Tanel Altmets: The Scottish independence referendum: a decision made by economic uncertainty

As an Estonian, I would firstly like to bring attention to the name of the referendum – the “Scottish independence referendum”. It is important not read too much into the word “independence”, as this referendum had crucial differences to the independence movement that took place in Estonia and many other countries 23 years ago.

In this given scenario, it would be much more appropriate to call it a separation from an economic and political union rather than becoming independent from an oppressor, which was the case for Estonia and other post-Soviet states. Hence, this might sound confusing for many Estonians, begging the question, why did Scotland not want to become independent?

Having entered this debate as an undecided individual with no previous prejudice and talking to numerous “Yes” as well as “No” campaigners, I have yet to come across an individual that would rely on repression or any sort of hatred in their arguments either for or against independence. To this day, the hatchet between the Scots and the English has long been buried, based on my experience over the four years I have spent working and studying in this wonderful country. Instead, the focal point of this referendum was the short and longer-term economic future of Scotland.

When it comes to the political power in Scotland, one might argue that Scotland has much greater autonomy already, compared with the rest of the UK, including England. For example, for matters regarding the National Health System and the education system, it is up to the Scottish Parliament to make those decisions for Scotland, yet when similar matters are being discussed in the UK Parliament, Scotland also has its proportional say over matters affecting England and the rest of the United Kingdom (including votes regarding the English NHS and its education system). “Proportional” is however a politically correct term, which in the given context reflects the minority of the Scottish representatives in the UK Parliament in comparison with the English members of Parliament.

Perhaps one of the reasons 55% of the people decided to vote for “No” was uncertainty. For one, it was unclear which currency was going to be used in the independent Scotland. The Yes-campaigners had suggested that they would keep using the British pound; however, a well-known economist Paul Krugman had publicly warned that if that was the case, the Scottish government would lose its say over the British pound which would take away the option to devalue the currency in case the banks needed to be bailed out.

Another central discussion point was the future of oil as well as its predicted quantity. For and against arguments were provided by both parties. The “Yes” campaigners had compared Scotland’s potential future with Norway’s economic prosperity, yet according to a relatively recent announcement it seems that the predictions were far too optimistic. Specifically, Sir Ian Wood, who was also the author of these given predictions, had said that his figures had been misrepresented by up to 60% by the “Yes” campaigners. According to Sir Wood, the significance of revenues received from oil would decrease significantly over the next few decades. Similarly, Shell and BP have added that the investments in the oil industry require stability, and independence might have an adverse effect on oil production.

Furthermore, if Scotland had become independent, one would have had to consider the opportunity that the Shetland Islands, where the majority of the currently accessible oil lies, may ask for an independence referendum as well and become a self-governing region such as the Isle of Man. If this were the case, the Shetland Islands would have the right for the surrounding oil and leave Scotland empty-handed.

As time went by, it was clear that regardless of the sides of the argument, personal comfort seemed to have come first and the question of “What is truly best for Scotland?” was secondary, even though people did their best to highlight Scotland’s future and well-being in their arguments.

It seemed that individuals who were happy with their state and quality of life were more likely to vote “No”, whereas the “Yes” side of the debate saw a more prosperous Scotland if it were to go independent. This is also confirmed by the recent statistics saying that the “Yes” voters tended to be younger, poorer and more likely to be out of work than those who were against independence.

A poll this close for a historical decision such as the Scottish independence referendum seemed frightening and, in my opinion, shows how the nation of Scotland has temporarily split into two halves. Based on unofficial police reports, the police have had many call-outs to resolve arguments between the “Yes” and the “No” supporters. Which is fully understandable as a lot of people felt deeply opinionated one way or the other as shown by the remarkable voting activity of 84.6%. Nonetheless, I am positive that after a short while people in Scotland and in the United Kingdom will move on and continue to be as positive as ever before.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author.

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About the author: Tanel Altmets

Tanel Altmets moved to study Psychology in Scotland right after graduating from high school in Estonia. He is also the founder and a former president of the Aberdeen University Estonian Society.