April 28, 2007


Is Scotland on Verge of Independence? (Ian Bremmer, 4/28/07, Real Clear Politics)

On May 1, England and Scotland will mark the 300th anniversary of the treaty that wedded the two within the United Kingdom. The festivities won't last long. Two days later, Scottish voters are expected to hand dominance of Scotland's parliament to the separatist Scottish National Party, which has called for a popular referendum to force a divorce.

Prospects for Scottish independence are far from certain. Even if the SNP finishes first on May 3, it's not at all clear it can win enough seats to bring independence to a vote in 2010. Even if it does, Scots may not be ready to cut all ties with England. But nationalist control of Scotland's parliament, with or without a vote on independence, poses plenty of risks -- for the UK, for Scotland and perhaps for unity in other European countries. [...]

Even if an SNP government lacks the votes to schedule the referendum, tensions between England and Scotland will grow. The Scottish parliament will seek (and likely receive) new concessions from Westminster, provoking resentment in England. Many English officials argue it is inherently unfair that Scottish members of Britain's parliament now vote on health and education issues affecting English voters, while English lawmakers have virtually no say in Scottish affairs.

In addition, as part of the original devolution plan, British subsidies provide Scottish students with free university tuition and elderly Scots with free long-term health care, benefits the English must pay for. Scottish voters counter that these subsidies are financed with revenue from North Sea oil and gas, much of it extracted from "Scotland's waters." Yet, polls suggest that many English voters are now content to see Scotland fend for itself.

This is a particularly awkward problem for the member representing the Scots of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, British Labour's prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown. If his countrymen vote to bolt from the United Kingdom, those who ask "who lost Scotland?" will surely point toward Brown -- especially since the original devolution of powers was Labour's idea.

The countries of Europe integrated their constituent nations so poorly that the majorities are no more interested in preserving the artificial unity than the minorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2007 6:33 AM
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