Sunday, 4 September 2011

COMMENT: On the Scottish referendum

Last May, in the regional elections, Alex Salmond's SNP achieved an outstanding victory, retaining 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP's best achievement ever, surpassing their important victory in 2007.

A few days after the elections, Salmond stated that since the final objective of the SNP is the independence of Scotland, the new Scottish Government –which will see a majority of SNP's MSPs, therefore being able to pass any law or bill they want without external support from other parties– would hold a referendum on the Scottish independence in the next few years.

The immediate reaction of conservative politicians was to back the celebration of the referendum as soon as possible, therefore trusting that the majority of Scots do not back the break-up of Britain. But the SNP wants to have a few years to prepare the population for a referendum of this kind, hence it will not take place immediately.

But, first of all, would people in Scotland back a referendum on Scottish independence? And second, what does it really imply?

The first movement of the UK Government was admitting and backing the celebration of the referendum, not opposing it. This does not mean that Cons and LibDems are suddenly on Salmond's side, but it may mean that they really know that a majority of Scots would not back Scottish independence, hence they don't see the referendum as a threat. Indeed past surveys have shown that support for independence among Scots is still too small –around 23%, according to the last Scottish Social Attitudes Survey–.

The SNP has to understand that not all of those who have voted them in the regional elections will back a referendum on Scottish independence.

On the other hand, the representation of those who want Scottish independence may be exaggerated at the polls. Most of the people do not care about Scottish independence, and therefore do not take part in surveys. However, a referendum with certain kind of legal validity would drive them to vote and show their opinion, therefore lowering the percentage of those who support Scottish independence. The turnout at the last elections only reached 49%, but a referendum on Scottish independence would see a much higher turnout.

Finally, Salmond has always campaigned for an independent Scotland where North Sea oilfields would finance the cost of independence. But in the current financial and economical landscape it is unlikely that the UK Government would cede the complete exploitation of the North Sea oilfields to Scotland, losing billions of yearly revenues.

Those who back independence have to sit down and stop thinking if Scotland could achieve independence, and start thinking whether it could afford it.

By CDR with No comments


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