Global Ethics Corner: Scotland Steps Up: Will it Become Independent?

Mar 9, 2012

With a recent resurgence of nationalism, Scottish independence is once again a topic of discussion. Do Scotland's vast oil reserves make this a realistic possibility? Or would reliance on a single resource cause the new country to struggle economically after breaking away from the U.K.?

For more than three centuries, Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom—a sovereign state consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. As such, it has been largely ruled by London, the U.K.'s capital. But a resurgence of Scottish nationalism is threatening this unity.

In January 2012, prime minister of Scotland Alex Salmond announced he would hold a vote on Scottish independence in 2014. Salmond is also head of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which had its heyday in the 1970s with the discovery of Scotland's massive oil reserves. Oil prices hit historic levels. The nationalists rallied for control over royalties and for home rule.

Yet, in the end, the nationalists failed in the 1970s. In 1998, the British parliament gave Scotland more autonomy, allowing the creation of a Scottish parliament and giving Scottish elected officials the power to make health and education policy. But taxation and other major government functions are still controlled by London.

Supporters of Scottish independence argue that with a population of 5 million and considerable North Sea oil reserves, Scotland could become a very wealthy state on its own. Some contend that while Scotland also possesses an enormous tidal and wind power potential, life expectancy in poor areas like Glasgow is among the worst in Western Europe. Therefore, the government should be granted full authority to address the needs of the Scottish people.

Detractors argue that breaking Scotland from the U.K. will diminish its influence in the global economy. Moreover, they say, basing the Scottish economy on a single resource like oil could undermine Scotland's long-term economic development. And not all Scots want full independence: recent polls have shown that Scots are sharply divided over the independence question.

Where do you stand? Should Scotland break away from the U.K.?

By Emil Chireno

For more information see

Neal Ascherson, "Will Scotland Go Its Own Way?," The New York Times, February 26, 2012

Gerry Hassan, "Free Scotland," Foreign Policy, February 16, 2012

"Reality check: Scottish independence," The Guardian

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Central Intelligence Agency
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Ewan McIntosh
Erik Christensen
Catherine Bebbington
Shelley Bernstein
the justified sinner
Howard Lewis Ship
John Lindie
Florian Knorn
Scottish Government
stuart anthony

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