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Scottish independence - Is it good or bad?

16th January 2012

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Sparked by the conflict between leading Conservative ministers and the Scottish National Party, Scottish independence is a hot topic in 2012. 

ScotlandWith Alex Salmond pushing for a referendum in 2014, David Cameron is looking to act quickly, whilst the polls show that 43% of Scots wish to remain in the union. 

Whatever is to happen in the coming weeks, the debate is sure to run for a long time. It is therefore important to get a grasp of the key issues which should be considered – economically, politically and socially.

Salmond has already claimed that, if Scotland were to gain independence from the UK, they would wish to keep Stirling as their currency.  Economically, this would mean that their monetary policy would still be tightly controlled by the Bank of England.

A lack for economic autonomy proved to be the downfall of Irish, Greek and Portuguese economies over the last few years and Scotland would put themselves in a similar situation if they were to follow this route. The other monetary alternative would be to join the Eurozone, meaning that Scotland would adopt the debt of many eurozone countries and be obligated to contribute to Greek recovery.

In its economic favour, Scotland controls the North Sea oil rigs, giving it vital capital for trade in Europe and across the world.  This is something which Scots claim would aid them economically and give them a sense of economic stability if they were to break from the union.

Socially, the separation of the United Kingdom could lead to further alienation of the people on both sides of the border.  After a long history of shared economic and social prosperity, a split between Scotland and the UK could cause social devastation, particularly in the North of England.  This would be due to the separation of families and friends on either side of the border, who would find it much more difficult to visit one another if independence was granted to Scotland.

Currently, Scottish interests are protected by the British armed forces, independence would mean funding an entirely new defence programme, as well as a network of foreign ambassadors in every country in the world.

It would also mean that Scotland would have to decide what it plans to do with its borders.  If it chooses to sign up to the Schengen Agreement in Europe, its borders will be open to the 25 European countries for free movement and immigration. 

If it does not sign up to the Schengen agreement it will find itself isolated from the single market.  Scots crossing their southern borders would require passport identification if Scotland were to achieve independence, due to the UK’s opt out from the Schengen agreement in 1995.

On the other hand, Scottish independence would solve the West Lothian question. Scottish MPs would no longer be able to vote on issues at Westminister which were not of their concern, such as fees for higher education. Devolution since 1997 has given Scotland autonomy over its own education and healthcare system, yet Scottish MPs have still been eligible to vote on these issues in Westminster.

Scotland’s split from the UK would force it to further integrate with the EU or risk exclusion from the trade benefits which the EU can offer. This brings to the forefront the question of sovereignty.  If MSPs are concerned with Westminster’s control over their national sovereignty, they should be equally concerned with the impact that the European Commission and Court of Justice would have on the Scottish political and legal system.

Whatever the Scottish people decide when they come to vote on independence in what is likely to be sooner than two years time, they must carefully consider both the short term and long term impacts on their economy and society. 

Scotland is in danger of swapping the dominance of Westminster from the dominance of Brussels or isolation from the global economy.

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