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Expert opinion: What will become of Scotland after the referendum?

Professor Malcolm Prowle from Nottingham Business School discusses the aftermath of the Scottish vote on independence, whatever the outcome.

As the Scottish referendum is finally upon us, I look at what I see as a very bleak picture. For one thing, it seems inevitable that the result of the referendum, whichever way it goes, will be tight and, secondly, there seems huge polarisation in Scotland regarding independence – the young support it more than the old, men support it more than women, poorer people support it more than better off people and some parts of Scotland support it whereas others don't. Thus whatever the results, I see huge divisions in Scottish society which will take years to heal and recriminations with cries of traitor, liar etc, echoing throughout Scotland for a long time.

If the result is a close "no" then many in the nationalist movement will be outraged about having come some so close, yet so far from independence. Cries of treachery and selling out will abound; in some circumstances resulting in violence because of the passions aroused. Blame will be levied against the UK government, the media, international organisations etc.

However, particular furore will be reserved for those businesses and banks who, close to referendum day, indicated their possible withdrawal from Scotland in the event of a "yes" vote. From outside those business organisations themselves, it is difficult to say whether these threats are real or not.

Maybe they are real but, it is, of course, also possible that these banks and businesses were "persuaded", by the Westminster government to issue these threats given the stakes involved.

One of the most controversial aspects of UK society is the honours system whereby people in high places can be persuaded to do or say almost anything in return for a peerage or a knighthood. Make no doubt, the London elite will stop at nothing to keep Scotland in the UK because the loss of Scotland could be the start of the break-up of the UK. No doubt, in years to come, when some businessman or politician decides to publish their memoirs, the truth will be revealed.

Also, I have no doubt that a close vote in these circumstances, coupled with an inability by Westminster governments to learn the lessons of this campaign, will just fuel a demand for a further referendum in years to come.

On the other hand, if the result is a close "yes" then, in years to come, the government of an independent Scotland will have the complex and difficult task of negotiating a good settlement with the rest of the UK, on many, many issues, and this may be difficult if the loss of Scotland leads to a surly and unhelpful attitude among politicians and the public in England (as it well may). This may result in a very difficult relationship between Scotland and its closest neighbour.

Also, the promises made by the "yes" campaign, at the time of the referendum, to the people of Scotland (e.g. the NHS, welfare etc) may turn out to have been wildly optimistic and / or uncertain. In the eyes of the Scottish electorate these promises made at the time of the referendum may turn out to be hollow and a political and societal backlash can be expected.

The French Revolution is often dated by historians as having taken place between 1789 and 1799 but clearly its effects lasted for much longer. At the time of the bicentennial celebrations in 1989, the then Chinese Premier Chou en Lai was asked what he thought was the lasting impact of the French Revolution (some 200 years earlier) on human society and history. Mr Chou's pithy response was: "It is far too early to tell". The point being made by Mr Chou was that major events like the French Revolution have implications that keep echoing for many centuries into the future.

Maybe this is true of Scottish independence and its impact on Scotland and the rest of the UK and even on Europe. Many decades from now, historians may be pointing to the closely-fought referendum campaign with all its passion and deceits as having been the trigger which set in force changes which ricochet through to the present time. Clearly it is not just something which just affects the present day Scots.

Professor Malcolm Prowle
Professor of Business Performance, Nottingham Business School

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Expert opinion: What will become of Scotland after the referendum?

Published on 18 September 2014
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