This September, the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country, ending its 300-year union with the United Kingdom. The journey to the 2014 Referendum has been burdened by a slew of political oppositions and controversies, burdens that are sure to remain as the date of Referendum draws nearer. Here’s everything you need to know about Scotland’s history of devolution and how Scotland’s independence will impact the UK and the world:
First, take a small leap back in time to the Union Act of 1707. Emerging from a financial crisis, Scotland was forced to seal a political union with England that dissolved each country’s separate Parliaments and created a single Parliament at Westminster in London.
According the Scottish Government’s website, devolution efforts began as early as 1885 when the “Scottish Office was created as a Department of the UK Government,” which took up the “responsibility for many of the issues which in England and Wales were dealt with by Whitehall Departments, such as health, education, justice, agriculture, fisheries and farming, and was headed by a UK Cabinet Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland.”
Fast forward now to 1979, when a Referendum to establish a Scottish Assembly, or a “Home Rule for Scotland,” was thwarted by the then-government at Westminster. During this time, George Cunningham MP (Member of Parliament) for Islington South and Finsbury was responsible for drawing up the “40 percent amendment,” which meant - as Dennis Canavan, former MP for Falkirk West and current chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign, says - “that the devolution proposals would require the support of not just a simple majority of those voting in the referendum but a minimum of 40 per cent of those entitled to vote.”
Despite the heated debates over the democracy of the 40 percent amendment, it was carried through the voting procedures. In Parliament, the amendment was defeated with 51 Labour MPs voting against it. When people of Scotland took to the polls, about 52% voted “Yes” for a Scottish Assembly, but as that only made about one third of the electorate, it failed to meet the 40 percent requirement.
Canavan says, “George Cunningham’s wrecking amendment resulted in Scotland having to wait another 20 years for its own Parliament. Cunningham also helped to herald the Thatcher era and 18 years of Tory governments for which the people of Scotland did not vote.”
According to the Scottish Government website, the 1989 Scottish Constitution Convention consisted of “representatives of civic Scotland and some of the political parties” and drafted the details of devolution, including “proposals for a directly elected Scottish Parliament with wide legislative powers.” The proposals received an overwhelming amount of support from the people of Scotland, with “74 per cent voting in favour of a Scottish Parliament and 63 per cent voting for the Parliament to have powers to vary the basic rate of income tax.” The Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament officially convened on July 1st, 1999.
In May 2011, the first steps toward compiling the Scottish Independence Referendum were set in motion with the election of First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party. A year later in November 2012, Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron signed the historic “Edinburgh Agreement,” which confirmed “the Scottish Parliament’s power to hold a vote that will be respected fully by both governments.”
Finally, in November of 2013, the Scottish Parliament passed the Scotland Independence Referendum Bill. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that in this historic moment, “Independence is not about this administration but about the right of the people of Scotland to choose a Government of our own.”
The Yes Scotland website lists all of the possible changes that would occur if Scotland were to become an independent state, from business to forestry, to education and immigration. According to the site, many of the primary concerns revolve around access to public services such as the National Health Service and public education. In the case of an independent Scotland, the access to public services will remain the same because the Scottish Parliament already controls them.
One of the questions listed pokes right at the heart of the issue: “Does Scotland have what it takes to be independent?”
According to the Yes Scotland campaign, Scotland does have what it takes: “We have the people, resources and ingenuity to prosper. Instead we should be asking, why isn’t Scotland doing better, given all the natural and human wealth we enjoy?”
In terms of international affairs, an independent Scotland would maintain its membership in NATO so long as that membership does not require the possession of nuclear weapons. An independent Scotland would be against nuclear weapons because “they are immoral, they are incredibly expensive and almost useless in terms of protecting us against the most significant threats to our national security.”
On the Scottish Referendum site, one of the Top 10 questions listed is, “If Scotland votes No, will there be another referendum on independence at a later date?”
According to the answer listed, “the Edinburgh Agreement states that a referendum must be held by the end of 2014,” so there is no future referendum planned after September. This is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
When voters, as young as 16 and 17 years old, vote Yes or No on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” on September 18th, 2014, they will not only be deciding whether or not to disband a 300-year political union, but they will also determine if today’s generations are ready to accept the growth of a new, independent Scotland.
Samantha Ruggiero is an editorial intern at Warscapes.
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