For much of 2014, one of the most significant European political developments was the Scottish Independence referendum. On September 18, 2014 Scotland rejected a measure that would have split Scotland off from the rest of the United Kingdom by a ten point margin.
Scotland has been a member of the United Kingdom for over 300 years and leaders worldwide nervously anticipated the outcome of the measure as polls showed the two sides of the issue deadlocked. Queen Elizabeth, who is legally bound to be impartial on political matters, even issued a statement before the vote stating, “People will need to think very carefully about the future.”
In the final days before the vote, prominent political figures throughout the U.K made their case to Scotland to remain a member of the United Kingdom. Shortly before the election, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband expressed, “There is nothing else remotely of this importance. You can be guaranteed I am going to be here a lot.” Miliband’s central opponent, and current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron argued, “We must be very clear. There’s no going back from this. No re-run. This is a once-and-for-all decision. If Scotland votes Yes, the UK will split and we will go our separate ways forever.” Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and the largest proponent of the independence vote stated the upcoming measure was “a once in a generation opportunity.”
Before the vote, American politicians and political commentators weighed in on the pending vote in Scotland. Nobel winning economist Paul Krugman warned, “I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge.” According to British political analysts, it was economic factors that lead to Scotland’s rejection of the independence measure, including but not limited to uncertainty about trade relations with neighboring countries and what currency would be used in the case of Scotland becoming an independent nation.
In February of this year, voters favored remaining a part of the United Kingdom by a 25 percent margin. Starting in late August, the sides essentially became statistically tied. It was ultimately the 15 percent of undecided voters at the end that ultimately denied Scotland independence. In comparison to the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland is considerably more liberal, meaning the conservative Tory Party of Prime Minister David Cameron would have more of a foothold in the rest of the U.K. However, it was widely believed Cameron would be forced to resign if Scotland broke off from the rest of the U.K.
The outcome of the vote served as a major victory for Cameron, who has been facing low approval ratings and increasing international pressure over Britain’s role in combatting ISIS.