The Scottish government will unveil an ambitious blueprint for sovereignty on Tuesday, hoping to reverse sagging support for independence and fend off rising concerns that Scotland can’t go it alone.
In what is expected to be a flashy ceremony at the Glasgow Science Centre, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond will release a 670-page outline of his government’s vision for a country. The so-called White Paper on independence will lay out a vision for a new tax system, welfare reforms, a currency union with Britain, the Queen as head of state, and membership in NATO and the European Union. There will also be a date for independence: March 24, 2016, the same date as the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Acts of Union in 1707 which merged the parliaments of Scotland and England.
The white paper will demonstrate “that no country has ever been better equipped to become independent,” Mr. Salmond said Monday. “We are setting out a positive plan for job opportunities and economic growth based on Scotland’s vast natural resources, key growth sectors and human talent.”
There is a lot riding on the document for Mr. Salmond, who is akin to a provincial premier and heads the Scottish National Party. The vote on sovereignty isn’t until Sept. 18, 2014, but polls have consistently put support for independence at least 10 points behind those who want to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom. And despite the government’s move to lower the voting age for the referendum to 16, young people appear even less inclined to vote “yes,” according to recent polls.
“I’m quite happy with the way things are,” said Emma Johnson, 25, as she waited to pick up her diploma at a graduation ceremony for Glasgow Caledonian University on Monday. Ms. Johnson, who received a masters degree in human resources management and works for the National Health Service, said all four members of her family also plan to vote “no.”
As she spoke, another graduate, Melissa Lamont, nodded her head in agreement. Ms. Lamont, 25, said the pro-independence side hasn’t made a convincing case for separation. “I think we are better together, as they say,” she said referring to the name of the “no” campaign.
Mr. Salmond is well aware of the challenges. Tuesday’s announcement will mark the unofficial start of the referendum campaign and his government is going all out. The entire cabinet is attending the launch and ministers will fan out across Scotland this week for further announcements.
At the “yes” campaign headquarters in Glasgow, fittingly on Hope Street, campaign organizer Stan Blackley said the tide is beginning to turn, with more than 370,000 people having signed the Independence Declaration. The campaign has set up 300 local teams across Scotland. “We’ve got hairdressers and taxi drivers for independence,” said Mr. Blackley, former head of Friends of the Earth Scotland. The campaign is also employing sophisticated tactics used by the Obama campaign, including developing detailed profiles on thousands of voters and dominating social media.
Those efforts are paying off in terms of people like Aidan Temple, 23, a staunch “yes” supporter who works for a software company. “I just feel my country should have a say in the world,” he said adding that four out of the six members of his family support independence, including his 16-year old brother. Mr. Temple is convinced the polls have underestimated “yes” supporters. He and others pointed out that 15 to 20 per cent of people remain undecided.
Down the road at the Better Together office, campaign workers are equally vigilant. They have already come out with blistering attacks on the white paper, calling it a work of fiction and insisting it won’t provide details about the true cost of independence. “We simply don’t have to choose between having a strong Scottish parliament and the strength and security of being part of the United Kingdom. We can have both,” said campaign chair Alistair Darling, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. “The White Paper will try to force Scots into a risky choice that we don’t need to make.”
The “no” side got a boost last week when the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a respected London think tank, released a study showing that an independent Scotland would face a soaring debt load, forcing it to raise taxes or cut spending. The British government has also rejected Mr. Salmond’s plan to have a currency union with Britain and retain the Bank of England.
“There is a huge dishonesty in pretending that you can walk away from the United Kingdom but keep all the advantages from being part of the United Kingdom,” said Alistair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has also issued dire warnings about job losses should Scotland vote to separate.
At this point, complacency may be the biggest challenge for the “no”side. That is something that troubles Mr. Carmichael who pointed to the 1995 Quebec referendum in Canada where the “no” forces nearly lost after being comfortably ahead for weeks. “I’m alive to the danger,” he said.