D.D. Guttenplan in The Nation (AP Photo/Jill Lawlless):
The question on the ballot is simple—and binding: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” For most Scots, the answer is simple, too. Polls show at least 40 percent on either side, with the Noes ahead—but the Yeses gaining. “England looks like a strange country,” says Lesley Riddoch, author of Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish. “That’s what you can’t see if you live in it.”
“If we split we’re no’ going to have an army, a navy or an air force—just a coast guard,” says the taxi driver who picks me up at Edinburgh’s Waverly Station. “You can only defend an island if we stick together.”
Anxiety about how Scotland would fare on its own is a common theme among No supporters—though more often expressed in terms of economics than national security. Would the Royal Bank of Scotland—which got a £46 billion bailout from the British taxpayer in 2008—have survived? Can a small country generate the jobs, and the exports, needed to prosper in the global economy?
Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), argues that thanks to North Sea oil, “Scotland is one of the richest countries in the world, wealthier per head than France, the UK and Japan.” Speaking at a forum at Edinburgh University, Salmond’s biographer, David Torrance, dismissed such claims as “intellectually dishonest.”
Nor is Torrance sympathetic to the view that only the dead hand of London-centered rule keeps Scotland from becoming a Scandinavian-style social democracy. “All the tools required to decrease inequality—taxation, property tax, education, welfare provision—already exist,” says Torrance, pointing out that the Scottish Parliament currently controls spending on health and education, and that Labour and the Tories have both pledged greater devolution if the referendum fails.
For Better Together backers like novelist J.K. Rowling, independence is a risky distraction. “All the major political parties are currently wooing us with offers of extra powers,” said Rowling in June, announcing a £1 million donation to the No campaign. If Scotland leaves now, she warned, “we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours.”