Category Archives: Scotland

Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)
On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)

The next opposition leader of Scotland’s regional parliament just might be an openly gay Conservative woman.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

It sounds farfetched, but polls show that as the Scottish National Party (SNP) continues to lead by a wide margin with regional elections approaching on May 5, the Scottish Labour Party has sunk so low that Scottish Conservatives actually have a strong chance to place second — albeit a very far second behind the SNP and its popular leader, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

If the Tories do indeed pull off a victory in Scotland, it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Scottish Tories to rebrand themselves in Davidson’s image — and it would make Davidson, nearly overnight, a model figure in the modern Conservative Party.

Nothing’s certain.

The latest Survation/Daily Record poll conducted between April 15 and 20 gives the SNP a massive lead with 53% of the vote. Far behind in second place was Labour with 18%, but directly behind Labour? The Conservatives with 17%.

It’s virtually a law of post-Thatcher British politics that Scotland is a no-go zone for the Tories. In the 2015 general election, prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives won just one seat (out of 59) and 14.9% of the vote, its lowest-ever vote share. The last time the Conservatives won even 25% of the Scottish vote in a general election was 1992. Since the 1997 landslide that wiped out the Conservatives, the party has elected just two MPs and, since 2005, the only Tory MP has been David Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Since May 2015, Mundell has served as the secretary of state for Scotland.

It’s been even worse for the Scottish Tories in local elections — the region-wide Conservative vote was just 12.4% in 2011 and just 13.9% in 2007. In Scotland’s post-devolution history (it’s had a regional parliament only since 1999), the Conservatives have held no more than 18 seats (out of 129).

So it’s remarkable that, at this point, the Conservatives even have a shot at becoming the official opposition at Holyrood.

Much of the credit belongs to Davidson, who is not your typical Tory.  Continue reading Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

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Everyone knows that Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014.scotlandEuropean_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

The ‘Yes’ campaign  waged that fight fully knowing that, by 2017, there would be a broader UK-wide vote on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. Given that Scots are relatively (though not universally) more pro-European than English voters, growing British euroscepticism may have played an important role to nudge some Scots toward the ‘Yes’ camp.

With that Brexit referendum now set for June 23, it’s the Scottish referendum that looms over the coming vote in at least two ways that could make Brexit more likely.

The first amounts to pure game theory on the part of Scotland’s voters, who comprise around 8.4% of the total UK population.

Continue reading How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

16 in 2016: Sixteen global elections to watch in 2016

(123rf.com)
(123rf.com)

Of the most important elections in 2015, it’s a safe bet to argue that three of them took place in Greece: the January parliamentary elections, one insane roller-coaster of a referendum in July and another snap parliamentary vote again in September.

So what is the world to do in 2016, when no one expects Greeks to return to the polls? (Though, Athens being Athens, it’s impossible to rule the possibility out.)

Fear not. The new year will bring with it a fresh schedule of exciting elections on all seven continents, including in the United States, which after a marathon pair of primary campaigns, will finally choose the country’s 45th president in November 2016.

But following American politics only begins to scratch the surface.

At least two world leaders in 2016 will put ballot questions to voters  that could make or break their careers (and legacies).

New governments could emerge from elections in Taiwan, the Philippines, Morocco, Georgia, Peru, Jamaica, Ghana, Zambia and Australia.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy will either advance or flame out in his bid for a French political comeback in 2016.

Semi-autocratic leaders in Russia, Uganda, Congo and Vietnam will seek endorsements from their voters while hoping that the veneer of elections doesn’t unleash popular protest.

An opaque series of votes in Iran could determine the country’s future Supreme Leader.

A mayoral election in London (and regional elections outside England) could reshuffle British politics with an even more important vote on the horizon in 2017.

One very special election could change the international agenda of world peace and global security altogether.

Without further ado, here is Suffragio‘s guide to the top 16 elections to watch in 2016. After a short break in the new year, your attention should turn to the South China Sea… Continue reading 16 in 2016: Sixteen global elections to watch in 2016

Charles Kennedy has died at age 55

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It’s a stunning thing to wake up to the news that Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has died at the relatively young age of 55.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The Inverness-born Kennedy represented Ross, Skye and Lochaber since 1997, and who represented a similar constituency in northern Scotland from 1983, until the general election just over three weeks ago. The Scottish National Party (SNP) swept away all but three of Scotland’s constituencies, including Kennedy’s, a shock result that had more to do with the dynamics of Scottish nationalism in the post-referendum era, not Kennedy, who remained widely popular. His death will deprive the Liberal Democrats of someone who could have helped the party rebuild its presence in Scotland.

As LibDem leader between 1999 and 2006, Kennedy served as a key transition between the beloved Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg, the latter who led the party on an economically liberal turn in the 2010 elections and ultimately brought the Liberal Democrats into government.

In May, however, the Liberal Democrats were wiped out — in England and Scotland alike — after widespread disappointment among their voters. The Liberal Democratic caucus reduced from 57 members of parliament to just eight.

Notwithstanding the Cleggmania of 2010, the high-water mark for the party was actually the 2005 election, when Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats won 62 seats.

As leader, Kennedy was one of the few opposition voices to prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq. Despite grumblings from some Labour MPs, including the late former foreign minister Robin Cook, Blair’s decision to join the Iraq invasion won at least begrudging support from his own party and quiet acquiescence from the Conservative Party.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, while the Tories fumbled in the electoral wilderness, shifting leaders from William Hague to Iain Duncan Smith to Michael Howard in the mid-2000s, Kennedy was often the de facto leader of the opposition, and he was certainly the undisputed leader of the anti-war movement in 2003 and beyond.

It’s true that Kennedy’s leadership ended when it became clear that he had a problem with alcohol. That he admitted it, sought treatment and remained a beloved elder statesman within the Liberal Democratic camp speaks to his strength — even Blair, in his memoirs, spoke of the pressure that drove him to problem drinking at Number 10.

Notwithstanding former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s comments, now being widely derided, suggesting Kennedy might have been a closet nationalist, the universal response across the country today is praise for a charismatic leader who took principled stands.

The party holds a leadership election on July 16, with the more leftist Tim Farron generally leading his opponent, the more centrist Norman Lamb. That the winner of the contest will try to restore the party’s fortunes without the talents of Charlie Kennedy, however, amounts to a tragic setback.

How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

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Imagine it is May 2016, and Scottish voters are going to the polls to select the members of its regional parliament at Holyrood.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

You’re Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and you’re asking voters to deliver a third consecutive term to the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the pro-independence, social democratic party that’s controlled Scottish government since 2007.

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RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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Which scenario would you prefer? Continue reading How an SNP sweep could backfire if it delivers power to Labour

Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top

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Part of the undeniable appeal of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign is her push to become the first woman to lead the United States, enhanced by the fact that she aims to succeed the first African-American president.USflag

But, if elected, Clinton will be far from the only powerful woman on the world stage.

If she wins the November 2016 presidential race, she’ll join a list of world leaders that includes German president Angela Merkel, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

What’s more, there’s never been a better moment for women leading their countries. Assuming that Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 and serves two terms, it’s not inconceivable that she’d lead the United States at a time of ‘peak’ female leadership. But nowhere is that more true than in Europe. In fact, it’s not inconceivable that each of the six largest member-states of the European Union could have women in charge during a potential Clinton administration.

Here’s who they are — and how they might rise to power. Continue reading Nine European women who could join Hillary Clinton at the top

Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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A poll late last week confirmed that, if survey trends hold, it will be very difficult for the Labour Party to form a new government without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) after the United Kingdom’s May 7 general elections.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Presumably, that makes Labour leader Ed Miliband’s declaration this week ruling out any coalition with the SNP somewhat awkward with the reality that the SNP may win between 40 and 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, many of which are currently held by Labour MPs and which for years were reliable seats on the Labour backbenches — so reliable, in fact, that none of those 59 constituencies changed parties between the 2005 and 2010 general elections.

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No longer.

With polls showing that Labour’s narrow lead against the governing Conservative Party has vanished, the SNP earthquake means that Labour is unlikely to form a government without at least some form of SNP support and, notably, Miliband didn’t rule out an informal arrangement whereby the SNP supports a Labour minority government. Nevertheless, just six months after Scottish voters narrowly rejected independence, they are now set to determine the balance of power throughout the entire United Kingdom.

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RELATED: Scottish referendum results — winners and losers

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Post-referendum, Scottish voters are now flocking to the SNP not only in regional politics (the SNP controls a majority government in the Scottish parliament) but in national politics as well. With the SNP winning nearly half of the Scottish vote and with a lead of around 20% against Labour, it could turn Scotland almost universally yellow (the SNP’s color), wiping out Labour’s Scottish heartland and depriving the Liberal Democrats of many of their 11 seats as well, nearly 20% of the LibDem MPs in total.

It’s not entirely surprising. Scottish voters are keen to hold Westminster accountable for promises of ‘devolution max,’ a set of promises made desperately by Labour and Conservative leaders alike in the last days of the referendum. When the ‘Yes’ campaign lost the referendum, Alex Salmond stepped down both as SNP leader and as Scotland’s first minister. Though he remains a relatively beloved figure in Scotland, his replacement, Nicola Sturgeon (pictured above) is even more popular, especially among young voters, evincing a more progressive edge than Salmond’s hard-edged leftism forged in the divisive politics of the 1970s. Continue reading Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

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The results are in, and Scotland did not vote yesterday to become a sovereign, independent country.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Scottish residents — and all British citizens — will wake up today to find that, however narrowly, the United Kingdom will remain as united today as it was yesterday, from a formal standpoint.

With all 32 local councils reporting, the ‘Yes’ camp has won 1.618 million votes (44.7% of the vote) against 2.002 million votes (55.3% of the vote) in favor of remaining within the British union, capping a 19-month campaign that resulted in a staggering 84.6% turnout in Thursday’s vote.

Moreover, ‘Yes’ won four councils, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city:

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But the close call has shaken the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s vote will now dominate the political agenda in the final eight months before the entire country votes in a general election next May, for better or worse.

So who comes out of the referendum’s marathon campaign looking better? Who comes out of the campaign bruised? Here’s Suffragio‘s tally of the winners and losers, following what must be one of the most historic elections of the 2010s in one of the world’s oldest democracies.

The Winners

1. Scottish nationalism 

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The nationalists lost Thursday’s referendum. So why are they still ‘winners’ in a political sense? Continue reading Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

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Today, residents of Scotland, a region of 5.3 million people, will vote in referendum that’s been scheduled for 19 months, and that will ask one simple question:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The answer could change the economic, social and cultural outcomes of the lives of both English and Scottish residents for generations to come.

With polls set to open shortly, Suffragio looks at ten policy (and other) issues that Scots are considering as they cast their ballots, either to become an independent state or to remain part of the United Kingdom. Continue reading Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

If Scotland votes ‘No,’ what will devolution-max entail?

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One of the biggest carrots that the ‘Better Together’ campaign is dangling to undecided voters in the week before tomorrow’s Scottish independence referendum is the concept of ‘devo-max’ — the idea that London will deliver ever greater devolution of policymaking powers to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

Conservative prime minister David Cameron, Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband on Tuesday together signed a high-profile pledge to give Scotland greater powers, even without reducing the amount of financial support Scotland currently receives from Westminster.

That is, of course, if Scots vote ‘No’ to independence.

It’s a vow that nationalist leaders, including Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, were quick to dismiss as last-minute gasps of desperation not to be trusted. Salmond, among others, noted that it was Cameron’s insistence on a straight in-or-out vote that eliminated a possible third option for a more federal United Kingdom or some form of devo-max when the two leaders agreed the referendum in March 2013.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown has argued for months that a ‘No’ vote would necessarily require a debate over additional devolution. It might have been strategically wiser if British party leaders, as well as the leaders of the ‘Better Together’ campaign like former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, had acknowledged the devo-max option earlier. That may be one reason why Brown, who engineered Scottish devolution upon Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, has emerged as such a strong champion for the ‘No’ campaign, despite his national defeat in the 2010 general election. His speech today, less than 24 hours before polls open, was one of the best of the campaign (on either side) and maybe the best of his career.

If a ‘Yes’ vote could endanger Cameron’s premiership, a ‘No’ vote tomorrow could alter Brown’s legacy for the positive.

But as politicians from the left and the right have descended upon Scotland in the last week, with polls showing a much tighter contest than the anti-independence campaign ever anticipated, it’s worth considering three questions about the latest promise of further devolution:

  • Has Scotland effectively used its local governance powers in the past 15 years?
  • What additional powers might Scotland be granted as part of ‘devo-max’?
  • With a general election approaching in May 2015, and with the governing Conservative base firmly rooted in England, is the promise of devo-max something Cameron can legitimately deliver, in light of grumbling from English Tories increasingly frustrated about concessions to Scotland?

Continue reading If Scotland votes ‘No,’ what will devolution-max entail?

After Independence Day: The Road Ahead for an Independent Scotland

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Guest post by Michael J. Geary

With three days to go before Scotland votes on whether to cut the cord on its 300-year relationship with London, opinion polls indicate that the final result is simply too close to call.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The ‘Yes’ campaign had narrowed the gap and last week’s polls have forced London and the British establishment to take evasive action. Some called on Queen Elizabeth II, on vacation at her Scottish estate, to make a statement in support of maintaining the Union. Others, fearing that the wind was behind the pro-independence movement, have adopted more Machiavellian tactics with claims that banks would abandon Scotland if the ‘Yes’ side won. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England repeated that an independent Scotland could not use the pound. Most of the claims made by London seem as dodgy as the dossier that made the case for Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war; most of it does not stand up to objective scrutiny. But if ‘Team Independence’ wins on 18 September, what are Edinburgh’s immediate objectives and challenges?

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RELATED: How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

RELATED: Why would an independent Scotland want to keep the pound?

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Scotland is not the first sub-territorial entity to seek independence and will not be the last. There are almost 60 secessionist movements worldwide with claims to independence. Most face similar challenges post-independence, but modern Scotland is better equipped than most to successfully navigate these obstacles but examining past precedents.

Ireland exited the United Kingdom in 1921; Armageddon did not follow, although it did experience a brief civil war over the terms of the independence agreement, having failed to secure Northern Ireland. The Free State government adopted a new Irish pound, which was for a number of decades pegged to sterling and monitored by a currency commission. Dublin had no central bank until 1943 and the Bank of Ireland acted as banker to the government until the early 1970s. Having left the Commonwealth, Ireland sought greater interdependence from Great Britain through full membership of all the main international organizations, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Communities.

For Scotland, the first 18 months after a ‘Yes’ result will be crucial not only for finding a solution to the currency question but also in securing membership within the international community. Continue reading After Independence Day: The Road Ahead for an Independent Scotland

Who is Nicola Sturgeon? Meet the star of the SNP’s rising generation.

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If there’s one person who will benefit no matter how Scotland votes in its too-close-to-call independence referendum on September 18, it is deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has taken a high-profile role leading the ‘Yes’ campaign that supports Scottish independence.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

When Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) became first minister in May 2007, just eight years after Scotland’s initial elections for its local parliament in Holyrood, Sturgeon became his deputy, and she has served as the deputy leader of the SNP since 2004.

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RELATED: How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

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If Salmond suffers a defeat in next week’s referendum, the 44-year-old Sturgeon, a popular figure in Scotland, might soon replace the 59-year old Salmond in government. Some SNP deputies are already arguing that, if the ‘Yes’ camp doesn’t win next Thursday, Salmond should resign and allow Sturgeon to become first minister, in much the same way that Tories in Westminster are arguing that British prime minister David Cameron would have to step down if the ‘Yes’ campaign wins.

With polls now showing that the ‘Yes’ campaign has essentially caught up with the ‘No’ campaign, a close defeat may yet be a victory for Salmond. As in Québec in 1980, a narrow loss wouldn’t foreclose another possible vote in a decade’s time. But it might be difficult, after losing Scotland’s best chance at independence, for Salmond to lead the SNP into a campaign for a third consecutive term in the next elections, which must be held before 2016. Moreover, another term as first minister is a letdown from the much headier notion of becoming sovereign Scotland’s first prime minister.

On the other hand, if the ‘Yes’ camp pulls off the victory that just a week ago seemed out of its grasp, Sturgeon would almost certainly rise to deputy prime minister in an independent Scotland, just as much the heir apparent to Salmond then as now. As women flock toward independence, according to many polls, Sturgeon may be the ‘Yes’ campaign’s secret weapon.

The bottom line is that Sturgeon is the favorite to become, within the decade, either Scotland’s next first minister (within the existing UK system) or its second prime minister as an independent country.

In light of all of the questions — including Scotland’s currency and EU membership — that would be settled in its first chaotic years as an independent nation-state, Scotland’s future leadership is one of the key variables in whether it would become viable as a new state.

So what exactly would Sturgeon bring in the way of political skill and states(wo)manship?

Continue reading Who is Nicola Sturgeon? Meet the star of the SNP’s rising generation.

How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

Scottish referendum debate urging yes vote

One of the most vexing questions of the current campaign for Scottish independence is how easily it might be for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag IconEuropean_Union

As a constituent part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has been part of the European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, since 1972, the date of the first EEC enlargement, when Ireland and Denmark also joined.

As such, Scotland has been exempt from several conditions that would be required of an independent country seeking EU membership today. Scotland hasn’t had to join the eurozone or become a member of the Schengen zone, which allows all EU citizens to travel freely throughout 26 of the 28 member states (Ireland and the United Kingdom are the exceptions). It has also received some of the benefit of those rebates that Margaret Thatcher clawed back from Europe in the 1980s.

An independent Scotland might be forced to accept, at least in principle, joining either or both of the the eurozone the Schengen zone as a condition of re-accession to the European Union. The former could complicate the assurances that Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has tried to give that Scotland could continue using the British pound and, like Ireland today, share open borders with what remains of the United Kingdom. Continue reading How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

If Scotland votes for independence, will David Cameron resign?

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It was another Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillian, who explained in just five short words how governments can crumble with such spectacular suddenness:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Events, my dear boy, events.

Today, his Tory successor, British prime minister, David Cameron faces one of the biggest events of the history of his country — the possible disintegration of the British union, as the chances of a Scottish vote in favor of independence in 10 days rise dramatically.

As polls show that the campaign has rapidly narrowed (the ‘No’ campaign had a 20-point lead just last month), and with handful of polls now showing that the ‘Yes’ campaign has taken a narrow lead just days before the September 18 referendum, Cameron now suddenly faces the prospect that he’ll be the prime minister on whose watch Great Britain simply dissolved.

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RELATED: Why would an independent Scotland
even want to keep the pound?

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It was Cameron, after all, who agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond last year to hold a referendum, and it was Cameron who demanded a straight in/out vote — no third option for ‘devolution max’ or a federalized version of the United Kingdom.

So if Cameron loses Scotland, must Cameron go?

Victory for the independence camp would cause nearly as great a political earthquake in the rest of the United Kingdom as in Scotland. It would leave rest of the United Kingdom — England, Wales and Northern Ireland — to pick up the pieces of what was once a global superpower. All three major parties, including the center-left Labour Party and the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, fully opposed independence. So a ‘Yes’ victory would be a repudiation, from Scotland at least, of the entire political mainstream.

Cameron’s position, in particular, would be especially vulnerable as the prime minister who allowed the great British union to fall apart.

Continue reading If Scotland votes for independence, will David Cameron resign?

Why would an independent Scotland even want to keep the pound?

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Who cares about the pound anyway? scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

In the campaign for Scottish independence, key ‘Yes’ camp leaders consistently argue that a sovereign Scotland could retain the British pound as currency, and they’ve decried statements from British officials that Scotland wouldn’t be permitted to use the pound in the event that Scottish voters opt for independence in the September 18 referendum.

But putting aside whether, as a technical matter, Scotland would be able to adopt the pound, the greater issue is why it would actually want to do so — either in a formal currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom or by informally adopting the pound sterling as Scotland’s currency (‘Sterlingisation’).

Even though polls show the ‘Yes’ campaign narrowing the gap with the ‘No’ side, (the latest YouGov survey, taken between September 2 and 5, gave the ‘Yes’ camp its first lead of 47% to 45%, with 7% undecided), almost every poll in the last year shows more Scottish voters  opposed to independence than in favor of it.

If the ‘Yes’ side falls short, one of the key questions will be whether the decision to embrace the pound as an independent Scotland’s currency was wise as a strategic matter. But if the ‘Yes’ side carries the referendum, Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond will have to confront what kind of independence he’s actually won for a new country yoked on Day One to monetary policy dictated by the Bank of England.

It’s odd that the campaign’s fight over the pound has become such a central debate, but it’s possibly even odder that Salmond would cling to the pound (and other indicia of the union, such as the British monarchy) in his campaign for independence.

George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, has attempted to maintain a united front among his own Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour that Scotland would not be able to avail itself of the pound if it becomes an independent country. But there’s plenty of skepticism that the remaining United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would actually be able to stop Scotland from doing so. Continue reading Why would an independent Scotland even want to keep the pound?