A UBC expert comments on whether voters will say ‘Aye’ or ‘Nae’ to independence in this month’s Scotland referendum
On September 18, voters will decide whether Scotland should separate from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. Allan Craigie, a UBC political science researcher, discusses the implications of the referendum, and why Canada has plenty to learn from what’s happening across the pond.
How likely are Scots to vote in favour of independence?
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Earlier polling had the unionists—what we in Canada would call the federalists—slightly ahead among decided voters, but the gap is closing. More recent polling put the Yes vote at 51 per cent of decided voters. That said, history has taught us that undecided voters often cast their vote for “the devil they know.” As such, I think the No side still has the advantage.
What have Scotland and the U.K. taken from Quebec separatism?
There’s been a lot of exchange of ideas, particularly between the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Parti Québécois. It’s as if both the Scottish and British governments looked at the referendums in Quebec and and asked themselves how can we improve upon the process?
In the lead-up to the referendum, the Scottish and British governments negotiated on the terms of the referendum. The question was worked out by the independent third-party electoral commission, which tested it with focus groups to make sure it was clear: Should Scotland be an independent country? This is very different from the wordy and confusing questions we saw in Quebec. No matter what happens, it’s going to be a clear answer to a clear question asked under a set of rules both governments agreed to beforehand. This is very different than what we saw in Quebec where there were unclear questions, no agreement on what constituted victory, and no agreement on the rules between the Canadian and Quebec government.
What would an independent Scotland mean for NATO? The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) has an anti-nuclear policy, and Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines are based on the Scottish River Clyde.
The SNP has presented a best-case scenario of a nuclear-free Scotland that would have no difficulty joining NATO and the EU, because it’s already a member of both. I would argue the SNP’s claim is a bit disingenuous, because the U.K. is the current member, and would continue its membership after independence. An independent Scotland, which would be a new state, would have to negotiate its own entry into NATO, as well as the EU.
However, there are lots of non-nuclear powers in NATO. In fact, most members are non-nuclear, such as Canada. It’s not in NATO’s interest to oppose Scotland joining, as long as an independent Scotland meets all membership criteria.
What will happen with the British nuclear missile fleet stationed in Scotland remains to be seen. The SNP and Greens may want the fleet out of Scotland, but that does not mean other parties necessarily will. During the negotiations between Britain and a Scotland that has voted for independence, it will be Scotland asking for concessions from the remaining British state, and will be the weaker actor in these negotiations. As there is no place in the rest of the UK to station this fleet, the stationing of the nuclear fleet in Scotland would most likely be a key bargaining point for the rump British state.