With less than two days before the vote on Scottish independence, and polls showing a dead heat between those who seek to break the 307-year bond with England and those who wish to stay united, the three main UK party leaders gave a joint promise Tuesday that Scotland will get extra powers if it votes "no".
Betraying a sense of desperation, prime minister David Cameron, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg have signed a historic joint statement that was "demanded" by the Scottish Daily Record newspaper. The declaration—"The Vow"—was published on the front page of the newspaper, pledging to deliver "extensive new powers" to the Scottish Parliament, including control over the how much is spent on the National Health Service, if voters reject the call for independence in Thursday's referendum. This "devolution" of powers would begin Friday, the elected officials said.
In response to the declaration, a Yes Scotland campaign spokesman said: "It's clear that project panic is willing to say anything in the last few days of the campaign to try to halt the Yes momentum—anything except what new powers, if any, they might be willing to offer. The reality is that the only way to guarantee Scotland gets all the powers we need to create jobs and protect our NHS is with a Yes vote on Thursday—so that we can use our enormous wealth to create a better and fairer country."
Proponents of independence claim Scottish interests are underrepresented by the highly centralized, London-based UK government. They say Scotland has the resources to stand on its own, such as domestic oil reserves in the North Sea, as well as vibrant manufacturing and service industries. They want to implement more left-leaning policies—such as free university tuition—that have been off-the-table in the current political landscape and control their own finances.
"The core problem," Andrew Wilson writes at Reuters, "is Scotland’s budget is still set by London, and Scottish parliamentarians can only divide the piece of the cake they receive. This means that many of the policies that Scots want to see are under financial pressure. Scots, for example, offer free higher education, unlike the rest of Britain. It is difficult for them to do so, however, as their budget is tied to the rest of the country."
Under the banner of the Better Together campaign, opponents argue that too many questions remain unanswered—What currency would Scotland use? Would it become part of the EU? Who would defend Scottish borders? Would financial institutions move their operations to England?—to justify voting "yes".
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In Aberdeen, Scotland on Monday, Cameron said a vote for independence "could end the United Kingdom as we know it." In what was described by reporters as an emotional plea, Cameron outlined some potential negative consequences of a "yes" vote:
It would mean the armed forces we have built up together over centuries being split up forever.
It would mean our pension funds sliced up—at some cost.
It would mean the borders we have would become international and may no longer be so easily crossed.
It would mean the automatic support that you currently get from British embassies when you’re traveling around the world would come to an end.
It would mean over half of Scottish mortgages suddenly, from one day to the next, being provided by banks in a foreign country.
It would mean that interest rates in Scotland are no longer set by the Bank of England—with the stability and security that promises.
It would mean—for any banks that remain in Scotland—if they ever got in trouble it would be Scottish taxpayers and Scottish taxpayers alone that would bear the costs.
It would mean that we no longer pool resources across the whole of the UK to pay for institutions like the NHS or our welfare system.
But Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins called Cameron's speech "scaremongering." He continued:
A Yes vote is Scotland's one opportunity to ensure that we get the job-creating powers we need to build a more prosperous economy and fairer society—and the financial powers we need to protect our health service. And only by voting Yes will Scotland always get the governments we vote for—and never again Tory governments imposed by Westminster, presiding over the scandal of a 400 percent increase in the use of food banks while wasting £100 billion on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons dumped on the Clyde.
Those nuclear weapons are among the factors that could "create some complications for the United States" depending on the outcome of Thursday's vote, John Nichols writes for The Nation. "An independent Scotland could, for instance, demand the removal of British Trident missiles, which are carried on submarines that are based in Scotland. Scotland could well deviate from Britain on a variety of defense and foreign policy issues, and it would certainly deviate on the question of austerity—as one of the prime arguments for an independent Scotland is, as the Yes Scotland campaign says, to 'protect our public services and welfare system.'"
President Barack Obama said in June that the decision was "up to the people of Scotland." But he followed that up with a more inscrutable statement: "We obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner."
Scottish First Minister and leader of the Yes campaign Alex Salmond, who called Tuesday's public vow a "last minute desperate offer of nothing," is expected to issue his own last-ditch "letter to the people of Scotland" on Wednesday morning, according to The Independent.