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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Column: The countdown to Scotland’s referendum is on – but many questions remain

The landmark referendum is to be held next September but, whatever the outcome, questions remain over how it might affect national identity and government policy in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, writes Natalie Tennyson.

Natalie Tennyson

IN JUST UNDER a year, Scots will answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” in a landmark referendum to be held on September 18th 2014. With the date looming, many questions remain after much debate and discussion; can Scotland really be a successful independent state? What would Scottish independence mean for Northern Ireland? What will be the outcome of the referendum?

Us vs Them

The existence of a referendum means that the ‘Us and Them’ mentality is more than well-established, with the build-up of referendum coverage in the UK continuously highlighting the distinct differences between Scotland and England.

Hypothetically, even if Scots vote overwhelming to remain in the UK it still brings attention to the so-called ‘gap’ that exists in Scottish and English culture. This gap is also felt among those south of the Scottish border and extends to just shy of the midlands – as Liverpudlians, Mancunians and those on the Tyne feel a sense of disconnect from their apparently ‘well-to-do’ counterparts in the south of England. This difference can be traced back to Thatcher’s days of privatisation and the miners’ strike.

It could be argued that Northerners have more in common with their Scottish counterparts than their neighbours down below. This is worrying for Cameron and his Tory counterparts.

Yes to independence: Scottish Nationalist Party

One of the biggest challenges for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is not just to have Alex Salmond as the primary face of the ‘yes’ campaign and ensure that the SNP aren’t the complete driving force behind Yes Scotland. They have tried to dilute the Yes to independence campaign so that non-SNP voters aren’t put off by a heavily-backed SNP campaign.

In fact, the chief executive of Yes Scotland is a former journalist, Blair Jenkins and is joined by Celia Fitzgerald from Labour for Independence, Brian Nugent of Free Scotland and Scotland’s SNP minister for education, Mike Russell.

Despite this widespread united opinion, difficulty has been caused because of the significant policy differences of the large umbrella groups. Labour for Independence wants Labour to revert to pre-Blair days meanwhile, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party object to the SNP’s preference for lower corporation tax.

Dilution of nationalism

In order to attract a wider vote, the SNP has stated that sterling would continue to be used after independence. Royalist fears would also be unfounded as Queen Elizabeth would remain head of state. This is a clearly-adopted strategy to appeal to potential voters that enjoy their traditional ties with England.

Further to this, Scotland would remain in the EU and Nato – although, interestingly, the UK’s fleet of submarine-carried nuclear weapons, held at Faslane naval base on the Clyde, would have to go.

Opposition to independence

The Yes campaign faces its most stringent opposition from Better Together, an anti-independence group whose leading figure is the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. Darling was involved in the campaign’s launch in June 2012 and has subsequently delivered an impactful speech on the subject in the annual John P Mackintosh lecture in November 2012.

Darling has been criticised by some Scottish Labour MPs and supporters who believe that working with Conservatives on the Better Together campaign may damage Labour’s prospects in Scotland.

Devolution Plus?

As reported in the Irish Times recently, Sir Ken Bloomfield*, speaking at the Merriman Summer School this year, said he expected the push for Scottish independence to fail. However, he interestingly added that such a poll result could lead to a so-called ‘devolution-plus’ arrangement with the rest of the UK (also termed as ‘Calman plus’ and advocated by senior Scottish Liberal Democrats and supported by The Scotsman).

This means that if the Scottish people reject independence, it doesn’t mean they will suddenly lose their identity.

Whatever the outcome on 18th September 2014, Northern Ireland will be looking closely at the result with republicans ready for the question to be raised on Irish independence and unionists conscious of deepening already loosening ties with the British mainland.

*Sir Kenneth Bloomfield served as a member of the Northern Ireland Civil Service from 1952 to 1991 in a range of posts, ending as Head of the Service from 1984 to 1991. Since retirement he has published four books, two of which include ‘Stormont in Crisis’ and ‘A Tragedy of Errors analyse the course of events in Northern Ireland since partition’.

Natalie Tennyson is a Senior Account Executive at Pembroke Communications. She is from Armagh and studied politics at the University of Manchester having specialised in British politics. Natalie works with clients from the education, health, legal, agri and financial sectors in the Corporate team at Pembroke. She tweets at @n_tenn.

Read: Independent Scotland would ‘cut corporation tax, keep sterling, stay in EU and scrap the BBC’

Read: Scottish Government to reveal ‘landmark’ independence plan

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