Monday, September 15, 2014

Scottish Referendum for Independence

Scottish flagAs many persons who follow international law are likely aware, this Thursday, September 18, Scottish voters will vote on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom (UK) or whether to secede and form an independent state.  Pollsters currently report that the voting public is almost evenly divided.  If the vote is in favor of independence, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will then begin negotiations for independence with the UK government. While the UK government is not necessarily bound by the referendum results, the UK government has indicated that it will recognize the vote and engage in independence negotiations.  Even if the vote for independence is negative, the UK government has indicated that it is willing to discuss a greater measure of autonomy for Scotland.

The push for independence is driven largely by economic concerns.  In particular, the Scots desire greater control of Scotland's offshore oil and gas reserves and some want to use that revenue to fund education and welfare spending in Scotland.

Independence would raise many tricky legal questions.  For example, the Scots currently use the Bristish pound as their currency. It is not clear what currency they will use if they secede.  Scotland is part of the European Union (EU) through its membership in the United Kingdom. If it forms an independent state, it may have to apply for membership to the EU and meet the EU's economic and other criteria for membership.  Scotish residents participate in national health care and pensions systems that are run by the UK, which will also likely change with independence.

The Scottish independence referendum may have implications for other secessionist movements in Europe and elsewhere.  Many point to the quest of the Catalons in Spain for independence, for example.  However, many legal scholars also point out that the UK's acquiesence in the Scottish referendum sets it apart from many other independence movements where the mother country has not consented to any groups breaking away.


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