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Today is the 297th anniversary of the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain from the formerly separate kingdoms of England and Scotland. In a few months the people of Scotland will go to the polls to vote in a national referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent and sovereign state.
I’ve a great fondness for Scotland. I did part of my undergraduate studies at University of Edinburgh and I have a number of close Scottish friends. I’m also an Anglophile and I want the best for both England and Scotland. As a result, I am conflicted on the subject of Scottish independence.
Were I a Scot I would undoubtedly vote against independence, both for political and sentimental reasons. The prospect of living in an independent (to the extent that can be said of any EU members state) Scotland dominated by the socialist Scottish National Party is unappealing to say the least. I seriously doubt the fiscal viability of an independent Scotland in any case, but particularly so under its likely leadership. Beyond that, it seems a shame to break up a centuries old union between two very similar peoples, particularly when that union was responsible for an empire which was one of the greatest forces for the spread of freedom and civilization in human history.
That said, I can understand why the prospect of independence is appealing to many Scots, both on the basis of national pride and as a matter of practical politics and perceived self-interest. Furthermore, as a lover of liberty, I think the principle of self-determination is one that should be accorded great deference, and if Scotland does end up voting for independence I think it entirely appropriate that that decision be respected.
Were I an Englishman I think my attitude toward Scottish independence would be much more ambivalent. While all of the sentimental and traditionalist arguments against independence would still appeal to me, and my respect for the right of self-determination would remain, there are a number of practical and political considerations which would cause me to view dissolution of the Union in a somewhat favorable light.
On the fiscal side of things it’s worth noting that the United Kingdom subsidizes Scotland to the tune of several thousand pounds per capita annually. Scottish independence would also solve the Constitutional problem posed by the West Lothian question, whereby Scottish members of Parliament are able to vote on matters solely concerning affairs in England while the Parliament in Westminster does not legislate on strictly Scottish affairs. Finally, on a more partisan note, it can’t be ignored that the Scottish electorate is substantially to the left of its English counterpart. As a result, Scottish independence would have the practical effect of removing large numbers of left-wing MPs from Westminster and consequently increasing the chances of a genuinely conservative English government.
As things stand today the probable result of the referendum is that Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom, but pulling on the issue shows that opinion is much more narrowly divided than one with perhaps expect, and a narrow no vote will likely result in Scottish Independence remaining a significant political issue for years to come.