What would change if Scotland became independent?

Elections in Scotland: Scottish National Party faces majority - key facts

Seldom has an election to the Scottish Parliament been followed so closely as this one. After all, the future of the UK may well depend on their outcome. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced long before the vote that she would use a renewed majority of supporters of Scottish independence in Parliament to push for a second independence referendum.

It was barely enough for the absolute majority of their Scottish National Party (SNP). In the end, just one seat was missing. A considerable success. And with the eight seats of the Scottish Greens, who are also campaigning for secession from the UK, supporters of independence will have a solid majority in the upcoming Parliament.

What comes after the election in Scotland?

Nicola Sturgeon would like to initially continue to focus on leading Scotland out of the pandemic. But as soon as the situation normalizes, the issue of independence should quickly come up again. In an interview with the BBC, Sturgeon said that she might be able to put the Scottish Parliament to a vote on a second independence referendum as early as next spring. The referendum should then take place in the first half of the five-year term of the Scottish Parliament.

However, the government in London would have to give its blessing for this. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already made it clear that he will refuse to give his approval in any case. The last argument he made: There should be no referendum in the corona crisis. The Scots had also spoken out against independence in the first referendum in 2014. The topic is off the table. It is therefore clear that there will be a dispute.

The nepotism revelations in Britain didn't rub off on Johnson at first - until now. The award of government contracts in connection with Corona is likely to have a long rat tail.

Proponents of independence claim that Brexit - which 62 percent of Scots rejected - changed the framework to such an extent that Scots should be given a second chance to vote on their future. Some advocates of independence are pushing for a confrontational course like the one seen in Catalonia. Sturgeon, on the other hand, considers the path through the country's democratic institutions and courts to be more promising.

What do polls show about Scottish independence?

In the 2014 referendum, supporters of independence only received 44.7 percent of the vote. Since then, the opponents of independence have mostly been ahead in polls. That changed dramatically in the past year: under the impression of a delayed and chaotic response from the government in London to the corona pandemic, the number of supporters of independence skyrocketed.

With the governments in the parts of the country responsible for health policy, Scotland's First Minister came into the spotlight during the crisis. In contrast to the chaotic Johnson, Sturgeon looked forward-looking and determined. The majority of Scots welcomed their comparatively stricter lockdown course. The number of supporters of independence rose in surveys to almost 60 percent at times.

However, since the successful nationwide vaccination campaign and the gradual easing of the Covid-related restrictions, this support has declined again. In the most recent surveys, both sides are roughly equal.

What would be the basic economic conditions for Scottish independence?

Before the 2014 referendum, Scotland was economically well positioned. The budget was balanced thanks to the income from oil production in the North Sea. Proponents of independence could argue that an independent Scotland could continue to trade smoothly with the rest of the UK. After all, they would have found each other (after a successful EU admission procedure) together in the EU, in the internal market and in the customs union.

Since then, the oil price has plummeted - and Great Britain has left the EU. And the Covid pandemic and Brexit have left deep holes in the Scottish budget. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in London estimates that the budget deficit in Scotland rose to as much as a quarter of economic output last year.

According to calculations, the deficit is likely to be around ten percent of gross domestic product in the mid-2020s. That would be well above the three percent limit that Brussels expects from candidate countries. However, this threshold can be negotiated in the event of admission interviews. Opponents of Scottish independence like to argue that the Scottish state government would be forced to take a rigid austerity course in order to even be considered as a candidate for EU membership.

How closely is Scotland connected to the rest of the UK?

The economic interdependencies are enormous. Around 60 percent of Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Only around 19 percent of exports go to the EU. Researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) have calculated that the Scottish economy is six times more interconnected with the rest of the UK than would be expected in comparable regions.

The barriers to trade with the rest of Great Britain would hit an independent Scotland hard: two to three times as bad as Brexit, the LSE researchers believe. However, they point out that this negative effect could be mitigated by economic policy measures.

How difficult divorces are can be seen in recent years in the negotiations between London and Brussels, which are still far from over. A breakaway of Scotland is likely to lead to a bitter struggle. What would be the proportion of UK debt that Scotland would have to assume? How long should an independent Scotland continue to use the British pound? Which requirements would it have to meet for this? What would become of the pensions?

The introduction of its own currency would bring numerous other problems with it. What would savings and loans become, how would mortgage interest rates change, and much more.

What do proponents of independence say about the looming economic problems?

Proponents of an independent Scotland point out that a high deficit in times of historically low interest rates is less of a problem than it seems. The SNP, which is oriented towards social democracy, is unlikely to have any great interest in reducing the deficit through brutal austerity measures, as David Cameron imposed on the country as British Prime Minister from 2010 onwards. Instead, the government of an independent Scotland could try to get the economy going through public investment.

"If we have the levers to regulate our public finances and we invest in economic growth, then I do not believe for a moment that we can not achieve sustainable public finances," said Scotland's Treasury Secretary Kate Forbes of the "Financial Times".

Scotland's Economy Minister Fiona Hyslop told the BBC that the European single market - which an independent Scotland would like to rejoin - is seven times the size of the UK. And other countries with comparable population figures had higher per capita incomes than the UK. She named Denmark and Norway as examples.

Ireland, too, had rapidly reduced its economic dependence on Great Britain after its independence a century ago and now has a higher per capita share of the gross domestic product than the UK, added the minister.

The business association and think tank Business for Scotland, which is also committed to Scottish independence, refers on its website to the leadership role in renewable energies that Scotland has had for a number of years. The proportion of people with a university degree and other professional qualifications was higher in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. The country is home to important IT companies such as the game developer Rockstar North.

In its argumentation, the association also draws on the deep-seated rejection of the Scots against the central government in London and on dissatisfaction with Brexit. Westminster "does not work", which has been observed in the Brexit chaos, writes the association. An independent Scotland would have "the powers to improve the economy and create more jobs". Hence, Scotland would "thrive as an independent nation."

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