Whether Scotland should break away from England and become an independent nation is one of the longest-running political debates in the history of the United Kingdom. It’s also one of the most fascinating, because it often pits people’s cultural values and emotions against their own political and economic interests.
If making the case for a tipping point on Scottish independence were your starter for ten, you could reasonably point to two critical developments:
(1) This May, the Scottish National Party romped to the most impressive election performance of any party since devolution. With all due love and respect to my mother’s family, I feel safe in saying that allowing one clan to get a clear majority of power is not something that comes naturally to Scots. But the nationalists persuaded the people to entrust them with a majority, and to sack MSPs from all three other major parties in the process. SNP leader Alex Salmond has promised a national referendum on independence.
(2) Meanwhile south of the border, the Treasury has just announced that England is subsidizing Scotland to the merry Highlands tune of £1,600 per Scot (That’s about USD 2,600). Some political junkies once thought that resentment of the undue influence over English affairs theoretically exercised by Scottish MPs in Westminister would lead many English citizens to want to hive off Scotland as an independent nation. But the truth is that if you ask the average Englander what they think of the West Lothian question, you are likely to hear “Look mate, if they aren’t in the premiership, I don’t follow ’em”. In contrast, everyone understands money, especially people who are paying for services that Scots receive for free due to English subsidy.
Politically, Scottish independence is viscerally a non-starter for PM Cameron and his fellow Tories. But is that an end of it? In public, Tory politicians and activists are often passionate about maintaining the union. But in private, some of them, particularly if they are on the youngish side, cast a gelid eye upon regional politics and perceive that Scottish independence would be a political boon to the party. The Tory Party in Scotland is dead on its feet. If Scotland were left to its own devices, the Tories might rule the rest of the U.K. for a generation. The prior government struggled with the parallel contradiction: Tony Blair supported devolution to a degree but knew at the same time that Labour power relied upon the presence of Scottish MPs in Westminster (not incidentally, he and Gordon Brown were Scottish).
I’ll wager my two pence that within the next decade, a national referendum will show that a majority of the English support Scottish independence. I say that not only in light of the aforementioned political developments, but also because of my completely unscientific sense of popular opinion as gathered from a completely non-random series of conversations with English people over the past quarter century. The emotional attachments to union remain strong within the blessed plot, but in the long run will lose out to the pain of paying the substantial tab thereof. In Scotland, the reverse seems more likely. To be free of English control at last, a fully independent nation on the world stage, would bring joy into even the flintiest Scottish hearts. But I doubt even those powerful emotions will add up for most Scots to more than 1,600 quid per annum.