What Scottish Independence Might Mean for a Less-Great Britain

The economic effects could be minor; the cultural ones, more profound. 

Could Scotland really give up the glamour of the Royal Family? Here they are at a Highland Gathering this past weekend. (Russel Cheyne/Reuters)
As advertised, I don't plan to host an open-ended forum on the merits of the Scottish independence vote. If you'd like to see the Scottish government's white paper supporting a 'Yes' vote, go here. If you've missed Paul Krugman's economic argument against it ("Spain without the sunshine"), it's here. If you'd like to know what the term "devo max" means, you can go here. (Essentially, it's much-increased Scottish autonomy within the U.K.) If you'd like an apparently serious sky-is-falling argument that the Russians will invade Scotland if it votes 'Yes,' you can find it here. For a much more toughly argued warning about the consequences, by a former UK defense minister, see this in the FT.
But to round out the arguments, in one omnibus update, here are reader messages from four distinct perspectives.
1) From a Scot in Scotland:

Just a short note to say that over too many months to count back I have followed this debate with great interest ( as a Scottish resident voter ), and [Daniel Clinkman's, posted here] is the best short summary article I have read.

For me the key points you highlight are the Devo Max option not being made available ( and why ) and the fact that England and Scotland do want, according to all voting history, centre right and centre left respectively.

I have no great interest in Nationalism and certainly not in the tartan waving Bannockburn kind but what makes me most proud to be Scottish is my long term conviction, based on my own experience, that Scots are deeply unhappy with inequality and greatly value social justice .

I'm voting yes and the economics while important are secondary to these issues.

2) From a Brit in America:

Just a couple of brief comments on Daniel Clinkman’s remarks on the Scottish independence vote:

1) Stating that “the authority of the Holyrood parliament is tenuous and could be curtailed or rescinded at any time, without judicial review” is true but incomplete without noting that the UK does not have a written constitution and therefore all UK constitutional arrangements and laws are similarly potentially subject to change “without judicial review." This is not particular to arrangements in Scotland and they are being treated no worse than the rest of the UK in this respect.

2) As for federalism, I have a lot of sympathy for the idea and I’d be all in favor of taking it further and creating autonomous subdivisions in England too (you could even base them on the old Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy if you want historical precedent).

But to state, in the context of a Scottish vote, that “the best case scenario would be devo-max or the federalization of the UK, but Westminster would not allow either to be on the referendum ballot” implies the highly anti-democratic notion that a vote by 5.3 million Scotts should be able to decide on the constitution of the entire UK, total population 64 million. To move in the direction of federalism you would have to have referendum that included all the UK in the vote....

Almost all the discussion I have seen in this country about the referendum has related to the potential effects of  independence on Scotland (I did see a piece in the New York Times about what effect it might have on Wales), but nothing on what might happen in England.

Because the population of England is ten times larger than that of Scotland, and given the large percentage of UK GDP generated in London and the South East, the economic impact will probably not be profound, but the cultural effects might be more significant.

The darker side could involve anti-Scotish feelings against Scots living in England ("they have their own country now, why don’t they go and live there”), though I suspect that will always be a marginal view. A more benign effect could be the rehabilitation of Englishness: for a long time the English have been encouraged to view themselves primarily as British, but that can’t really survive the splitting up of Britain. Whether it leads to jingoism or a new flowering of national identity only time will tell.

As for my qualifications to comment on the matter, I’m a British citizen long resident in the US, though I view the UK mostly as an outsider nowadays.

3) From a Yank in Scotland:

A quick biography: I'm an American living in Fife in Scotland. I'm married to an American man of Scottish descent.. My father-in-law has "Remember Culloden!" as his email signature, all of us have an array of clothing items in the family tartan, and my in-laws attend clan gatherings. (You can insert commentary here on Americans, often of Irish or Scottish descent, who become more Irish than the Irish, so to speak.) 

I have Clan Mackenzie gear like this guy's, minus
the sword. (Wikipedia

As Americans we can't vote in the referendum, though of course we've been following it with keen interest. As a practical matter, we're here on UK visas, not Scottish ones -- though the nationalists all assure us that of course that will be sorted out if independence passes. (The nationalists do a great deal of reassuring that all manner of things will be sorted out if independence passes.)

Daniel Clinkman is right that the UK is a unitary system, not a federalist one. That said, practically speaking Scotland already functions like a quasi-federalist entity.

Scotland maintains a separate NHS system from England and Wales, separate legal and education systems, and offers different benefits to Scottish residents. It has a separate National Trust and Historic Scotland structure (similar to national parks and monuments system). School holidays and bank holidays are different in England and Scotland. Under the current structure, the UK government funds Scottish universities, which Scottish residents can attend for free but which English residents must pay fees to attend....

I don't disagree with Clinkman about the division between Scotland and England and the center-left versus center-right. I think it's a bit more complicated than that, because northern England tends to align more with Scotland.

It's more accurate to say that Scotland and most of northern England hate London and the dominance of southern England. (You find a similar phenomenon in how upstate New York hates New York City, and northwest Pennsylvania hates Philadelphia, etc.)

But it's also complicated by this tenuous notion of "Scots." The Islanders often think of themselves as from Lewis, Harris, or Shetland before they think of themselves as from Scotland. Many of the Highlanders don't trust Edinburgh much more than they trust Westminster -- with good historical reason. Many in Shetland don't want a government in Edinburgh to determine the use of their oil revenue.  I'm reminded of the old saw: "What unites the Scots? Hating the English." Take away the English, and you just might take away Scottish unity, too.

I've talked to many Scots around the country about the referendum, and my informal polling results are this: Islanders almost unanimously oppose independence. The highlanders support independence cautiously. Glaswegians support independence enthusiastically. And others would love to no longer be ruled from Westminster, but they are unsure that the current leadership of the SNP [Scottish National Party] could actually form a good government in Edinburgh that would result in positive benefits for Scotland.

As one man in Aviemore told me, "Remember Culloden?? What you have to remember was that Culloden was a civil war, not a war between the English and the Scots. The Highland Clearances were a nasty, brutal thing -- but before that we clans were already nasty and brutal toward each other. There were no schools in the Highlands before the Clearances, no health care, no roads. The English are terrible, but we've been better off with them than without them."

I think the best thing that could happen for Scotland is the way things are currently trending: The polls are close, Westminster freaks out and offers additional concessions to the SNP for control of fiscal policy, unity wins by a hair, and Scotland stays in the UK but with greater autonomy than before.

4) From a mere bystander:

I have absolutely no skin in the Scottish independence game, which means I get to watch and be fascinated without any pride vested in either side winning.

That being said, I noticed that Quartz ran a Scottish independence story today, and included a link to a writer playing a bit dirty in his rhetorical spin against independence. [JF note: This was the "Russians are coming!" piece mentioned above.] ...

If we can define the moral high ground, or rather Highlands, by whose side is using dirty logical tactics, the answer is fairly evident from this sample size of one. (see further here)

Voters in Scotland, over to you. I would have said "People of Scotland..." but in fact the vote is also open to EU and U.K. citizens who are living in Scotland, whether officially Scottish or not.