The un-United Kingdom: after more than 300 years of union, is Scotland ready to declare independence?[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years--and that's long enough if you ask Euan Ingram, a senior at the University of Glasgow.
"We want to strike out on our own on the world stage," says Ingram, a supporter of Scotland's independence movement. "It's a fallacy that we need England to survive--I don't buy that at all."
But 20-year-old Kirsten MacQuarrie, who's also a senior at the school, thinks independence would be a mistake.
"It would be a regressive step for Scotland," she says. "In this era of globalization, the objective should be to maximize connections with other nations, rather than to retreat into smaller groups."
The rest of Scotland is similarly divided about whether it should remain part of the United Kingdom--along with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland--or become an independent nation for the first time since the early 18th century. Scotland's leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, who favors secession, wants to have a referendum and let Scottish voters decide.
Even though Scotland has only 5 million of the 63 million people in the U.K., its departure would raise a critical question: Would the rest of the United Kingdom hold together if Scotland left?
There's been talk of Scottish independence for decades, but support for secession appears to be on the rise: Most polls put it at about 30 percent of Scotland's electorate.
Tensions between Scotland and England go back 2,000 years (see Key Dates, right). In 122 A.D., the Romans controlled most of present-day England and Wales. But the Emperor Hadrian gave up on subduing the Scottish tribes to the north; instead, he built a 75-mile wall to keep the "barbarians" out of Roman Britain. (Much of the wall still exists today.)
By the 11th century, Scotland's tribes had come together to form a kingdom. From the start, England was Scotland's greatest rival, periodically trying to gain control of its northern neighbor.
After coexisting under the same king for a century, a bankrupt Scotland agreed in 1707 to enter a union with England, in which Scotland gave up independence in return for access to English markets.
Even at the time, the union was denounced as a sellout. "We are bought and sold for English gold," wrote the great Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Scotland prospered under what eventually became the United Kingdom, but it has always maintained a distinct culture: Men wearing kilts, playing bagpipes, and flying the blue-and-white Scottish flag, rather than the Union Jack, are some examples.
"The English regarded the union as irreversible," says Neal Ascherson, a Scottish writer. "The Scots, then and now, regarded it as a treaty that could be modified or even ended by mutual agreement."
In recent decades, many Scots have grown weary of a government based in London. In response to growing Scottish nationalism, the British government devised a plan for an elected Scottish Parliament, which first met in 1999 and has control of some internal Scottish affairs--like health, education, and transportation--while leaving foreign affairs, defense, and taxation to London.
Then, last May, the Scottish National Party shocked all of Britain by winning a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Suddenly, independence was a hot issue.
'Biggest Decision in 300 Years'
British Prime Minister David Cameron opposes Scottish independence, vowing to keep the U.K. together. But he has agreed to support a referendum, which he believes most Scots will vote against.
"You can be prouder of your Scottish heritage than your British heritage," Cameron said recently, "and still believe that Scotland is better off in Britain."
But Salmond, Scotland's leader, says Scotland would be better off on its own. For one thing, it would have full control of valuable North Sea oil, which is now controlled by London.
"The days of politicians in London telling Scotland what to do and what to think--these days are over," Salmond says.
The two leaders also differ on the timing of the referendum. Cameron favors an early vote; Salmond, eager for time to build support for secession, is pushing for 2014--the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Regardless of whether they favor independence, most Scots agree that the referendum is a huge deal.
"This is the biggest decision that Scotland has had to face in 300 years," says Grant Costello, 19, leader of the Scottish Youth Parliament, "and it will affect the lives of everyone in Scotland."
With reporting by John F. Burns and Alan Cowell of The Times.
Seventeen years after William Wallace (right, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart) led an insurgency against the English, Scotland secures its independence when it defeats England at the Battle of Bannockburn.
A SINGLE MONARCH
When England's Queen Elizabeth I dies with no heir, the throne passes to her cousin, King James VI * of Scotland. He continues to rule Scotland and also becomes England's King James I.
ACTS OF UNION
The Acts of Union join England and Scotland, previously separate states with separate legislatures but the same monarch, in a single kingdom called Great Britain. (It became the United Kingdom in 1801, with the addition of Ireland, most of which gained independence in 1922.)
With Scottish nationalism on the rise, the Scottish Parliament convenes for the first time since 1707, in Edinburgh.
REFERENDUM ON INDEPENDENCE
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish leader Alex Salmond agree to hold a referendum on Scottish independence.
* James VI was the great-great grandson of King Henry VII of England.
After three centuries as part of what's now known as the United Kingdom, Scotland may soon vote on whether to become an independent nation.
* What are some political, cultural, and economic arguments for Scottish independence? Why are some Scots opposed to independence? Which side's arguments do you find more compelling?
* What concerns do you think Britain has about the prospect of ScotLand breaking away? In your view, is the British government right to be worried? Explain.
* What might happen to the U.K. if Scotland secedes?
What similarities and differences do you see between America's drive for independence from England in the 18th century and the Scottish movement today?
Defend your position: Should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom or secede?
What steps has Britain taken in recent years to placate Scottish nationalists? What effects do you think these measures have had on the independence movement?
What challenges might a newly independent Scotland face?
Should the U.S. take a stand on Scottish independence? Why or why not? If so, what should that stand be?
If Scotland does break away, should the United Kingdom still have a permanent seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council? Why or why not?
What are some reasons that states or nations have banded together to form unions? Is that still happening today? Why?
Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister and an advocate for independence, is pushing to lower the voting age for the referendum from 18 to 16.
Facts about the United Kingdom's geography, government, economy, history, and more from the C.I.A.'s World Fact Book.
(1) The United Kingdom currently includes Scotland and all of the following EXCEPT
b Northern Ireland.
(2) The issue of whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom will be decided
a by a United Nations mediator.
b in a Scottish referendum.
c by an edict from the Scottish First Minister.
d by joint legislation from the British and Scottish parliaments.
(3) In the second century, Roman Emperor Hadrian
a became the first monarch to rule both EngLand and Scotland.
b reluctanty granted Scotland its independence from England.
c brought the first tribes to the area that is now Scotland.
d built a walt to separate what are now EngLand and Scotland.
(4) Scotland entered a union with England in 1707
a when Queen Elizabeth I married King James VI.
b because it was bankrupt and sought access to English markets.
c after a long and bloody war with England and its allies.
d to secure military protection against German advances across the North Sea.
(5) Since 1999, Scotland has had its own
a armed forces.
b treasury and bureau of taxation.
c elected parliament.
d all of the above
(1) Did England and Scotland view the 170? Acts of Union in the same way? Explain.
(2) Why do you think Scots' support for secession has increased in recent years?
(3) How would you vote in the referendum if you were Scottish? Why?
(1) [a] Ireland.
(2) [b] in a Scottish referendum.
(3) [d] built a wall to separate what are now England and Scotland.
(4) [b] because it was bankrupt and sought access to English markets.
(5) [c] elected parliament.