Thursday, 18 September 2014

Scottish Independence Vote Balances Politics and Economics

On Thursday, Scotland will vote on a referendum that could establish a Scottish state separate from Britain for the first time since 1707. If it passes, the Scottish and British economic and political landscape will change drastically.

THE VOTE

On Thursday
Registered voters in Scotland can vote on the referendum at their neighborhood polling station from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Votes will be counted immediately after the polls close; results are expected to be announced early Friday morning. The ballot is straightforward:


On Friday
If the outcome is “yes,” the Scottish government will start an 18-month process to final independence, scheduled to take effect in March 2016. This will allow time to legally transfer power to the Scottish Parliament and reach agreement with the rest of Britain, the European Union and other international partners. An independent Scotland would then hold its first parliamentary election on May 5, 2016.

ECONOMY

Budget: taxes and public spending
Scotland and Britain have run a deficit for the last five years, but Scotland’s has been smaller. Tax revenue has been higher in Scotland over the same period of time. In 2011-12, the most recent year available, tax receipts per person were £10,700, while in Britain they were £9,000.


Scotland’s largest budget expenses are for social protection, which include health spending, welfare and state pensions. Scotland is currently operating under Britain’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, which includes allowances for the unemployed, the disabled and the poor. The Scottish government has expressed concern that independence from Britain could disrupt welfare services.

Oil and gas revenues
An independent Scotland would gain control of the oil and gas revenues within its boundaries. These revenues, which now go to the British Treasury, have made up 12 percent to 21 percent of Scotland's total public sector revenue in the last 10 years. The British government argues that revenue from North Sea oil and gas has fallen in recent years due to declining production — and by staying with Britain, Scotland would be protected from the industry's unpredictability.


Currency
Scotland has three options: continue using the British pound sterling, establish its own currency or join the euro. The Fiscal Commission set up by the Scottish government proposed that retaining the pound would be the best option because of the close economic ties with Britain. However, Britain would have to agree.

POLITICS

Politics
Scotland has 59 seats out of 650 in the Westminster Parliament. Though Scotland has elected more liberal candidates, they are often overshadowed by a Conservative majority in Parliament.

By separating from Britain, Scots would be able to elect their own Parliament to decide all national matters. Even though Scotland created a limited Parliament in 1998, certain issues, like benefits, social security, defense, employment and the oil and gas industry, can be decided only by the British Parliament.

The British government suggests that Scotland could push for further devolution without separation, similar to the 2012 Scotland Act that gave more power to the Scottish Parliament.


Scotland’s role in the E.U.
The Scottish government has outlined a plan to negotiate for membership in the European Union if the referendum passes. As an independent member, Scotland would be able to make its own industries and finances a priority in European Union negotiations. But by staying with Britain, Scotland would continue to benefit from being one of the union's powerful “big four” nations.

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