On Eve Of Vote, Anti-Independence Forces Have Slight Lead In Scotland
It's all over but the voting in Scotland.
By this time tomorrow, Scottish voters will be heading to the polls to decide the question of whether or not they should separate themselves from the United Kingdom and become an independent country for the first time in over three centuries. As I’ve noted before, the polling on the issue has gone back and forth with the anti-independence side seeming to have momentum in late August only to see the independence forces pull even in the past few weeks. As we wait for the only poll that matters, three final polls show the unionist side with a slight lead, but it seems as though the outcome is truly up in the air:
(Reuters) – Scottish supporters of staying in the United Kingdom are 4 percentage points ahead of secessionists with just a day to go before Scots vote in an independence referendum, three different opinion polls showed.
The United Kingdom’s fate remains uncertain as the three surveys – from pollsters ICM, Opinium and Survation – showed support for Scottish independence at 48 percent compared to 52 percent backing union.
The polls found 8 to 14 percent of Scotland’s 4.3 million voters were still undecided before polls open at 0600 GMT on Thursday.
All three polls showed nationalists had gained ground, but the fact that supporters of the union were ahead in the polls prompted investors to buy the pound, extending sterling’s gain against the U.S. dollar.
“It is very tight,” John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and one of Scotland’s premier pollsters, told the Scotsman newspaper which commissioned the ICM poll.
“At the moment it looks as if the ‘yes’ campaign is going to fall agonizingly short from their perspective. But I have always said this is the ‘no’ campaign’s to lose and it certainly looks as if they have got pretty close to that.”
In the face of the biggest internal threat to the United Kingdom since Ireland broke away nearly a century ago, Britain’s establishment – from Prime Minister David Cameron to the City of London and soccer star David Beckham – have united in an almost panicked effort to implore Scots that the United Kingdom is “Better Together.”
Attempting to blunt nationalist leader Alex Salmond’s argument for breaking away, Britain’s rulers promised to guarantee Scotland high levels of state funding and grant Scots greater control over finances.
In a deal brokered by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties said they would retain the funding equation that sustains a higher level of public spending north of the border.
British leaders accept that even if Scotland votes to keep the 307-year union, the United Kingdom’s structure will have to change as the rush to grant so many powers to Scotland will provoke calls for a less centralized state from voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Swathes of voters in the former industrial heartlands of northern England and Wales depend on state welfare spending while some English lawmakers in Cameron’s own party have already asked for England to be given more powers.
Given the fact that the polls have been all over the place in the past several weeks, I’m not sure that we can say with confidence which side has the advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The “Yes” side has certainly had some considerable momentum over the past month or so, but that has been blunted to a large degree by the vigorous efforts by British politicians from all the major parties who have campaigned for the union quite a lot in the past two weeks. Additionally, the concessions that Parliament is apparently willing to grant Scotland if they do stay in the Union may be having an impact on voter sentiment, especially since the arguments in favor of independence seem to be based mostly on emotionalism and nationalism while opponents have spent considerable time pointing out the serious economic risks that Scotland would be taking if it decided to separate itself from the Union, not to mention the question of whether the new nation would be able attain membership in international organizations like NATO and the EU. An additional factor that may he helping the pro-union side is the fact that the Royal Family finally decided to weigh in on the issue after being silent most of the summer; first, Prince Harry and then Queen Elizabeth herself. Whether or not their statements will have an impact on the vote is unclear, but they likely came as a relief to union supporters.
Many have compared the possible breakup of the United Kingdom to the decision that the Czechs and Slovaks made after the end of the Cold War to go their separate ways, but it strikes me that there are several significant differences. For one thing, Czechoslovakia had existed as a united nation for some eighty years before the break-up came whereas Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for some 300 years while the crowns of the two nations have been united since James II took the throne in 1607. Breaking up a nation that has only been around for 80 years is far different from rewriting the boundaries of a nation that has been around for three centuries and which, in its present form, was once the most powerful nation in the world and has remained influential in world affairs even after losing much of that former glory. Some have feared that letting Scotland go would mean the further dissolution of what would be left of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland and Wales would seek more autonomy for themselves. Additionally, the events in Scotland are being watched by others in Europe, especially the Catalans in Spain. A successful independence referendum could lead to pressures in that nation and elsewhere that would redraw the borders of Europe significantly. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it would be incredibly disruptive at a time when there are challenges from Russia and ISIS to be dealt with. Secondly, while Slovakia has managed to become a somewhat successful economy, it’s not at all clear that the same would be true of Scotland. This is especially true given that its most important source of revenue, the oil in the North Sea, may not be around for very long. By some estimates, Scotland would become one of the poorest nations in Europe, and given the current state of the Eurozone, it’s not at all clear that the rest of Europe would want to take on another sick country.
In the end, of course, the issue is up to the Scots. If I had to guess, I would say that the “No” side wins, but that the vote will be quite close. What that would bode for the future of the United Kingdom is unclear.