Scotland Could Prosper Outside The United Kingdom

In September, voters in Scotland will decide whether to end the union with England and return to independence. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Scottish Parliamentarian Fiona Hyslop about the vote.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week marks an important date in the history of the British Isles. In 1707, the Acts of Union were signed, which joined in Scotland and England into a single United Kingdom. And so it has remained for the last 300 years, although, in 1997, the British government gave Scotland its own parliament with certain powers over social policy.

But that could all change this September when Scottish voters go to the polls in a referendum on independence. Fiona Hyslop is a member of the Scottish Parliament. She joins us from Edinburgh. Thanks so much for being with us.

FIONA HYSLOP: A pleasure.

MARTIN: We will talk through some of the different facets of this, but just overall, can you tell me why you believe that independence is the way for Scotland to move forward?

HYSLOP: Well, I think there's a simple truth, that the people who are best placed to make decisions about Scotland are the people who care most about Scotland. And those are the people who live and work in Scotland. And there's a basic argument about democracy that, you know, frequently and the best part of all the years since the end of the second world war, Scotland has had governments that we haven't voted for controlling big issues out from the Westminster system.

So we think, in terms of economic growth and opportunity and you know, a real progressive voice for a positive European engagement, that an independent Scotland can best serve the people of Scotland.

MARTIN: A lot of those who speak out on the other side of this issue say it's just going to be a tough road for Scotland to prosper economically on its own separate from England. Can it do so, in your opinion?

HYSLOP: Well, that's one of our main arguments is that we're in a very strong economic place. In fact, relative to the UK, we're in a stronger place. And in terms of the last 33 years, Scotland, per head of population, has paid more in tax than the UK. Even without that, we have a stronger position when you count oil and gas.

And I thought it was very interesting that (unintelligible) recognized that even without the immense oil and gas wealth that we have, Scotland would be in a strong financial place. And indeed, the Financial Times indicated that our public finances would be in a stronger, healthier state than the rest of the UK were Scotland to vote for independence.

MARTIN: And what about the currency, moving forward, if the referendum were to pass? Right now, Scotland uses something called the Scottish pound, which is linked to the English pound. Would that stay the same?

HYSLOP: Well, it's the same pound. And indeed, again, as part of the assets of the Bank of England just as much part of the assets of Scotland. And in terms of where we see things going forward, it would make sense, both for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, that we continue the use of the pound and have a currency union. And there are other unions that we would want to maintain. The monarchy, for example, is one of them.

And also our social union, because many friends and relatives are north and south of the border. The key thing we want to change is the political union, and that is one that would allow the people of Scotland to elect and always ensure that every time they do have an election, they get the government that they vote for.

MARTIN: If you win, how would the relationship with England work practically speaking? Just logistically - would there be passports to cross the border?

HYSLOP: Well, we don't think we would be a requirement for that because we would also be members of the European Union. And anybody who's traveled from the United States to Europe may be aware that actually, we have that free movement within the European Union. And in terms of our relations, I think it's important to stress that, you know, we would just, we would consider the rest of the United Kingdom as our closest friends and allies.

And in fact, if anything, it will strengthen our position when we are in the European Union in terms of our voicing power when we agree with the United Kingdom. We would therefore mean that we have more votes for that position. And obviously, where we disagree, it would allow us to have a distinctive voice on those points. But of course, what we want to restore is a position of equality. And that's what Scotland had pre-1707, was its own Parliament. The union was meant to be a parliament of equals, but it doesn't sometimes feel like this from our position.

MARTIN: Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish government, speaking to us about the upcoming Scottish referendum for independence. Thanks so much for talking with us.

HYSLOP: Thank you.

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