Britain: will Scotland head for the exit?

The Nationalists are well ahead in the polls.  Could this lead to the break-up of the UK?

Opinion polls put the Scottish National Party 10-13% in front of second placed Labour in Scotland ahead of elections on May 5th for the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh.  Alex Salmond, incumbent SNP First Minister in a minority Scottish government, wants a referendum on independence.  If he gets his way, it could result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

The referendum proposal has been on the back-burner during the minority SNP administration.  Latest polls suggest the SNP could command a majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) next month with the help of the Greens and an ex-SNP independent, Margo MacDonald.

Would the Greens back such a referendum?  The Green Party of Scotland has pro-independence policies and might join such an alliance in government with the Nationalists.  The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives are opposed to independence, although the LibDems might agree to the holding of the referendum.

If the referendum is held, would the Scots vote for independence?  In early 2010, a YouGov poll suggested low support for a break-up of the UK, although the polling organisation noted that views could change significantly once the Conservative/LibDem Coalition took the reins of power at Westminster in May 2010. 

An empowered and emboldened SNP might just swing it.  Alex Salmond is a wily politician.

Would Scottish independence present a potential security risk to the rump UK?  Unlikely, but that hasn't always been the case.  And for the first time since 1603, mainland UK would have an international land border to contend with.  

From 1295 to 1560 the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France was designed to thwart English ambitions.  That's the historical backdrop.  Thankfully, incumbent French president Nicolas Sarkozy is an Anglophile.  Paris and London are engaged in joint military exercises in Libya, and have anyway forged a strategic defence pact.  

Scotland would need to develop international ties further afield, yet with whom?  Scandinavia? The northern Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland have often felt closer to the Nordic countries than they have even to the Scottish mainland.  The SNP believes in an independent Scotland holding EU membership, so membership of the North American economic grouping, NAFTA, is out.  So, it's unlikely Scotland's independence would pose a threat for the moment.  Should the ever-increasing burdon of continued EU membership, together with a collapse of the euro, precipitate the demise of the European project then all bets are off the table.  Anything could result.

This all seems a great shame.  Having fought in Medieval times 1296-1328 and 1332-1357 and then had a fraught relationship until unification, Scotland and England have held their Union together despite acrimony. The tartan army might descend on London to support the Scottish national football team, and Andy Murray, a tennis ace, might have to proclaim that his "anti-England remarks were a joke made as banter", according to The Telegraph, but essentially the two nations get on well under the circumstances.

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, has referred to Alex Salmond as "downright dangerous", according to The Guardian.  Not surprising really, as his party trails in the polls North of the Border.  Should the UK Labour Party lose Scotland it'd find it hard to form a government at Westminster without the 41 seats (out of a possible 59) it holds in Scotland.  Democracy in a rump UK would not benefit from having an ever-dominant Conservative Party.  Note the ill effects on Japan of the reform-resistent Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for fifty four years 1955-2009.  Or the crippling impact on Italy of the Christian Democrats dominating politics for half a century until 1994.

It has to be hoped that despite a resurgent SNP, the Scots will decide in their wisdom that marriage is preferable to divorce.

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