UK roils Scottish independence referendum with bid for control
The prospect of a Scottish independence referendum has gained substantial traction among Scots and the UK's attempt to call the shots could backfire by stirring up nationalist sentiment.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The debate about an independence referendum, which gained traction in Scotland following a 2011 electoral victory for nationalists, reached a fever pitch this week when the United Kingdom government insisted it could dictate the terms of the referendum, kicking up a surge of Scottish nationalist anger.
In a landmark moment for the independence movement, the pro-independence Scottish National Party won an overall majority in Scottish elections for the first time in May 2011. After their strong showing, the new administration promised to hold a referendum on whether or not to break away from the UK during the second half of their five-year term. The favored date is sometime in 2014, near the end of the current British administration's time in office.
But earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that a referendum would only be legally binding if it is held in the next 18 months, insisting that Scotland does not have the ability to call a legally binding referendum.
Public support for outright independence today remains well below a majority – 38 percent, according to the most recent polls – so even if the referendum happened, it might not lead to independence.
First Minister Alex Salmond, the head of the Scottish government, says he wants to wait until the second half of his term in order to fulfill his pledge. Some say he wants to wait so that he can tap into an expected rise in nationalist sentiment in 2014, which marks the 700th anniversary since Scotland's last famous military victory against England – with current levels of support for independence, a "yes" is unlikely.
Whose call is it?
Members of the Scottish government bristled at Mr. Cameron's comments on their referendum plans. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Cameron of interfering in a matter that was for "the Scottish people to decide," insisting that the prime minister lacked a mandate in Scotland because his Conservative Party holds only one of the 59 Scottish seats in the UK parliament.
According to the constitution, the Scottish Parliament does not have power over areas such as constitutional changes (as the referendum would be), national defense, central taxation, immigration, or foreign policy.