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Society, Politics & Law

The meaning of independence and Summary

Updated Wednesday, 1st May 2013

Article eight of eight: More questions than can be answered at this time.

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There are as yet many unanswered questions about independence. What will it look like in practice? What does independence actually mean in a world of globalisation, never mind Europeanisation? What kind of society will Scotland become? As yet it is probably fair to argue that these questions – and numerous others – have yet to be answered fully by the Yes campaign. For many in Scotland, even among its supporters, independence can seem a somewhat abstract idea. It is also a step into the unknown: the most significant constitutional change in the UK in over 300 years.

During the years of the minority Scottish National Party (SNP) Scottish Government between 2007 and 2011, Alex Salmond and other leading SNP politicians pointed to Iceland, Ireland and the Baltic states as examples of successful independent small states that Scotland could emulate. These so-called ‘arc of prosperity’ countries have been badly hit by the financial crisis of 2008, in particular Iceland and Ireland reminding us, if any was needed, that the case for Scottish independence is being advanced at the very time when for many in Scotland – as elsewhere in the UK – life has become more precarious and uncertain, if not impoverished. The counter argument made by supporters of independence is that an independent resource rich Scotland could follow the example of Norway, with abundant oil reserves and the accruing taxes being for Norway only, allowing it to ride the financial crisis in a way that is beyond the reach of the UK, but not an independent Scotland.

However, the meaning of independence is still not clear. Among the many questions asked appear to be raised repeatedly: Will border posts be required? Does Scotland need an air force, a navy and an army – and if so, why? What happens to those UK-wide institutions, the BBC, the military, public sector pension funds and so on? What will be the relationship with the economic and cultural products of Britishness? A sense of Britishness forged over 300 years and more will not vanish overnight. And what of Scotland, and indeed of Scottishness itself; what would a ‘new’, a ‘good’ Scottish society look like? How will a ‘fairer’ and more equitable Scotland actually be built – and who will pay for it? These questions are not only constitutional questions but questions that go to straight to matters of national identity and belonging.


The debate on Scottish independence is a fast moving one and events have already shown how quickly things can change. Clearly, in a more globalised world than ever before external events can shift views and perceptions and change votes as much as internal ones can. In February 2013 the then US Ambassador to the UK announced on a visit to Edinburgh that his country was going to stay neutral on the Scottish independence issue. This was only a month after powerful US politicians criticised Scottish independence on the grounds that it would create another small country that would contribute little to NATO. This kind of event is constantly entering the frame of the debate and so any student of Scottish independence is going to have to keep a keen eye on the news between now and the autumn of 2014.

There are other issues thrown-up by the debate around the possibility of Scottish independence and in some ways these are not about Scotland – but as has been highlighted above – they are about Britain, the meaning of Britishness – and also of England – and of Englishness. While the former was seemingly boosted by the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games, there was continuing controversy around Britishness and what story of Britain it presented and represented. As for England and Englishness, it remains largely unspecified and unspoken. Both Britain and England become increasingly problematised notions and ideas in no small part as a consequence of events taking place in Scotland.

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