The Question of Scottish Independence: Political and Economic Realities (Peter White)

Scottish independence remains a tenuous issue among the population here for a number of reasons. The region is set to have a referendum in 2014 to determine whether the residents want it to become independent from the United Kingdom. One can feel the tension when passing numerous posters for the Scottish National Party on buildings and trees throughout Edinburgh. Scotland probably has the right to do so under international law. It also has the institutions to handle such a change; however, the region’s economic feasibility remains another issue of contention.

Scotland was once its own kingdom and an independent state aside from England and Wales. It became incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1707 through the Act of Union. Scotland’s James VI became James I of the United Kingdom. Scotland had its own political and legal institutions like any other state before this point; however, the Scottish Parliament ceased to exist as a result of the Act of Union. The central government in London devolved power to Scotland in 1999.The Scottish Parliament opened its doors during the same year to 129 delegates representing eight districts. The Parliament has control over local affairs aside from social security. Today Scotland has many of the important features a state requires to conduct its own business aside from the ability to participate in foreign affairs. We had an opportunity to speak with Lord Woolman from the Court of Session, which deals with civil disputes in Scotland. He mentioned that Scotland has the legal institutional capacity to that of an independent state; moreover, he added that nothing much would change if Scotland became independent besides appeal going to the Supreme Court in London. From a legal perspective, Scotland could probably function as an independent state in its present form. This region would also gain recognition from the international community because it already operated as a state before uniting with the rest of Britain. It could enter into the European Union for this reason and access the numerous economic incentives that the European Union provides such as stimulus monies.

The economic perspective of independence could prove to be bleaker. Scotland and the entire UK just exited a recession, and the Scottish economy is barely growing. The BBC reported at the beginning of last month that Scotland’s economy has made marginal improvements in the last quarter of 2012. The economy remained stagnant throughout 2011 and much of 2012. However, Scotland’s uncertain future may not stand as the tide that quells nationalist fervor for independence. Our group had the chance to speak with Tom Mullen, a Scottish constitutional law professor, about the viability of Scotland’s legal systems and economy in the case independence does occur. His face illustrated the intense optimism of an elementary school student. He told us in a joking manner that Scotland’s economy would not be as bad as those of Italy or Greece. Mullen then acknowledged that an autonomous Scotland could work economically. My classmates and I also had the opportunity to speak with a number of normal individuals in various locales. Their opinions were different from that of Mullen. They were worried about Scotland’s ability to stand as its own state. Uncertainty abounds. The Scottish people will soon have to make a decision.

The different perceptions demonstrate contrasting political values. Some individuals just want a stable economic environment. Others want Scotland’s political and legal system free of London’s oversight. Furthermore, the EU does not want another Italy or Greece on its hands, and the Scottish people will not want to endure the rigors of austerity measures akin to those of the Dominican Republic or Spain. One thing is certain. The issue will resolve itself next year.

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