How an independent Scotland would look
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 15 October 2012
In February David Cameron said that independence would have “consequences for the NHS”, but the SNP were quick to point out that Scotland already has an independent NHS. An independent Scotland would have new powers over abortion law. Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil has indicated he would like to see the 24-week limit reduced.
An independent Scotland would continue to use pound sterling, but George Osborne has claimed that the details of a “monetary union” between the two nations have been not been considered by the SNP and claimed that independence would mean higher interest rates in Scotland.
A “Scottish Defence Force” would be formed. Experts suggest that this slimmed down force would consist of a standing army of up to 12,500 and between 20 and 25 ships. Close alliances would be forged with Scandinavian countries. An independent Scotland would not have nuclear weapons and would kick out the UK’s Trident submarines. Doubts remain over whether UK armed forces personnel will be able to “switch allegiances”. Defence secretary Philip Hammond has called the idea of Scots units breaking away “laughable”.
The SNP rank and file have long opposed Nato membership, because it is a nuclear alliance. However the party leadership see Nato as key to its international standing and favours membership if an agreement can be reached to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons.
The SNP wants Scotland to remain in the EU after any independence vote. However, EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has cast doubt on any hopes of a smooth transition, pointing out that a new state would have to apply for membership and be approved by other members.
Who owns the North Sea oil fields would be one of the biggest questions facing a divided United Kingdom. Scotland claims a 90% geographical share and Alex Salmond hopes to bankroll the new state with as many as 24 billion barrels of oil and gas worth an estimated £1.5 trillion. Critics have said that Scotland’s hopes for North Sea reserves fly in the face of the SNP’s pledge to make “a greener Scotland” that exploits “natural and geographic opportunities” for tidal and off-shore wind energy.
Independent Scotland would keep the Queen as head of state and remain part of the Commonwealth. However, some SNP members have said they would like another referendum on keeping the monarchy in its present form, in the event of a Yes vote in 2014
A yes vote could be damaging for the Labour Party in Westminster. Of the 58 Scottish seats in Parliament, 41 are currently Labour, with only one Conservative seat, 11 Liberal Democrat and five SNP. Scottish MPs for English seats- such as Bradford West's George Galloway- could probably remain MPs, like Republic of Ireland’s citizens currently can.
Home Secretary Theresa May has said that border checks may be necessary between the UK and an independent Scotland. However, the SNP is intent for an independent Scotland to join the EU, so the Schengen Agreement would guarantee free cross-border movement. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there will be Scottish passports.
Currently the 22,000 English students at Scottish universities have to pay fees, whereas Scottish residents and students from other EU states do not. Gordon Brown, among others, has spoken out against the discrepancy. If Scotland were to become independent students from elsewhere in the UK may be granted the same rights as residents of fellow EU states – and enjoy free Scottish universities.
Scotland would retain its national flag, but questions have been raised over the future of the Union flag, which incorporates the Saltire. The SNP have said it is a matter for the UK what happens to the flag, but there are no current plans for a new design.
Alex Salmond has declared his intention to replace the BBC with a new public service broadcaster for Scotland, which may be partly funded by advertising. Salmond assures voters that shows produced in England but popular north of the border, such as Eastenders and Top Gear, would still be available.
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