The Scottish Referendum: Is Independence Inevitable?

Liam Stott looks at the recent developments to the Scottish independence campaign from both sides.

Since the inauguration of the Scottish independence debate the ‘No’ campaign has consistently been ahead in the opinion polls; a lead which according to a YouGov poll in mid-August amounted to a substantial 14 points. In recent weeks however the polls have narrowed considerably, to the point when the latest YouGov survey conducted over the weekend for The Sunday Times had the ‘Yes vote at 51%.

This is the only poll that has put the ‘Yes’ campaign ahead; nevertheless this unprecedented surge in support of Scottish independence has prompted the UK government to respond with a promise of a further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

In a recent announcement, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that ‘the status quo is no longer an option’, and that a ‘No’ vote would be the ‘starting gun’ for Holyrood to be granted further powers over finance, welfare payments and taxation. The actual specific powers are yet to be agreed by the pro-Union parties and in a political campaign where certainty has taken a backseat, there is the risk that voters will view this as a last minute bribe, rather than a firm guarantee of ‘devo-max’.

Throughout the debate the ‘No’ campaign has consistently focused on the issue of currency in an independent Scotland, despite the fact that such a strategy has received criticism for its negative connotations. In a recent interview with Andrew Marr the Chancellor George Osborne reiterated his position that the UK government ‘will not share the pound if Scotland separates’ from the rest of the Union.

This seemingly firm stance has however been heavily scrutinised by the ‘Yes’ campaign, with Alex Salmond’s economic adviser Prof Joseph Stiglitz stating that ‘for the most part… these are bluffs’; a message that appears to have resonated with a substantial proportion of voters.

Nevertheless, it is this uncertainty that has disturbed the financial markets, with the pound falling to its lowest level in 10 months, and according to BBC’s Economics Editor Robert Peston, ‘the longer the uncertainties persist… the greater the harm there will be to economic growth – both sides of the border’.

The NHS in Scotland has in recent weeks become a central issue, particularly on the part of the ‘Yes’ campaign, with the SNP claiming that ‘the moves towards wholesale privatisation of the health service in England threaten the funding available for Scotland’s NHS’. However, according to UK and Scottish government figures, spending on the NHS in Scotland is now set at £12 billion, an increase of £138.1 million over the 2013-14 budget. Furthermore, any policy decisions on the NHS in Scotland are taken at Holyrood, and this has enabled the Scottish Parliament to provide free prescription charges and free personal care for the elderly.

Nevertheless, the realities of an ageing population, more expensive treatments, and ever increasing demands on the healthcare system should be the main concern of voters, both in Scotland and the rest of the Union. In a recent speech, the outgoing chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, Dr Brian Keighley, stated that the current service provided by the NHS is ‘just not sustainable’. This is the reality of the NHS, in Scotland, England and Wales, although it is an issue that politicians on both sides of the debate have failed to address, preferring instead to debate the political realities.

In the most recent poll conducted by TNS-BMRB the ‘No’ vote stood at 39%, the ‘Yes’ vote at 38%, while a substantial minority of 23% remain undecided. The momentum may well be with the ‘Yes’ campaign, but a significant proportion of voters still need convincing and with the offer of further devolution now on the table, there is everything to play for.

 

By Liam Stott


 

[Image Credit: Sona V]

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