What if Scotland votes ‘Yes’?
The Scottish Government’s vision for independence envisages considerable continuing collaboration between Scotland and the rest of the UK (Scottish Government, 2013). It proposes that Scotland would continue to keep the Queen as its Head of State. Although it would establish its own public broadcasting corporation, the new body would continue to broadcast existing BBC channels, simply inserting its own programmes into the BBC schedule (much as BBC Scotland currently ‘opts out’ of the corporation’s network coverage). Meanwhile the Scottish Government proposes that Scotland would continue to use the pound as part of a currency union with the rest of the UK, a proposition that the UK government (and the opposition Labour Party) has already indicated it would reject (Balls, 2014; HM Government, 2014a).
There are two important questions to be asked of the Scottish Government’s proposals for collaboration. First, do people in Scotland necessarily want the collaboration that the current Scottish Government envisages? Second, are people in the rest of Britain willing to accept the idea that they should share institutions and procedures with a part of the UK that has just voted to leave? Unless we can answer both questions in the affirmative, it is likely to prove more difficult for negotiators on the two sides to broker the kind of deal that the Scottish Government has proposed.
First of all we consider whether Scotland wishes to keep the Queen. On the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey respondents were asked whether an independent Scotland, “should keep the same King or Queen as England, or should it have its own President instead?” Most said they would like to retain the monarchy, though only 44 per cent said Scotland should “definitely” do so (while another 18 per cent only reckoned it “probably” should). In contrast, only a third definitely or probably wanted a President.
Scotland appears to be even keener to retain access to the BBC. We asked:
The BBC currently provides public service television in Scotland. If Scotland became an independent country, which of these statements on this card comes closest to your view?
The BBC should be available in Scotland in the same way as it is now
The BBC should be replaced by Scotland’s own public TV service
The BBC should be available and Scotland should have its own independent
public TV service
As many as 61 per cent said they would simply like to keep the access they already have and do not feel that the country should develop its own independent public television service. Another 25 per cent want both the BBC and for Scotland to have its own independent television service, while just 11 per cent believe the BBC should be replaced by Scotland’s own public broadcaster. In short the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, no less than 86 per cent, would like to keep the BBC available to viewers and listeners in Scotland. Just over one in three (36 per cent) want any kind of separate or additional public television service. It seems that here the Scottish public are even more enthusiastic about continuing collaboration than is their current government.
Keeping the pound is also a popular idea north of the border. The 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey asked people the following question:
If Scotland became independent which do you think it should use, the pound,
the euro or its own new currency?
Eight in ten (79 per cent) said it should continue to use the pound. Only 11 per cent said that it should have its own new currency and just 7 per cent opted for the euro. It should be noted, however, that the question did not distinguish between using the pound as part of a formal currency union with the rest of the UK (as proposed by the Scottish Government) and using it unilaterally without any such formal agreement. At the time the 2013 survey was being conducted (in the summer and early autumn of that year) this distinction was not one that had received much attention in the public debate. More recently it has done so, not least as a result of the controversial announcement that all the principal parties currently represented in the House of Commons would oppose the creation of such a union (Balls, 2014; HM Government, 2014a). Even so, it appears that long before that announcement in February 2014, there was quite a widespread appreciation that Scotland might not be allowed to use the pound. For when respondents to the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey were asked separately “if Scotland became independent which currency do you think it would be using after a few years”, just 57 per cent named the pound. Overall, no less than 28 per cent of people said they wanted to be able to use the pound if Scotland became independent, but anticipated that in practice this would not be possible.
So for the most part public opinion in Scotland backs continuing collaboration on the monarchy, the pound, and the BBC. But if such collaboration is to be sustainable then it will need to be acceptable to public opinion south of the border. But is public opinion in the rest of Britain willing to accept such arrangements with an independent Scotland? It appears that in each case the answer is, ‘yes’, albeit not overwhelmingly so.
This is certainly the picture that emerged in respect of the monarchy when we asked:
If Scotland becomes an independent country, separate from the rest of the UK, should Scotland be allowed to keep the same King or Queen as England and Wales or not?
Around two-thirds (65 per cent) of people in England and Wales think that an independent Scotland should be allowed to keep the same King or Queen, while only around a quarter (26 per cent) believe it should not. That said, just 35 per cent said that it should “definitely” be allowed to do so, while 30 per cent only agreed that it should “probably” be allowed to keep the monarchy. Such apparent equivocation might exist because many respondents had not considered the issue before – or it might reflect a feeling that Scotland should be allowed to share the Queen so long as the arrangement formed part of a wider settlement that was acceptable to both sides.
Such hesitancy is less apparent when it comes to sharing the BBC. No less than 54 per cent say that everyone in an independent Scotland should “definitely be allowed” to “watch BBC television programmes just as they do now” while another 27 per cent think they should “probably be allowed” to do so. Only 13 per cent oppose the idea. Doubtless such willingness would be conditional on people in Scotland continuing to pay the same television licence fee as everyone in the rest of the UK, but it would appear that there is an appetite on both sides of the border to continue to have access to the common body of news information and cultural entertainment that the BBC currently provides.
There is rather less enthusiasm about the prospect of allowing Scotland to share the pound, where the balance of opinion closely mirrors that on sharing the same monarchy. On the one hand, 69 per cent in England and Wales said that an independent Scotland should be allowed “to continue to use the pound as its currency if it wants to”, while just 26 per cent were opposed. Those figures appear to cast doubt on the suggestion that most people in the rest of the UK would not be willing to contemplate the formation of a currency union with an independent Scotland (Holehouse, 2014). On the other hand, only 38 per cent think an independent Scotland should “definitely be allowed” to use the pound while almost as many, 31 per cent, only say that it should “probably be allowed” to do so. This suggests the issue is one where the eventual balance of public opinion in the rest of the UK could well depend on the lead given by its politicians. The public south of the border may come to decide that a currency union is a bad idea if that is the message they hear (Curtice, 2014); equally it seems that they could also be persuaded to tolerate the idea.
For the most part, then, it appears that British public opinion does not look like a serious barrier to continuing collaboration between the two countries in the event of independence. Both publics seem at least willing to tolerate sharing the monarchy, the BBC and the pound, though perhaps tolerance should not be mistaken for enthusiasm.
Citizenship in a new Scotland
One of the key issues that both governments would have to decide between them in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in the independence referendum is who would have the right to become a Scottish citizen and who among those living north of the border would be allowed to retain their existing British citizenship. The Scottish Government has indicated that any British citizen born in Scotland or living in Scotland on independence day would automatically become a Scottish citizen. At the same time, however, so far as the Scottish Government is concerned such persons would also be able to keep their British citizenship should they wish to do so (Scottish Government, 2013). The UK government has been a little less forthcoming; it has acknowledged that it normally allows individuals to hold dual citizenship, but also states:
it cannot be guaranteed that dual nationality would be available to all persons who would be British citizens prior to independence, and who then became Scottish citizens. (HM Government, 2014c: 62)
On this topic, however, neither government can be confident that its policy position reflects the broad swathe of public opinion in their part of Britain. As the concept of ‘citizenship’ is not that widely understood amongst the public in Britain, we addressed the issue in terms of one of the key concomitants of citizenship, the right to hold a passport. In Scotland we posed the following question:
If Scotland became independent what choices about passports should be available to citizens living here?
People should have to choose whether they keep their British passport or have a Scottish one
People should be able to keep their British passport and have a Scottish one
People should only be able to have a Scottish passport
Just under a half (47 per cent) of those living in Scotland think that people should be able to keep their British passport and have a Scottish one too. A third (32 per cent) feel people should have to choose between the two, and 17 per cent think people should only be able to have a Scottish passport. Perhaps the pattern of responses reflects an innate suspicion of people being allowed to have two passports, but it could equally well indicate that many people feel that those who become Scottish citizens should demonstrate some commitment to the new country.
To ascertain people’s views on this issue in England and Wales we asked:
Say that Scotland becomes an independent country, separate from the rest of the UK, and everyone living in Scotland who currently has a British passport becomes entitled to have a Scottish passport. Which of the statements on this card comes closest to your own view about what should then happen?
People in Scotland should have to choose whether they want to keep their British passport or have a Scottish one instead
If they want, people in Scotland should be able to keep their British passport and have a Scottish one as well
Here the majority view is that British citizens living in a newly independent Scotland should have to make a clear choice, with just under six in ten (58 per cent) backing that position. Only a third (33 per cent) think people should be able to have both. The UK government might thus find itself under some pressure to limit the ability of those who take up Scottish citizenship to retain their full rights as British citizens as well.
There is, however, one area where the Scottish Government has set its face against continuing collaboration with the rest of the UK. The UK’s current submarine based nuclear weapons facility is based on the estuary of the River Clyde. That fact alone would mean that a key UK defence establishment would be located on foreign soil should Scotland become independent. But to make matters more complicated, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons and thus, in the event of independence, the current SNP Scottish Government would seek the removal of the UK’s nuclear weapons from Scottish waters. Meanwhile, although the UK government has delayed making a final decision on the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons facility until 2016, in 2007 the House of Commons voted in favour of initial proposals to replace the current Trident facility when it comes to the end of its operational life.
However, public opinion on the subject of nuclear weapons is nothing like as different on the two sides of the border as these different governmental stances might suggest. In Table 2.1 we show how people in the two parts of the UK responded when asked their view about the principle of Britain having its own nuclear weapons. On the one hand, it is the case that, in England and Wales more people (43 per cent) support having nuclear weapons than oppose their possession (36 per cent), whereas in Scotland, where 37 per cent are in favour and 46 per cent opposed, the opposite is true. On the other hand, the differences in the level of support are not that large, and both parts of the UK could reasonably be described as being divided on the subject. A decision either to retain or to scrap Britain’s nuclear capability could be expected to meet considerable opposition on both sides of the border.
Given the division of opinion, we should not perhaps be surprised that people in Scotland are not necessarily convinced that becoming independent should require the removal of British nuclear weapons. In fact slightly more people agree (41 per cent) than disagree (37 per cent) with the proposition that:
If Scotland becomes independent, Britain’s nuclear weapons submarines should continue to be based here
The country is evidently just as divided over what it would want the rest of the UK to do with its weapons in the event of independence as it is over the principle of their possession in the first place.
However, people in England and Wales are more of one mind on this issue. Here the question we asked was:
At the moment, Britain’s nuclear weapon submarines are based in Scotland. Regardless of whether you support or oppose Britain having nuclear weapons, if Scotland became an independent country, separate from the rest of the UK, should Britain’s nuclear weapons remain in Scotland or should they be moved to somewhere else in Britain?
Only around a quarter (26 per cent) think Britain’s nuclear weapons should remain in Scotland in these circumstances, while 63 per cent feel they should “definitely” or “probably” be moved elsewhere. Ironically, should Scotland vote ‘Yes’, it is public opinion in the rest of the UK that would be keen to see Britain’s nuclear weapons removed from Scotland rather than people within Scotland itself – most likely in many cases out of a wish to ensure that those weapons are still in a location that is fully within the UK’s control.
For the most part, public opinion on the two sides of the border does not appear to represent a major barrier to the development of a collaborative arrangement between Scotland and the rest of the UK. However, Scotland might find that there is a demand south of the border for Britain’s nuclear weapons to be moved out of Scotland, even if a future Scottish Government were not to insist on their removal from the Clyde. Meanwhile both governments might find that there are limits to public tolerance of any approach that allowed large numbers of people to claim dual citizenship of both Scotland and the rest of the UK. Here perhaps is an issue where both governments would need to tread carefully.
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