current affairs

The independence referendum’s renewed debate

With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement by Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond on the 15th of October, the stage was set.

With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement by Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond on the 15th of October, the stage was set. Two years from now, the future of the United Kingdom would be in the hands of voters across Scotland.

The referendum was at the core of Salmond’s platform as leader of the Scottish National Party, which had long advocated for an independent Scotland. Yet, before it could be finalised, the debate over the structure of the referendum, which sparked conversations across all parts of the UK, was something that had to be settled, from the form of the question to what would the age limit be to vote after calls by the SNP to allow 16 and 17 year olds to be able to participate on if the referendum would go ahead.

Speaking in Edinburgh after the agreement was signed, Cameron said he is against an independent Scotland, but said the Scottish people should have the right to decide their future. “This marks the beginning of an important chapter in Scotland’s story and allows the real debate to begin,” Cameron said. “It paves the way so that the biggest question of all can be settled: a separate Scotland or a United Kingdom? It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision. The very future of Scotland depends on their verdict. It is that important. This agreement delivers the people’s referendum.”

Salmond said that the Scottish government had a vision for the future of Scotland. “The Scottish Government has an ambitious vision for Scotland: a prosperous and successful European country, reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion,” Salmond said. “A Scotland with a new place in the world—as an independent nation. Today’s historic signing of the Edinburgh Agreement marks the start of the campaign to fulfill that ambition. It will be a campaign during which we will present our positive, ambitious vision for a flourishing, fairer, progressive, independent Scotland.”

There is however another question—this time addressing Scotland’s membership in the European Union. The Scottish government has maintained that if the referendum passes, they will continue to be a part of the EU, according to a BBC report. The Scottish Labour Party asked the UK government to ask the European Commission in Brussels its view on the matter, but no formal view has been conveyed, saying the issue of Scotland’s membership is a matter for the government, the report adds.

Yet, the government confirmed this week that the European Commission will not be consulted in the lead up to the 2014 referendum. “The UK government does not obtain its legal advice from the European Commission,” a government spokesperson told the BBC. “We are clear that we are not pre-negotiating the terms of separation from the UK ahead of the referendum. It is the Scottish government’s policy on independence which is causing this uncertainty and they should be prepared to deal with the many questions it raises.”

The government added, in a statement issued on the 1st of November, that Scotland would have to re-apply for membership to the EU should the referendum pass. “Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent, it is the government’s view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK’s existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state,” the statement read according to a report from The Guardian. “The most likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the continuing state and an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, in a speech at Chatham House in London, said the information conveyed by Salmond of EU membership for Scotland had no factual basis. “[Scottish nationalists] don’t want to face what might happen to Scotland’s influence on fishing quotas, or agricultural policy, or the regulation of the banks,” Clegg said according to The Guardian. “They don’t want reality to bite. So they’ve gone into denial, preferring political assertion to legal advice.”

Additionally, the Guardian report adds, there had been claims that the Scottish government had not sought its own advice, in light of remarks to that extent made by the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, despite Salmond’s repeated statements that advice was taken.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government told the BBC that EU membership would not change if the referendum passed. “As many legal and constitutional experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU,” the spokesperson said. “There is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence.”

No one will know whether Scotland will stay or go until the campaigns have concluded and all the votes have been counted, but one thing is for certain. The future of not just Scotland and its EU benefits, but the place of the whole of the United Kingdom, is now up for debate.

Let the campaigning begin.

What do you think? Should Scotland go independent? Does Scotland deserve to be a part of the EU? Or if the referendum passes, should they re-apply? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.