say that Scotland has the resources to fend for itself economically – something that many opponents of independence do not dispute.

“We are the EU‘s largest oil and gas producer and have growing and successful industries including food and drink, tourism, and life sciences and a worldwide reputation for excellence in engineering and innovation,” says Mr. Noon.

It remains to be seen whether or not enough Scots believe that economic security warrants a break with EnglandWales, and Northern Ireland. Only 32 percent of Scots would vote to leave the UK if the vote was held tomorrow, according to the results of a recent British Social Attitudes survey. Though the nationalists hold 67 of the 129 parliamentary seats and say they have a mandate to push for independence because it was a core campaign plank in the election that brought them to power, Scotland’s other main parties are against breaking away.

“It is not normal for successful countries to be broken-up to create smaller countries,” says Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish wing of the party that shares power in London as part of David Cameron‘s Conservative-led government.

There are several international and military gray areas that will need clarifying before the 2014 referendum, contend opponents of independence.

“The nationalists have not yet told us what an independent Scotland would look like,” says Labour‘sPatricia Ferguson, citing a lack of clarity over nuclear weapons stationed in Scotland and whether or not the independent country would be part of NATO.

Moreover, an independent Scotland’s position in the European Union might not be automatic, believes Ms. Ferguson, whose party has sought clarification from the nationalists about what legal advice they have been given on the matter, amid speculation that Scotland might have to apply anew to Brussels if it wants to remain in the EU after voting for independence.

Reapplying to Brussels could mean ditching the pound for the euro, which in turn could sway Scots against independence, and business leaders agree that the EU confusion needs sorting out.

“The position of Scotland with regard to the EU has to be clarified before the vote,” says David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors of Scotland, and member of the Future of Scotland campaign, which wants politicians to provide more detailed information about Scotland’s options.

Watt says that the debate over independence could revolve as much around national identity as around harder political and economic issues. And even if some Scots feel a greater affinity for Scotland rather than Great Britain, other Scots are comfortable maintaining both identities. Scottish athletes showed well as part of Great Britain’s third place medal haul at the London Olympics, enhancing a sense of Britishness among Scots, says Mr. Rennie.

Rory Stewart, a Westminster Conservative Party parliamentarian representing an English border constituency. “I am a Scot and also British,” he says, adding that “creating a separate Scotland is a diminishing effort.”

Speaking in Ayr, a windswept coastal town where Scotland held its first-ever parliament in 1315, author and filmmaker Neil Oliver – whose “A History of Scotland” was a 2009 BBC TV hit – summed up the choice facing Scotland with a marital analogy. Pointing out that an independent Scotland will remain geographically part of Britain, he said “Scotland and England have been married for 300 years. At least if people get divorced, one person can move out of the house. If we break up, we will have to share the kitchen and the bathroom.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Noel Masson on 10/03/2012 - 04:36 am.

    Questions Answered

    All of these ‘unanswered’ questions have already been answered on a number of occasions by the Scottish Government.

    Scotland would thrive as an Independent country. We would have a 90% share of the UK’s North Sea oil and an 8.2% share of the national debt.

    The Trident Nuclear Weapons system based on the Clyde near Glasgow would be removed by Scotland. If England cannot base the submarines in its own territory, then obviously the rest of the UK would cease to be a Nuclear Weapons state. Scotland has stated categorically that there will be no Nuclear Weapons based here after independence.

    Scotland will remain part of NATO as confirmed repeatedly by the First Minister and would also remain part of the EU as confirmed by the EU Commissioner. There is no law that disqualifies seceeding states from the EU!

    Scotland will keep the Pound Sterling and the lender of last resort would be the Bank of England which Scotland has an 8.2% stake in.

    If the London Olympics helped make us feel ‘British’, then the opposite can be said in 2014 when we hold the referendum – we will be celebrating Scottishness due to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the Homecoming and the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn!

  2. Submitted by Michael Follon on 10/03/2012 - 05:15 am.

    Scottish Independence

    This article shows how a misunderstanding of actual facts can be perpetuated when an article, which itself contains errors, is ‘lifted’ from another source.

    1. There is no such thing as the ‘Scottish Nationalist Party’. There is a Scottish National Party.

    2. ‘…campaigning on the back of a big 2011 election win for Scotland to secede from the United Kingdom.

    The Scottish National Party has been campaigning for an independent Scotland since 1934 when it was formed.

    3. The use of the word ‘secede’ and its derivatives is incorrect when referring to the subject of Scottish independence. The restoration of Scottish independence would mean the effective DISSOLUTION of the Treaty of Union of 1707 and the current United Kingdom.

    4. With regard to Scotland’s position on independence in relation to the European Union – ,

    Michael Follon
    The ‘Sanitization’ of Scottish History –

Leave a Reply