A 'yes' to Scottish independence is a 'no' to Britain's influence on the world stage

Obama is right to be concerned

Share

US President Barack Obama expressed his support on Thursday for a “strong, robust and united” Britain.  Indicating his preference for a ‘no’ vote in the Scottish independence referendum in September, he asserted that the “United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us.  From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well”.

Obama is not the only international leader to express concern about the Scottish referendum.  Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, has said that “fragmentation does not help” the United States and the EU.  Meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Minister Karl Bildt, who served as Swedish prime minister from 1999 to 2001, has said that “the Balkanisation of the British Isles is something we are not looking forward to”.

These remarks highlight the fact that, despite relative decline in the twentieth century, the United Kingdom has preserved sizeable political, military and economic influence on the world stage.  As former Conservative foreign secretary Douglas Hurd once asserted, by and large Britain continues to “punch above its weight” in global affairs and this has helped bolster international security and prosperity.

However, the domestic underpinnings of this success are now threatened by two potential political earthquakes on the horizon.  Not only will the United Kingdom break up later this year if Scotland votes for independence, but there is also the possibility of an ‘in-out’ European referendum in 2017 that could see eurosceptics prevail.

Should Scotland vote for independence, and/or eurosceptics win the day in any eventual EU plebiscite, it would represent a body blow to the international influence of the remainder of the United Kingdom that could even place the continued union between England, Northern Ireland and Wales in jeopardy.

And the two issues could feed into each other.

This is because Scots, in general, are more favourable toward continued membership of the EU than the English who account for a majority of the Britain’s population. Thus, if Scotland votes for independence, and doesn’t take part in a subsequent EU plebiscite, it becomes more likely that – in a close vote – Britain would leave the EU. 

Such an exit would not only be potentially disastrous for the United Kingdom, but also disadvantage the rest of Europe which widely acknowledges the value of continued British membership. It is also unlikely that many of the benefits Scottish nationalists assert about an independent Scotland would, ultimately, be fully delivered for the Scottish people, including automatic or ‘fast-track’ EU membership.

All EU countries need to agree to the accession of a new state, and the Spanish Government has already voiced opposition to automatic Scottish membership given the precedent this might set for Catalonia. Even if the Scots were to accede after an extended period, the terms on which they do so could be significantly less favourable than those that the United Kingdom originally negotiated.

The aftershocks of these potential political earthquakes for Britain, while not all immediate, would be profound in the long-run. On the European front, for instance, UK influence and prosperity are significantly enhanced by EU membership. Highly imperfect as Brussels is, the British economy would suffer if we left the European club, and it would be a major geopolitical mistake to boot.

The United Kingdom now accounts for less than 1% of global population, and around 3% of world GDP. As former Labour UK foreign secretary David Miliband rightly said, “Our role in Europe magnifies the power of our ideas, and strengthens our international clout in Washington, Beijing, and Moscow”.

For example, in trade negotiations, such as those with the United States now over the proposed US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the UK’s bargaining position is enhanced by being part of the EU.  It is the world’s largest trading bloc accounting for some 20% of global GDP, and also approximately 500 million people.

The influence that EU membership confers on Britain also helps drive foreign direct investment (FDI). Indeed, the United Kingdom is now the fourth largest recipient of FDI in the world.

Japanese-headquartered firms have been particularly vocal in threatening to reconsider their investment if Britian leaves the EU. This is because many of these companies see their UK operations as an effective way to access the whole of the European market, not just England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The impact of Scottish independence would also undermine Britain’s influence in multiple ways. For instance, a UK Parliamentary Committee rightly warned earlier this year that losing the Scottish tax base, especially at a time of fiscal austerity, could lead to further budgetary cuts to the armed forces; it could even threaten the future of Trident, Britain’s expensive independent nuclear deterrent which is due for potential renewal in coming years.

Moreover, the UK’s overseas aid budget, and extensive network of diplomatic and trade missions would be impacted.  Together with military cutbacks, this would undermine British hard and soft power which have enabled it to punch above its weight for so long.

Scottish independence would also erode the UK’s voice in international forums, from the UN, G7/8, G20, and NATO. Perhaps most prominently, it could be seized upon by some non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), and/or other UN members, to catalyse review of British membership of the UNSC.

To be sure, reform of UNSC is overdue. However, Scottish independence could see this issue being decided upon less favourable terms for the United Kingdom than might otherwise be the case.

Taken overall, Britain will be notably damaged and diminished by Scottish independence and leaving the EU. And the fact that the United Kingdom would no longer punch so strongly on the international stage would also adversely affect its ability to bolster international security and prosperity at a time when both remain fragile.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The plan could lead to up to 15,000 people being operated on annually  

The obesity crisis affects the whole of Europe... apart from France

Rosie Millard
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'