Le 18 septembre 2014, dans environ trois semaines, 4,2 millions d’Ecossais sont appelés à voter pour déterminer si oui ou non leur pays devrait quitter le Royaume-Uni. Le chef du gouvernement nationaliste écossais, Alex Salmond, reste encore persuadé que le “oui” peut gagner…
As referendum day draws near in Scotland, both sides, Yes Scotland, the pro-independence campaign, and Better Together, the pro-UK group, are struggling to win over the voters still undecided. This week, the postal voters will receive their voting form and be the first to be able to answer the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. Millions of leaflets are being distributed by fiery militants who believe their knocking on a dozen extra doors will help decide the outcome of the vote. Yes Scotland and SNP militants have been far more enthusiastic and active than pro-UK activists who merely defend the status quo and “sell” fear rather than dream.
SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond prides himself and his campaign on the million Scottish voters who have signed the declaration in favour of the yes vote, which, he says, is a milestone for the movement and evidence that they will win.
Nevertheless, it remains much more likely that the Scots will vote no on independence on September 18. Yes Scotland has failed to close the 14-point gap in the polls. Better Together, headed by strong Labour figures, such as former Chancellor Alistair Darling, is increasingly combative. What the pro-UK activists lack in enthusiasm and fervour, they have in method.
Unlike in legislative elections, there will be only one “constituency” for the referendum. There may be strong concentrations of nationalist votes in some areas but only the total national result will matter. Furthermore, the number of undecided voters is shrinking rapidly to a mere half-million voters (out of about 4 million), many of whom could abstain from voting (the voter turnout is expected to reach about 80%).
Salmond’s strategy is based on attacking the unpopular austerity policies of Cameron’s Tory-led government. His campaign is likely to become increasingly negative. But it is extremely vulnerable on a number of issues, such as currency, oil and public finances, which have been the focus of attack by the pro-UK campaign.
Salmond has built his case for independence on the importance of Scotland’s oil revenue but it appears he has grossly overestimated North Sea oil reserves. Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood has recently declared that oil reserves are dwindling fast and “will decline sharply within 15 years”, “raising questions about the future Scottish economy”. He accused Salmond of exaggerating the reserves “by up to 60%”. Gordon Brown has also exploited the oil issue and urged Scottish voters to “think twice” before voting yes because, he insisted, oil revenue would not be enough to sustain public services in an independent Scotland. Whether or not the Scots could still use the pound if they were to become independent is a question the pro-UK movement has also used to instil more anxiety in Scottish voters.
A yes vote was always going to be more difficult to achieve, in spite of growing nationalism and discontent, because of a simple cognitive bias: the status quo bias, i. e. a natural preference for the current state of affairs. In 2 years, the SNP’s achieved what nobody would have deemed possible a few years ago, but it won’t be nearly enough to make Scotland independent. The union is very likely to survive the September 18 referendum.
But recent studies suggest that the English will not be intent on rewarding the Scots for remaining in the UK. The relations between the English and the Scots could very well become more hostile in the years to come. In other words, the referendum is likely to leave scars in the UK, whatever its outcome…