Prime Minister David Cameron may be indirectly giving a boost to Alex Salmond and his Scottish independence supporters, Young Academic’s education news specialist and features editor Robert Gant reports.
Scottish Independence is nothing new. It has been talked about north of the border for decades, longer in some quarters. But since devolution in 1998 it has increasingly crept into the headlines both north and south of Hadrian’s Wall.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is in the ascendancy in Scotland. It controls a majority in the Scottish government, despite the devolution system being set up to specifically avoid such a majority ever taking control. Equally relevant is the pre-election pledge to hold a referendum on independence in this term.
Polls show support in Scotland for independence to be at around 35% though polls vary on the amount of people who remain undecided.
The SNP however is quietly confident. In Alex Salmond they have a leader who is widely regarded as one of the finest politicians in the United Kingdom. He is honest and earnest, with the peoples touch and the political ability to take on anyone.
No wonder David Cameron’s government is trying to re-establish a foothold in the independence debate. Today the cabinet will meet to discuss proposals to give the Scottish Government the legal power to hold a legally binding referendum on Scottish independence as long as the vote is held in the next 18 months – and is a straight yes or no choice regarding independence.
The reason the government is so keen to get the referendum out of the way within the next 18 months is because they think the unionist side has a better chance of winning it within that timeframe. If Alex Salmond is allowed to wait until 2014, as Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, Mr Cameron is worried Mr Salmond will be able to capitalise on the feel good factor that may be prevalent at that time in Scotland.
However there is a very real chance that this move will backfire on David Cameron. Supporters of the SNP will talk up the notion that this is a Prime Minister and leader of a party that only has one MP in Scotland dictating to them their own future. That is likely lead to increased support for independence, for no other reason than how unpopular David Cameron’s Conservative Party is in Scotland.
They simply have very little support in Scotland and the Scottish people, by and large, dislike anything the Prime Minister has to say.
Legally regarding who has the right to call the referendum the waters are murky. London or Edinburgh? What is crystal clear is that right now there is nobody willing to head the unionist ‘No’ campaign. Former Labour cabinet minister John Reid has been mentioned but has distanced himself from the role. Even Sir Alex Ferguson is being put forward for the role, though politically it is absurd to imagine him being any match for Alex Salmond.
Assuming there is a ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum then the future is unclear on a lot of issues. What is clear is that Scottish MPs would no longer sit in the House of Commons. That is a terrible prospect for Ed Miliband’s Labour, who would lose 41 MPs.
Like all divorces, who gets what would become an issue for the negotiating table. Who has rights on North Sea gas and oil? Who would get ownership of our foreign embassy buildings? What would happen to the nuclear submarines which reside in Scottish lochs? All are questions where the answer is uncertain.