August 12, 2013

Will 9/18/2014 Become Scotland's 7/4/1776?

On September 18, 2014, the Scots will vote on a referendum “Should Scotland be an independent country?” If the vote were held today, polls show that a clear majority will vote against independence. But my own polling leads me to predict a much closer outcome.

To the embarrassment of my travel mates, I asked almost all the Scots we met their opinions about next year’s vote. (At least I refrained from asking them how they would vote.)

I was surprised by the similarity of responses. People said they weren't convinced an independent Scotland would be better off economically. So -- intellectually, anyway -- they say "no." But emotionally, they like the notion of an independent Scotland. One man expressed what seemed a common feeling to me:
If I see a question on a form that asks for my nationality, I’ll answer “Scottish,” never “British.”
An Edinburgh cab driver said, “Right now I’d vote against independence, because I fear we wouldn’t be better off economically. But when I go into that voting booth, my strong feelings about being a Scotsman first and foremost might take over.”

The No. 1 issue in the debate about independence is its potential economic impact. Polls show Scots would vote overwhelmingly for independence if they thought they’d end up better off. Those favoring independence emphasize that Scotland would get the revenues from North Sea oil. The opponents note the volatility in oil prices and the new estimates that the oil reserve may run out sooner than expected. In any event, they argue, the big problem is that public spending per capita is much higher in Scotland than in the UK generally.

Other messy questions about an independent Scotland don’t have clear answers.

What currency would be used? Retain the pound sterling? Adopt some new Scottish currency? Switch to the euro?

What would be the status of an independent Scotland in relation to the European Union? I saw a front-page story that suggested Scotland’s major charities would be in big trouble if Scotland were viewed as an independent member of the EU and therefore subject to its rules on the ratio of funding to liabilities.

Despite all the uncertainties, the emotional appeal of independence is very strong. With just over a year before the vote, 20 percent of the Scottish electorate hasn’t yet decided which way they'll go.

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