Scotland's Referendum on Independence

Everything You Need to Know About Scotland's Referendum on Independence

Spectators sport Union Jack flag and a Scottish Saltire flag facepaint as they queue for tickets to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on June 28, 2013 in London. Getty Images

Update: In the September 18, 2014 referendum on independence, 55.3% of voters voted no, against independence, with only 44.7% voting for independence.  Thus, for the time being, Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom.

September 18, 2014 could become one of the most historic days in Scottish history.  After more than three hundred years of union with the United Kingdom, residents of Scotland will be voting whether or not to create an independent Scotland.


Proponents of independence suggest that an independent Scotland will be more responsive to its citizens than the British parliament and that it will mean financial prosperity and a better future for Scots. Opponents of the measure suggest that Scotland will be much worse off alone and that a united United Kingdom is far more advantageous.  Ultimately, voters will decide on September 18 but if independence is chosen, the expected date of independence for the new independent Scotland would be eighteen months later, on March 24, 2016.

The Vote

Any British, European Union, or Commonwealth citizen aged 16 and older residing within Scotland, along with members of the military who are registered to vote in Scotland, will be able to vote on the September 18 referendum.  The vote will be a simple yes or no vote to the question, "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  If the majority of votes are yes, then the eighteen month transition will begin to allow Scotland to become an independent country in March 2016.

 This transition should be quite smooth but it will be the creation of the largest new independent country in Europe since Kosovo in 2008 and Serbia in 2006.

The Transition

The eighteen month-long transition from Scotland being part of the United Kingdom to full independence will be a rush of activity.

 Laws will need to be enacted by parliaments in Westminster (London) and Holyrood (Edinburgh).  The current Scottish parliament will work to as a transitional government to an independent country during the transitional period and following the parliamentary elections of May 5, 2016 a new Scottish government will be formed.

All British government assets and property will need to be transferred to the new Scottish government, especially the military.  Initial plans indicate that Scottish members of the UK's military would be able to choose which country to serve as Scotland builds a new army, navy, and air force. The United Kingdom's only nuclear weapons facility, the Trident Nuclear Programme, is based at the Clyde Naval Base on Scotland's west coast.  Scotland is vowing to be nuclear-free upon independence so the UK might have to determine a new site for such a facility.  

There are three possible options for a Scottish currency - the euro, a new currency, or to retain the British pound.  There is no guarantee that the remaining United Kingdom would agree to share a currency union with Scotland.

There is much speculation about North Sea oil fields. Ninety percent of the oil fields lie within potential Scottish territorial waters and many of the pro-independence advocates suggest that possession of the oil fields will present an economic boom to the new country.

 Others suggest that the resource might not be as bountiful as some would indicate.  

The new Scotland will utilize the current blue and white Saint Andrew's Cross or the Saltire as the national flag.  There is speculation as to whether the remaining United Kingdom would change the Union Jack to a new flag. A national anthem and other national identifiers would need to be determined. Scotland even plans on creating a SBS - the Scottish Broadcasting Service - the Scottish version of the BBC, which would inherit some Scotland-based BBC resources.  

Scotland will become a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty The Queen (or her successors) as head of state.

International Relations

Throughout the transitional period there will be efforts to integrate Scotland into the international community.  Membership in the United Nations should be fairly simple and straightforward and would likely occur on the day of or day after independence.

 Scotland expects to be able to join NATO as a nuclear-free member state.

However, membership in the European Union is not so certain or swift.  Spain is likely to delay Scottish membership in the EU so as to not encourage its own separatist groups from leaving Spain with a guarantee of EU membership.  Spain's foreign minister has been quoted as saying that Scotland would have to get at the end of the line behind other countries like Albania, Iceland, and Turkey seeking membership.  It could take years for Scotland to become a member of the EU, which presents the strange situation of whether Scots who currently have EU citizenship would lose that citizenship following independence.

A No Vote on Independence

If the citizens of Scotland vote against independence, not much is expected to change.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will continue to function and Scotland will continue to be granted additional sovereignty as part of the devolution that began in 1998.  However, there will likely not be another vote on independence for many many years.  

In a poll in early July 2014, about two months prior to the referendum, Scots were mixed on whether or not to vote for independence with 34% saying yes to independence, 45% saying no and 21% having not yet decided.  With such a large percentage of undecited voters, the vote could go either way and the world will have to wait until polls close on September 18, 2014 to discover whether Scotland will become the world's 197th independent country.

For more information about the two sides of the independence debate see the Yes Scotland site and the Better Together site. The Scotsman newspaper website has a comprehensive resource on Scottish Independence. The Scottish Government has a site devoted to Scotland's Referendum and the UK government has a site devoted to making a positive case for Scotland remaining in the UK, which even includes a Buzzfeed list called Scotland. The UK. 10 Myths. 10 Facts.