Last May the Scottish National Party headed by Alex Salmond won an astounding victory in the Scottish Parliament election 2011. All in all he ended up with a full majority consisting of 69 seats out of 121. Thus the road to a general referendum on Scottish independence was secured. Since then Westminster has been trying to find a way to meet this challenge in a proper way.
There are legal issues. Who has the legal right to call for a referendum? Westminster or Holyrood? Who should be in charge of overseeing the referendum? Westminster, Holyrood or EU? When is it supposed to be scheduled? And what about the options?
A few days ago Scotland received a sort of ultimatum from London: You may have your referendum inside the next 18 months, but it has to be under the aegis of EU and it should only give the Scots the possibility to vote for either status quo or alternatively full secession. No middle of the road alternative should be offered to the electorate.
Apparently Westminster was appalled by rumours that Alex Salmond scheduled the referendum to take place on the 24th of June 2014 – the 700 year anniversary of the decisive Battle of Bannockburn, where the Scottish army led by Robert the Bruce routed the English army. So far the first minister has answered that the referendum should take place in 2014, but in the early autumn.
That might be a good idea. Referendums during summertime are generally not advisable. People are no longer just on holidays during the traditional month of August. Further, any emotional stirring around Bannockburn might very well carry more impact at a later day, if the celebrations, which are planned, can run their course. It stands to reason that the Queen will be invited to take part in the festivities 2014. However, what would be her role, if a referendum on secession were to take place at the exact same day?
As of now, all this is no doubt being debated fiercely in the corridors of both governmental palaces. Whatever the outcome, it is interesting – especially as seen from abroad - what importance is attached to a medieval battle, which took place nearly 700 years ago. What is it about Bannockburn, which has the capacity to stir all these passions?
Following on the recent £12 million restoration of Stirling Castle, Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland are currently planning to spend another £5 million on a whole new heritage centre with state-of-the-art digital explanatory exhibitions. No doubt we shall be both enlightened and entertained, when the new visitor centre opens it’s doors in 2014. However, whether it will really stir the emotional feelings as is expected, is quite another question.
The reason is of course that the agenda is not so much to create (yet another) hallowed ground. The agenda is educational and business-like. The centre seems more than anything else planned in order to generate the same success as that of Culloden. Here the new visitor centre has so far created between 40 – 60% more visitors since the centre opened in 2008 (although it seems according to the Moffat Centre to level out now).
Also it points to another reason, why Scottish first ministers, Salmond and Sturgeon, are holding back. As of now Westminster holds 84% in the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. Due to the financial crisis the former plans to start selling the shares in 2012 are currently on hold.
The overall question is of course: If Scotland secedes, how will it finance itself? Will it be allowed to retain the income from the reserves of gas and oil? What about it’s part of the national debt? What about the currency? Will it join the Euro? Will Europe support Scottish secession – in view of other tricky regions like for instance Catalonia and the Basques?
And finally: Will the Scots be swayed by their emotions? Or will they end up making some cool evaluations?