This is because the decision of the Scottish electorate in 2014 won’t just impact Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but also Europe and further afield. Questions around the current nuclear deterrent based at Faslane, whether Scotland would automatically qualify as a member of the European Union (EU), its future currency, oil revenues and immigration are only a handful of the issues that will be debated between now and when the polls open. Answers to these, and more, will interest business as much as the public.
As a Scot I’m often asked my opinion on the issue, despite not being eligible to vote as I live in London and not Scotland. My personal views aren’t important, instead below are some of the major issues that many think will dominate the debate over the next year.
The Scottish government has pledged to publish a white paper in the autumn in a bid to “answer all the questions people reasonably have” about what an independent Scotland would look like. This follows a number of interesting responses from the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign to questions around the retention of the monarchy (it would) and what an independent Scotland’s currency would be.
Regarding the latter, Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond has said previously that Scotland would seek a currency union with the rest of the UK, with the Bank of England acting as the country’s central bank. Commentators suggest that this would entail the Bank setting Scotland’s interest rates, having influence over its borrowing and overall spending, and meaning that it is dominated by the UK’s interests. The anti-independence Better Together campaign, led by former Chancellor Alistair Darling MP, has pointed to analysis suggesting that such a system would likely lead to administrative complexity and “confused governance”.
It may, if some academics and critics are to be believed, not even get to the stage of negotiations with the Bank. It remains unclear whether an independent Scotland would be required to either join the Euro or agree to do so in the future as a condition of EU membership.
EU officials have recently indicated that if Catalonia were to secede from Spain, an often-drawn comparison with that of Scottish independence, it would find itself outside the EU and would have to apply on its own. Speaking in Barcelona, vice-president of the European Commission, Joaquin Almunia said that “an independent state will be, by its very independence, regarded as a tertiary by the EU and European treaties will not apply to its territory from the moment it declares independence”.
Responding to the EU vice-president’s comments, a Scottish Government spokesperson said recently that “Scotland is already part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – as legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, there is no mechanism for this status being removed, and as such an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership.” However, the issue is likely to be one of the main points of contention as we move closer to the referendum, and the EU’s comments will have been noted by all involved in the debate.
The issue of the nuclear deterrent, commonly known as Trident, is equally opaque. A Guardian piece earlier this year reported that Ministry of Defence officials were starting to examine plans to designate the Faslane base as a Sovereign Base Area, in a similar vein to its military bases in Cyprus where they essentially form a British Overseas Territory. The SNP Government accused Westminster of attempting to bully Scotland, while No.10 were quick to deny that contingency planning was being conducted.
Concrete answers to these issue will be crucial, and the Scottish government’s white paper will be eagerly anticipated.
I have touched on only a few of the big questions around Scottish independence, in a bid to provide some flavour to what is one of the biggest constitutional issues for a generation. It is likely though, that whatever the Scottish government produce in its autumn white paper will only lead to more questions on all sides of the debate. How both campaigns respond to these will likely have a major impact on the outcome of the referendum.