Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Three questions for the UK public about Scottish independence

With less than six months to go to the referendum on Scottish independence, the arguments are getting louder and increasingly bad tempered.

Over the past few weeks Alex Salmond and his Nationalist colleagues have made a sustained effort to frame their opponents’ arguments as those of an overbearing elite who are lying about their intentions in effort to scare Scottish voters away from independence. Yes, most of it surrounds the prospects of a currency union with the rest of the UK, although I’m sure questions of EU membership, defence policy and border controls are also going to stir up some sound and fury in months ahead.

What the Nationalists are not keen on anyone talking about is how the public in the rest of the UK feels about these issues. It suits their case to define independence in terms of Scots asserting themselves against a governing class from privileged backgrounds, rather than detaching themselves from the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I suspect that plenty of Scots would at least take into account the opinions of their UK compatriots. Scotland has retained its own legal and education systems, and there are some cultural differences, but we have a lot more in common. We share an economy and transport infrastructure, study at each other’s universities, generally watch the same TV programmes, listen to the same music and laugh at the same jokes.

Most importantly, a lot of Scots live in England, and a smaller but significant number of English people live in Scotland, with Welsh and Northern Irish also settling across the borders. It’s everyday stuff that has kept us together, and in the event of independence some of this is going to change, and this will affect attitudes on both sides of the border.

One thing the Scots deserve in advance of the vote is clarity around what the people in the rest of the UK, not just the politicians, think about independence.  Just knowing if they want them to stay would be a big issue, along with attitudes towards a couple of the factors – currency and borders – that everyone will notice.

There has been a recent Yougov poll on currency union, but the process would benefit from a large scale opinion poll across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – commissioned independently of the government – asking three questions to be answered with a simple yes, no or undecided:

1 – Do you hope that Scotland votes to remain as part of the UK in September?
2 – In the event of Scotland becoming independent, do you think it should be allowed into a currency union with the UK?
3 – In the event of Scotland becoming independent, do you think there should be a full border and regulation of movement from one side to the other?

Show people in Scotland what the rest of the UK thinks about these and they’ll go into the referendum with a clearer picture than that presented by the Nationalists.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See www.marksay.co.uk. He also writes fiction, details on www.marksaywriter.com.

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