In Scotland, weeks of debate over everything from oil to currency to tartans have ended, and the country is poised to answer a question that has riveted Britain: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
While the vote – the results of which will be announced Friday – is tinted in Scottish nationalist sentiment, the independence movement is steeped in history and tough questions about what an independent Scotland would look like, both at home and around the world. Here’s a look at what issues that have faced Scots, Britons, and Europeans in the lead-up to the vote.
Last year, the Scottish National Party launched a 670-page blueprint for the country’s future, mapping out a separate Scottish state joining the European Union, keeping the pound, and getting rid of nuclear weapons. But in a rare act of unity among UK politicians, Britain’s three largest political parties agreed there would be no sharing of the British pound should Scotland vote to leave the UK, and the prospect of losing the pound may have slowed the separatist movement's momentum.
Further, a vote for independence could leave the fresh country without its prized European Union membership. While separatists say they want to leave the UK and still belong to the EU, no EU country has ever split from another and reapplied for membership.
Voters will also have to take into account just how much oil is left under the North Sea – and how much revenue it might generate, writes the Monitor’s David J. Unger. One day ahead of the vote, a Scotland-based consultancy released a skeptical report.
As Scots go to the polls in today’s referendum, workers in Glasgow’s once-mighty shipyards are worried a ‘yes’ vote might cost them – since their main contractor is Britain.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s vote on independence, and a coming referendum on Britain's membership in the EU, have spurred questions about the country's role in the world. The Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana explored whether the referendum is a sign of Britain’s waning influence.
And if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, is Northern Ireland next? Unionists in Northern Ireland are worried that a ‘yes’ result could eventually lead to a reunification of Ireland.
But some in England argue that Britain would be better off without Scotland, and its departure would give the English more control over their own affairs, writes Monitor correspondent Ian Evans.
And then there’s Doctor Who. Should Scotland decide to break with Britain, its relationship with the BBC – and indeed, the country's whole cultural industry – would be thrown into turmoil.
“Questions about the BBC's standing in an independent Scotland speak to a larger uncertainty about how a ‘yes’ vote would affect not only broadcasting options but the wider cultural sector,” writes Monitor correspondent Peter Geoghegan. “While some see a boon, others are worried about the prospect of ripping things up and starting again – and question whether the Scottish National Party (SNP) would help foster the kind of robust media atmosphere that Britain enjoys.”
There were even questions about Scottish athletes’ ability to establish themselves in the Olympics were the country to split from the UK.
But the bid for a Scottish breakaway may hinge on voter turnout. “A high turnout on Sept. 18 is likely to benefit the nationalist camp, which wants Scotland to go it alone,” writes Mr. Geoghegan. “The ‘No’ camp can draw on its strengths in the electoral machinery of the Labour Party.”
And that voter turnout will include Scotland’s newly enfranchised youth – 16- and 17-year-olds allowed to vote under the terms of the referendum, casting a ballot for the first time in a major UK election. While many expect a resounding ‘yes’ from this young crop of voters, experts say that may not be the case.
Monitor editor-at-large John Yemma weighed in, writing that the Age of Empire is over but the Age of Enlightenment – born in England – remains a work in progress in a world still struggling with intolerance, superstition, fear, and aggression.
“If Britannia no longer rules, its best ideas – reason and independence of thought – still should.”