Four reasons Scotland might decline independence

October 17, 2012

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron agrees to an independence referendum with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. (Gordon Terris -- Associated Press)

Scottish and British leaders have agreed to hold a referendum in 2014, Anthony Faiola reported on Monday, that will allow Scots to vote on whether they want to remain in the United Kingdom or declare independence. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond pushed hard for the deal, but the era of William Wallace was a long time ago, and there are significant reasons to think that Scots will choose to remain in the union. Currently, about one-third of Scots say they would vote for independence. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The economics look bad for Scots. "Last year’s Scottish social attitudes survey found that views on independence depend enormously on its perceived economic impact," the Financial Times's Janan Ganesh writes. "Economic conditions are now inhospitable for the nationalist message: recession creates a fear of risk and the euro -- the currency Mr. Salmond once favoured -- is still fighting for its future."

2. The European Union, wary of encouraging separatism, might not accept Scotland. Walter Russell Mead explains: "Many EU member states are fighting independence movements of their own, and few have much sympathy for secessionists anywhere. Countries like Spain will veto a Euro-entry of an independent Scotland, just as they have done to Kosovo, fearful as they are of their own Catalonians and Basques."

3. Cameron blocked the popular, middle-path option. At one point, it looked as if the Scottish ballot would offer a third choice between staying in  the United Kingdom, or leaving it outright: "enhanced devolution," in which Scotland would remain in the union but have greater autonomy. This was the most popular option in polls, and it might well have passed, but the British prime minister successfully got it removed in exchange for allowing 16- and 17-year-old Scots to vote in the referendum. 

4. Scotland has no great choices for currency. Salmond's plan is for Scotland to retain the British pound, creating a sort of mini-euro, two-country "sterling zone." But that would keep the Scots passing around British cash and dependent on English financial institutions, both of which would undercut Salmond's nationalism-oriented campaign for independence. As for the euro, even if that were an attractive choice, it's not clear Scotland would be accepted into the collective. And who wants to start an entirely new currency in this economic climate?

If these trends hold, and Scottish public support for independence doesn't drastically increase by the 2014 vote, then it looks like economics and poor timing will have trumped one of the longest-running independence campaigns in European history.

A cautionary note from The Onion: "Watch out, Scotland. We did the same thing, and look how that turned out."

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Max Fisher | October 17, 2012