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On September 18th, 2014, Scottish residents over the age of 16 went to the polls to answer a simple question - "Should Scotland be an independent country?" If the majority answered yes, Scotland would break off its 307-year-old union with the United Kingdom, which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and become an independent nation.
Given that only one vote for independence was guaranteed in the 2012 agreement between the Scottish officials and British leader David Cameron, it was a once-in-a generation opportunity to decide whether that was the path they would like to pursue. A 'Yes' vote would have created a ripple of change not just for England, but also the rest of the world, which is why everyone was relieved when a resounding 55% of the 5.3 million Scottish residents eligible to vote, decided to stay with the union.
The decision was particularly gratifying given that just a week ago, Scottish residents had appeared evenly split, leading to the fear that the votes would tilt in favor of Alex Salmond's 'Yes Scotland' campaign.
So What Was The Big Deal If Scotland Had Said "Yes"?
First and foremost, all the uncertainty caused by the break-up of the world's sixth-largest economy would have created tremendous financial market turmoil that experts believe would have resulted in economic hardship and job losses in Scotland and England. What's worse is that British Prime Minister David Cameron may have been forced to resign, throwing the 'new' Britain into further chaos.
Given that all the country's major oil and gas reserves lie in the North Sea that borders Scotland, Britain would have been severely impacted by the loss of oil revenue which was estimated to be £30 billion pounds sterling, in 2012.
The other big unknown was what would happen to Britain's and Europe's defense strategy. That's because Britain's submarine-borne nuclear arsenal which is also part of NATO's defense, is currently based in Scotland's Firth of Clyde and the nationalists had demanded that it be removed, in the event that Scotland became independent. A change in the defense positioning could have made Europe more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Then there were issues like what currency Scotland would use, what its flag would look like and . . . the list goes on.
But the most important issue of all was that these two nations have been entrenched in each other's culture for over three centuries and it would be tough to envision one without the other! Fortunately, the majority of Scottish residents seemed to realize that they were a family no matter what their differences, and decided to keep the 307-year-old union intact.
What Happens Next?
Following the defeat of his hard fought, carefully orchestrated campaign for independence, Alex Salmond, the leader of the nationalist movement conceded loss early Friday, and resigned from his post as Scotland's First Minister.
However, that does not mean his hard work has all gone to waste. To try convince the Scottish residents to vote against the referendum, British politicians had promised them additional autonomy on taxes, welfare and spending.
In his speech congratulating Scotland's decision to remain united, UK's Prime Minister David Cameron, not only vowed to immediately begin further devolution discussions for Scotland, but also for Northern Ireland, England and Wales. He also promised that the residents of all the countries would receive their deserved autonomy by November 2015. Whether the various leaders will able to come to a amicable agreement in less than two months, remains to be seen. But it is definitely a step in the right direction and will go a long way in avoiding the other countries following Scotland's footsteps.
This unfortunately is not the last bid for independence we will hear about this year. While disappointed at the Scotland's decision, Catalan leader Artur Mas plans to continue his quest to make the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain, an independent nation. Their referendum is going to be even more exciting given that Mas intends to do it against the wishes of the Spanish government. So stay tuned!
Resources: washingtonpost.com, reuters.com, usnews.com,economist.com