Supporters of independence for Scotland on Friday were launching what they said was the biggest grassroots campaign in Scottish history, a move that could result in the demise of a 305-year-old union with England and the breakup of Britain.
Seeking to tap into a cocktail of historical rivalry, opposing political tastes, and a perception that the British parliament in London does not nurture Scotland’s national interests, the “Yes Scotland” campaign says it wants to win a referendum on independence in 2014 and for the country to become fully independent by 2016.
“For the first time the issue is real because people are going to have a vote,” a spokesman for the campaign, who said he could not be named in line with protocol, told Reuters.
“People are more open to this than they have ever been before. It is fundamentally better for our future if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care about it the most.” If successful, such a move could create serious problems for Britain - which comprises England, Scotland and Wales (Britain is in turn part of the United Kingdom which also includes Northern Ireland).
Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet is based in Scotland, revenues from Scottish North Sea oil remain important to its coffers, and analysts say Britain would find it harder to maintain its voice at international bodies such as the U.N. Security Council as well as in European Union decision-making.
“The biggest issue for the UK is defence,” Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde said in a phone interview. “The question would be whether an independent Scotland would allow the UK to maintain its nuclear facilities there.”
Despite its relatively small population of just over five million -- compared to England’s population of just over 52 million -- a vote for Scottish independence inevitably would diminish Britain’s voice on the world stage, he added.
“The rest of the world would be surprised and shocked that the UK was unable to hold together. It would not be perceived to be as big a player as it is now. Its weight in the world would be diminished.”
Opinion polls show that around 40 percent of Scottish people are sympathetic to independence, with around 10 percent undecided and the remaining 50 percent opposed. South of the border in England, polls show people are largely apathetic.
The independence drive is being led by Alex Salmond, the feisty leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP). His party won a majority in Scottish elections last year and under the country’s devolved system of government, it has control over health, education and prisons.
The British government in London controls foreign policy and defense. Yet Scotland has many of the trappings of an independent nation -- its own flag, sports teams, culture and a history of achievements in science and literature.