Monday, October 22, 2012

Independence for Scotland?

William Wallace and Robert the Bruce would be very happy. Scotland is taking a big step on its path towards an independence referendum with its leader meeting Britain's prime minister to make arrangements for a vote which could lead to the demise of Scotland's three-centuries-old union with England.

Scotland's drive for sovereignty echoes separatist moves by other European regions such as Catalonia and Flanders at a time when a crisis-hit European Union undergoes deep changes to its identity.

Expected to be signed in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, the deal will allow Scotland to decide in a 2014 referendum whether it should become an independent country or stay within the United Kingdom. The vote is timed to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn when Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce defeated English invaders.

Prime Minister David Cameron opposes Scotland's push, arguing that Britain is stronger together. But London agrees it is up to Scotland to decide its future for itself in a vote. "There are many things I want this (government) to achieve but what could matter more than saving our United Kingdom?" Cameron said in a speech last week. "Let's say it : We're better together and we'll rise together."

Following months of negotiations, both sides have made major concessions to pave the way for the final accord. "The agreement will see Scotland take an important step toward independence, and the means to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland," One nationalist leader said.

Scotland already has many of the trappings of an independent nation such as its own flag, legal system, sports teams, as well as a distinctive national identity following centuries of dominance by, and rivalry with, England.

London argues an independent Scotland - home to about five million people - would struggle to make ends meet as the bulk of its current funding comes from a 30 billion pound ($48 billion) grant from the UK government. But one of the most contentious issues at stake is the ownership of an estimated 20 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves beneath the UK part of the North Sea.

Britain is also worried about the future of its nuclear submarine fleet based in Scotland because Scotland has indicated there would be no place for atomic arms on its soil following independence. Moving the fleet elsewhere would be costly and time-consuming.

Many Scots themselves are unconvinced. Opinion polls show only between 30 and 40 percent of them support independence - a range that has changed little as negotiations intensified.

Scotland and England have shared a monarch since 1603 and have been ruled by one single parliament in London since 1707. In 1999 a devolved Scottish parliament was opened following a referendum.

In a potentially decisive concession, London is likely to agree to allow the lowering of the voting age to 16 from Britain's countrywide 18 - a coup for Scotland's Nationalists who believe that young people are more likely to vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

But for Nationalists, convincing people to support independence remains an uphill task given tough economic times. There are concerns as to what would happen to Scotland's debt or whether it would automatically become an EU member.

Live Long and Prosper...

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