Scotland independence referendum: Will 307-year-old Union end in divorce?

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Sep 18, 2014 03:25 IST

Anxiety and excitement was evident among rival camps as Scotland — a country considered the warp and woof of the United Kingdom for over three centuries — votes on Thursday in a referendum on independence that seems to be opposed by as many as those who support it.

A Scottish Saltire flag flies from a fence post near Portree on the Isle of Skye. (Reuters)
At the end of a fierce campaign by the Yes and No camps, there are many who remain undecided. Successive opinion polls and betting trends suggest a photo-finish when the result is declared on Friday morning, but most agree that the United Kingdom will never be the same again.

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For most Indians, it was always ‘England’ and not the ‘United Kingdom’, and ‘England’ invariably included Scotland. The names – England, Britain, United Kingdom – were interchangeable, but if Scotland votes Yes, there will be a fundamental shift of perspective abroad.

Whatever the result, there will be a lot of unhappy Scots after the referendum. Until a week ago, there was a sense of complacency in the No campaign, lulled in the belief that in the end, the Scots will not opt for independence, until opinion polls indicated a close call.

The big issues – economic, political, cultural and international – have been debated at length, with each side sometimes drawing different conclusions from the same base indicators to influence voters. The information overload often drowned reasoned analysis.

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History and politics merged as the Scottish National Party’s Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, successfully transformed resentment against the David Cameron government’s austerity measures into wider fury that exploited historic Scottish angst against ‘London’ and the English.

In pics: the ayes and nays

Some of the major reasons cited by the pro-independence camp are familiar. They have been cited in several countries witnessing varying demands for local and autonomy or outright secession: exploiting local resources, but poor commensurate development spending, lack of financial and others powers, anger against concentration of power in a country’s capital.

Read: Scotland braces for historic independence vote

The referendum is being closely followed by international observers and foreign governments, many of whom appreciate the civil manner in which the entire exercise is being conducted, unlike the formation of new countries such as Bangladesh, East Timor or Serbia, which appeared on the global map amidst much violence.

The implications of independence for Scotland are too many, and leaders of both camps admit that not every detail had been worked out in either eventuality. The rush to offer more powers to Scotland so that it remains in the United Kingdom has not gone down well among several English MPs and leaders.

The post-referendum United Kingdom could see demands for more local powers in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Scottish leaders are not convinced by London’s vows of more powers, since any such major changes would need to be voted in parliament, where they could be blocked.

Read: A ‘torpedo’ to European integration? Vote revives more calls for self-rule

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