Friday, 19 September 2014

Q&A: What you need to know about Scotland's vote

Yes or No? Scottish voters on Thursday will choose whether to continue their 307-year-old union with England or become a separate nation — the 31st formed since World War II.

If Scotland votes for independence, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will lose a third of its territory and 8% of its citizens. Population-wise, that's the equivalent of Texas seceding from the USA.

Here is a rundown on what it's all about – and what's at stake:


Q: Why is this happening now?

A: In 1999, the parliament in London started to transfer some powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2009, Scotland's parliament decided to go a giant step further by pushing for an independence vote. Two years ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to allow the referendum to take place because the case for independence seemed weak at the time.


Q: What is the argument for voting 'yes'?

A: Supporters of independence want direct control over their affairs. Scots tend to be left-leaning and chafe at the policies embraced by the ruling Conservative Party in London. In the most recent general election, just a single Conservative Party member was elected in Scotland.

Q: What is the argument for voting 'no'?

A: Pro-unity advocates say being part of the United Kingdom gives Scotland a bigger say in world affairs through major alliances such as the European Union and NATO, in which a united nation has more clout. They also say continued union means more jobs, stronger financial services, continued use of the British pound and a tradition of partnership that goes back three centuries.


Q: Who are some big names on Team United Kingdom?

A: President Obama, Pope Francis and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Queen Elizabeth is officially neutral but has urged voters to think about what they are doing.


Q: Who is on Team Scotland?

A: Actors Sean Connery, Brian Cox and Alan Cumming.


Q: Which side will win?

A: It's too close to call. A poll in early September showed support for independence slightly ahead. Since then, most polls have shown the "No" campaign to be ahead by a few percentage points. Social media are also providing clues: From Aug. 1 to Sept. 8, Facebook had more than 10 million referendum-related posts from across the U.K. Interactions around the phrase "Vote Yes" outpaced "Vote No" by 2-to-1.


Q: How concerned are leaders in the U.K. that Scotland will secede?

A: Leaders of the U.K.'s three main political parties have been campaigning at a furious pace in recent weeks to persuade Scots to vote "No." Cameron of the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and opposition Labor leader Ed Miliband have all been making speeches and attending rallies in Scotland. Cameron wrote in an opinion piece last week in the Daily Mail: "Let no one in Scotland be in any doubt: we desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart."


Q: Could a vote for independence cost Prime Minister Cameron his job?

A: Cameron has said he "emphatically" will not resign if Scotland votes to leave the U.K. His Conservative Party, which has a general election planned for next year, could start re-evaluating its leadership if Cameron is viewed as the man who lost Scotland. The party stands to gain from independence, however, because the Labor and Liberal Democrat parties have gotten a large part of their support from Scotland in the past.


Q: How would independence affect travel by those who live in Scotland and England?

A: Many families living in the U.K. have relatives who live and work in Scotland and England. Under an independent Scotland, travel between the two could become more difficult and involve border checks, passports and even visas. That scenario is unlikely if Scotland is allowed immediate membership in the EU, which permits free movement across member countries.


Q: What are other likely changes?

A: There are many questions that don't have clear answers. How will the U.K.'s oil wealth be divided up? Will Scotland's social welfare protections be better or worse off? Will there be an exodus of business down south? Will jobs be lost? Unionists and pro-independence backers disagree on the answers. You can read more on these issues here.


Q: How does Scotland's vote affect the USA?

A: The special relationship between the U.K. and USA is unlikely to be altered dramatically. One area that is of major concern for Obama is the U.S. nuclear submarines that are based about 20 miles outside of Glasgow and currently leased to London, forming the backbone of the U.K.'s nuclear deterrent. Scots are against the base being there and may push to move it if independence prevails.


Q: Would an independent Scotland be able to remain in the EU and NATO?

A: European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has not directly addressed an independent Scotland's aspirations to be a member of the 28-nation EU.

He has said only that it would be "extremely difficult" and that EU treaties would not apply to secessionist states. Jean-Claude Juncker, who will soon replace him, has echoed this sentiment, saying that an independent Scotland would need to reapply. An independent Scotland also may be pushed out of NATO. The military alliance has yet to formally say that but has signaled it is likely.


Q: How might financial markets view independence?

A: With some trepidation, at least initially. There are a lot of assets that would need to be divided. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has said the prospect of an independent Scotland adds to geopolitical uncertainty that may affect global growth.


Q: Can an independent Scotland still use the pound?

A: Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney says the SNP's desire to keep the U.K.'s central bank and currency as its own is not compatible with sovereignty. SNP leader Salmond has rejected that claim and says the pound belongs as much to Scotland as it does to England. The markets will ultimately pass judgment.


Q: What about the Monarchy (and cute baby George)?

A: Queen Elizabeth II would become Queen of Scots. She is already the formal head of state for the U.K., Canada, Australian and New Zealand. The SNP has said that would be the case for as long as the people of Scotland want to remain a monarchy.


Q: If Scotland votes for independence, when will that actually happen?

A: Scotland's political leaders have proposed independence day to be on March 24, 2016. The interim would allow for the transition to a new state — the need to renegotiate treaties, write a constitution, divide revenue and debts. There's the new flag to consider, too.


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