just say no

Scots are getting advice from world leaders on whether they should vote for independence

August 18, 2014
August 18, 2014

Exactly one month from today, four million Scots will go to the polls to answer a simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The “No” camp—the argument that Scotland should remain part of the UK—has been ahead in public surveys ever since the referendum was announced. Although the ‘Yes’ camp has narrowed the gap, the latest polls still suggest that Scotland’s 307-year union with England will be maintained next month:

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Pro-independence campaigners take heart from the fact that 10-15% of the electorate say that they are still undecided. If enough of them vote for independence, it could sway the result.

These undecideds do not lack for advice on how they should vote. Big British companies have been generally reluctant to give support for one side or the other, in fear of alienating customers on either side. But some, like air carriers Ryanair and British Airways, say that their businesses might benefit from independence, thanks to promised tax breaks from pro-independence politicians. When other executives have expressed reservations about the viability of an independent Scotland, it is usually by fretting about the uncertainty and instability that a “Yes” vote could bring.

These arguments may not sway the ordinary voter—how much do they really care about a big company’s quarterly earnings?

But perhaps the advice would be more useful if it came from a world leader?

As the referendum approaches, foreign politicians who pass through the UK or appear with their British counterparts have been asked about what they think would be best for Scotland. The latest to speak out is Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who said in a newspaper interview over the weekend that “it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.” He followed with some choice words for the pro-independence camp:

I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.

In June, US president Barack Obama said that the UK as currently comprised has “worked pretty well.” The US has an interest in the UK remaining “strong, robust, and united,” he added. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said that a break-up of Scotland and England would be “a loss for both sides.” The same month, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said he prefers a “united United Kingdom.” Ditto, the Pope.

But each new comment in support of union also gives the pro-independence campaigners an opportunity to push their case. A spokesman for Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said that Abbott’s “bewildering” intervention had “all the hallmarks of one of the Westminster government’s international briefings against Scotland.” This us-versus-them narrative could play well with voters weary of the long campaign and unimpressed that others should suggest how they should manage their affairs.

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