Scottish independence referendum: The arguments for and against

Chris Parsons

When David Cameron and Alex Salmond met in Edinburgh on Monday afternoon, they set out terms for a vote which will define Scotland's future.

The Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister agreed on a one-question, yes or no referendum on Scottish independence, with voting taking place in autumn of 2014.

Mr Cameron insists Britain is 'better together' while Mr Salmond urged Scots to vote 'yes' to independence; but what is the mood of the electorate themselves north of the border?

Experts estimate that support for a 'yes' to independence has varied from around 25-33 per cent, although this figure could fluctuate in the two years leading up to the referendum.

Analysts are also trying to calculate how giving the referendum vote to Scottish 16 and 17-year-old could affect the outcome.


Polls place the current support for independence in Scotland at a maximum of 33 per cent.

A Social Atittudes survey last year put support at 32 per cent - slightly less than one in three - but even this was 3 per cent down on the 35 per cent achieved in 2005.

Polling expert John Curtice told the BBC that there hasn't been "any evidence of any long-term increase in support for independence since 2007".

Eberhard Bort, a lecturer in politics at Edinburgh University, said that despite substantial political and economic upheaval in the past 15 years, the general mood in Scotland has not drastically changed.

He told Yahoo! News: "In 1997 we had a referendum and in 1999 we had the first election. In 2003 we had the Iraq War, in '07 we had a minority government voted in and in 2008 we had the financial crisis.

"Despite all that, the one thing which hasn't changed is the constitutional preference of the Scots."


When Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond launches the SNP's annual conference later this week, he will tells Scots they have a once-in-a-lifetime choice between 'freedom and stagnation'.

Supporters of independence argue that the ruling parties in Westminster will take away initiatives such as bus passes, personal care and free prescriptions which were 'big achievements' of the Scottish parliament.

Pro-independence campaigners cite the failures of the UK government, politics and society in general in arguing for their own sovereignty, where they can act as an independent nation.

Economic issues are also central to both arguments. SNP supporters believe the UK's economic growth is centred around London and the south east - something which would change if Scotland governed its own affairs

Eberhard Bort added: "The main argument which will affect the outcome is the economic sitation. If the SNP can persuade the Scots they will be economically better off going independent then they will consider doing that.

"The economic situation at the time of the referendum in two years, as well as the economy now, will also be factors."

SNP supporters also believe separation from the UK would allow the country to further its interests in Europe, such as farming, fisheries and oil.

One of the most contentious issues at stake is the ownership of an estimated 20 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves beneath the UK part of the North Sea.

Independence would allow Scotland to directly benefit from these North Sea oil reserves.


Many Scots remain unconvinced by the notion of being an independence state - an uncertainty which David Cameron will seize on after promising to make a 'very positive argument for the United Kingdom'.

Though Scotland would entirely govern its own economic affairs, Mr Cameron said it would inherit the 'burdens and risks' that come with being independent, while also losing 'the benefits and opportunities we have as part of the UK'.

Experts have argued that the apparent uncertainty towards independence is unlikely to change in the two years before the 2014 referendum.

Eberhard Bort said: "By 2014 the SNP will have been in power for seven years, and whether the popularity of Alex Salmond can carry on until then remains to be seen.

"With all the developments over time, when you look at the big social attitude surveys, there has been very little fundemental change. "Support for independence has always been between 25 and 35 per cent.

"It's very difficult to see that in the next two years that change will happen. "You would think the arrival of the SNP in 2007 would have been a game-changer, but it has not been."

Alex Salmond has secured the voting power of 16 and 17-year-old Scots in the referendum - a decision seen as a coup in Scotland as younger people are said to be more nationalistic.

But Eberhard Bort said there is a 'misconception' about youngsters being more patriotic, and that this might not have as big an effect on the vote as previously thought. He said: "I don't think it will be of decisive importance.

Young people are not known as being the most eager when it comes to using their vote. "There is perhaps a slight misconception of thinking the young ones will be more gung-ho for independence.

"A recent survey across Scotland said only 25 per cent of young people supported independence - and that's less than the national average.

"Youngsters at university have grown up with the Scottish parliament - it's totally accepted but there is no great appetite to go beyond that."