RIP Great Britain?

September 12, 2014 Topic: Domestic PoliticsIndependence Region: United Kingdom

RIP Great Britain?

"Yes" vs. "Better Together": Scotland's day to decide on the independence question draws near. The world will be watching.

On September 10, with many politicians from elsewhere in Britain campaigning in Scotland, Salmond went on the offensive, branding them as unwelcome. This was indeed the reaction, some visiting English politicians found. 

There was also unsettling economic news that might have been expected to alarm the leader-in-waiting of a small country. The value of shares in Scottish companies fell by several billion pounds when news of the pro-separation polls sunk in. This week, four major banks issued statements indicating a likelihood that they would redomicile their operations outside Scotland in the event of Scottish independence.

The economist Paul Krugman, until now a darling of the radical Scottish intelligentsia, warned on Monday that the risks of going it alone are huge. “You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.”

But the SNP appeared utterly unfazed. On television, its leaders were adamant that ISIS and Ukraine were responsible for any financial woes. Instead, it was Westminster which was the most nervous. Remarkably, on September 8, Prime Minister Cameron endorsed an impromptu announcement made by his predecessor in that office Gordon Brown of new powers for Scotland. There was amazement among some analysts that a new constitutional settlement was announced in such a contrived way. “The new union,” which Brown talked about, was not put to people in the rest of the UK. Angry reactions from respected politicians in Cameron’s own party, such as John Redwood and Norman Tebbit soon followed. The prospects for the brand of English nationalism popularized by Ukip appeared enhanced with a British general election approaching.

A poll restoring a six-point lead to the pro-Union side steadied nerves on Wednesday. But Salmond’s supporters poured on to Glasgow’s main public square to dance an impromptu Scottish Highland jig. The message was that the future belonged to them and their cause. Who is right will be revealed on September 19 with a somewhat bemused but increasingly nervous world watching the outcome.

Tom Gallagher is an Edinburgh-based political scientist. Manchester University Press will publish his next book, Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union, in October.

Image: provided by author.