The debate has been enlivened by some noisy arm wrestling between the prime minister and the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. In short, the SNP wants a referendum by 2014, and in an apparent outflanking move Mr Cameron agreed, adding that it should be even sooner and ask the simple ‘Independence: yes or no?’ question. This matters: although the SNP is all in favour of straightforward independence, they also know that this has a strong chance of being defeated in a ‘yes or no’ referendum (a third option involving enhanced devolved powers for Scotland while it stays within the Union seems to be the most popular option – and the SNP would surely prefer this to defeat).
But beyond these parochial arguments, the comparison with Kosovo shows that the implications would go beyond the British coastline. Independence is quite a complicated matter. In the case of Kosovo it has extended beyond the nuts and bolts of nationhood and relations with Serbian minorities, to international recognition by EU states, and the reticence of some (for instance Spain and Slovakia) to give the thumbs up.
Scotland faces a host of similar problems and issues (this piece by Honor Mahony in the EU Observer does a good job of exploring some of the complications). Here’s a flavour:
- Would an independent Scotland have to apply for EU membership? If so, would an interested party (for instance Spain, which – as over Kosovo – is deeply concerned about setting precedents that might apply to its own regions) be able to block this?
- Would Scotland then be obliged to join the euro? British public opinion as a whole, never warm towards a single currency, is currently even more resistant given events in the Eurozone. This might give Scots pause for thought. But staying within sterling might also create problems – after all this would then be a currency union without a fiscal union with a fair degree of divergence between the two economies. As we’re now aware this is not quite an ideal situation…
- What would be the impact on what remains of the UK in bodies like the UN Security Council or the EU itself, where issues like budgets and voting weights would have to be recalibrated? Scotland too would face some interesting questions, such as over money from regional funds or implications for its fishing fleet.
Although there might also be something of a tussle over representation at the Eurovision Song Contest, at least we can be grateful that Scotland’s status as a full country in football would smooth over relations with UEFA and FIFA. This crucial hurdle still faces Kosovo.
The other big issue – for me at least – is the flag. The Union Flag is one of the most recognisable and distinctive in the world, but as an amalgamation of the flags of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick it wouldn’t hold for a Scotlandless GB (and, anyway, where is St David of Wales?). I’ve photoshopped what the revised flag would look like, and for me this ugly little design must surely be the most forceful reason for the United Kingdom to remain united. I hope our politicians take note.
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