Today, Wikistrat launches a new two-week crowdsourced simulation called “When Scotland Leaves the UK” in which analysts are invited to explore scenario pathways for Scotland’s emergence as an independent country.
After years of debate, Scotland nears a landmark referendum on whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom. The vote on independence, scheduled to take place on September 18, 2014, requires a simple majority to pass and will determine the shape of the country’s political environment for years to come. It will also likely have an influence on other secessionist movements in Europe, including those in the north of Belgium and Catalonia, Spain.
The opportunities potentially available to an independent Scotland have led commentators to suggest that the country could become one of Europe’s wealthiest. Significant access to massive oil reserves in the North Sea make Scotland one of the continent’s few serious resource extractors, while favorable environmental conditions — namely reliably active trade winds and a mild climate — speak to the promise in plans for a renewable energy-exporting industry.
Moreover, the country’s small tax base lends credence to the notion that Scotland would build its new governmental institutions along the lines pioneered by countries like Denmark and Qatar — minimal, efficient and geared toward supporting national commerce. The resultant national system, characterized by a budding economy and low spending needs, could be massively profitable.
However, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) plan for a post-independent Scotland faces massive, if uncoordinated, opposition. Public opinion varies widely. Polls haven’t placed support for independence at higher than 40 percent nationwide, but low turnout could swing the vote in the nationalists’ favor. Low turnout in the 1997 referendum on devolution is what led to the creation of a Scottish Parliament, now dominated by the SNP.
Questions have also been raised about the feasibility of the SNP’s plans by opponents in both London and Edinburgh. How, for example, is Scotland to secure the massive investments needed to develop its oil and renewables energy sector? And what are the true costs and aims of post-transition Scottish defense policies?
Perhaps more worryingly, the SNP has offered up little in attempting to remedy the allegation that Scotland could face massive legal and financial challenges when it comes to redefining political and economic relationships with Europe and the United Kingdom. Current plans, for example, call for the continued use of British pound and the Bank of England as the lender of last resort. Such a monetary union calls into question the feasibility of SNP plans to grow and transform Scotland’s economy, as the need for bilateral agreement on policy could limit the types of actions Salmond has suggested taking and Scottish disregard for common spending limits could lead to currency instability.
There are clear incentives for Scots to vote in favor of opportune and potentially profitable policies. The question is whether or not such promises lie in the reality of independence from the United Kingdom. Will such a move help the country in the long term? Or do the transitional and long-term challenges make British solidarity the sound choice?
Rather than focus on near-term drivers of the Scottish independence movement, this Wikistrat simulation assumes a successful independence bid set within the next five years. Such an assumption enables participants to offer long-term, yet timely analysis by addressing those issues that might shape assessments of the feasibility of independence. Read More →