Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish
National Party (SNP) Alex Salmond and his deputy leader
Nicola Sturgeon walk in front of a sign indicating the date
of Scotland's independence referendum outside the Scottish
Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Reuters
The formal campaign for a Scottish independence vote that
could break-up the United Kingdom has started, although polls
currently show Scots are unlikely to choose to end the
307-year-old union with England.
Scottish nationalists hope the desire for independence,
historical rivalry and what they say has been centuries of
mismanagement by far-off leaders in London will drive Scots
to vote for secession in the September 18 referendum.
Britain's main politicians have united against a breakaway,
issuing pleas for unity and warnings about the economic costs
of independence to the 4 million Scottish resident voters
over the age of 16 who can participate.
Polls show Scots are unlikely to vote to break the union,
with roughly 40 percent against independence and 30 percent
in favour. But there are still enough undecided to swing the
"The 'No' to independence campaign has held a lead and has
done throughout most of the polling," said Tom Mludzinski,
head of political polling at ComRes consultancy. "It's been
narrowing recently, but it's still nowhere near enough if
independence is going to win."
He added: "we're still a few months away, and if it's similar
to general elections, many people do make up their minds in
the last month or few weeks. So things could change."
The formal start of campaigning places limits on spending to
£1.5 million for each camp. But the pro-independence "Yes
Scotland" or pro-Union "Better Together" side will get free
airtime for campaign broadcasts.
Oil-rich Scotland accounts for about one-tenth of the United
Kingdom's gross domestic product, and to lose it could weaken
British diplomatic clout and raise questions over the UK's
permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Money has loomed large over the debate, with both
secessionists and unionists trying to persuade voters that
their prosperity is on the line.
The Scottish government, led by the secessionist Scottish
National Party (SNP), wants to put an end to direct control
from Westminster while keeping what it describes as "joint
assets" such as the pound and the monarchy.
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led UK coalition
government and the opposition Labour party have argued
Scotland is richer and more powerful as part of the United
Kingdom. All major UK-wide political parties have said no to
sharing the pound after independence.
The government in London has floated the prospect of more
autonomy should Scots vote against independence. Scotland has
had a devolved parliament since 1999.
The SNP has used the devolved parliament as a platform to
raise its profile, arguing that even with devolution Scotland
would have to help pay for Britain's nuclear deterrent, over
which Scots have no direct say.
"We are rich in resources and rich in people. This is a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take responsibility for our
own destiny and to make our own decisions," actor and
director David Hayman said at a "Yes Scotland" event on
Friday (local time).
"I would urge everybody, especially those who have yet to
make up their minds, to have the confidence to say Yes."
By contrast, Blair McDougall, campaign director of Better
Together, said: "A vote to stay in the UK in September is a
vote ... for the strength, security and stability that comes
from being part of the bigger UK."
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond says independence - and
control of a share of Britain's North Sea oil - would place
Scotland among the world's richest countries.
Britain disputes this, however, saying that projections of an
independent Scotland's wealth simply reflect how it benefits
as part of the union.
Britain said there was a £1400 "UK dividend" from staying in
the United Kingdom, while Salmond has valued the
"independence bonus" at £1000.