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At Yes Scotland's first independence rally, in Edinburgh in 2012. (Photo: Phyllis Buchanan)

Defying 'Old Order,' Scottish Independence Campaign Gains Steam

Anti-independence leader: Polls "serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thought the referendum was a foregone conclusion"

Deirdre Fulton

With a vote less than two weeks away and polls showing a narrowing gap between those who support independence and those who do not, the debate over Scottish nationalism is heating up.

On September 18, Scottish voters will cast their ballots in a referendum that asks: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" A 'yes' vote would mean Scotland splits from the rest of the United Kingdom — England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — and gains control over its defense, foreign policy, internal taxation, international development, and social security. Many questions remain, including what currency Scotland will use if it gains independence, how the country will finance its operations, and whether it will be part of the European Union.

The debate highlights underlying dissatisfaction with UK government policies that critics say favor corporate interests over working people.

On Sunday, a poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times sent shockwaves through both campaigns as for the first time it showed 51 percent supporting independence compared to 49 percent saying no.

Rather than dismiss them, the leader of the Better Together anti-independence campaign said: "These polls can and must now serve as a wake-up call to anyone who thought the referendum was a foregone conclusion."

Apparently in response to the poll results, the British government said Sunday it would offer proposals for greater political and fiscal autonomy for the Scots if they vote to remain within the United Kingdom. “Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds,” UK official George Osborne told the BBC. “They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be.”

The move was described as "a panic measure" by the leader of the yes campaign, Alex Salmond.

The debate has gripped the nation. "With only days to go before the referendum and the no campaign panicking over the first independently commissioned poll, published on Sunday, to predict a majority yes vote, Scotland's appetite for political discussion has grown; in schools, workplaces, pubs, front rooms and on social media," Karen McVeigh writes in the Guardian. "The outcome of all this talk, in an election like no other, where voters are not easily pigeonholed by social status, age or gender, is thrillingly unpredictable and, on the streets, the sense of excitement is palpable."

Proponents of independence, led by the Scottish Nationalist Party, favor free university tuition and healthcare, increased childcare for preschool children, and tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, among other left-leaning policies.

Such proposals, they say, are in sharp contrast to those that have led to decades of rising inequality.

"The yes surge is not being driven by blood-and-soil nationalism, by dewy-eyed Celtic nostalgia or the resurrection of a Braveheart spirit," Owen Jones writes for the Guardian. "It is a defiant protest at a bankrupt order built by Margaret Thatcher and then preserved and entrenched by New Labour."

Jones continues:

Our common enemies remain economy-trashing financiers and poverty-paying bosses, whether they speak in an Edinburgh lilt or with the Queen’s English.

Even if it is a close no, Scotland will be gone within a decade unless there is dramatic change: only the over-65s firmly oppose independence. The old order is dead, whatever happens.

There could be other consequences. As John Feffer writes at Foreign Policy in Focus, a vote for independence means "London will have to figure out a new place to locate its Trident nuclear submarines, which currently hang out at the Scottish port of Gare Loch. Apparently, it would take nearly a decade for the UK to build another facility for the Tridents, and it would cost more money than it’s worth to maintain the deterrence. So, a vote for Scottish independence becomes a de facto vote for nuclear abolition, a happy consequence of the divorce proceedings."

And the effects could ripple beyond Scotland's borders.

Ireland's former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton told the Irish Independent on Monday that a Scottish vote for independence "would be a pretty unbelievable move that I don't think anybody could have contemplated 10 years ago. It will have major political consequences for Ireland if it is carried. I think it would inevitably lead to demand for such a referendum [in the North.] I don't know what the outcome of such a referendum would be."

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