Alex Salmond may believe the Scottish independence debate is yet to cause “even a bloody nose”, but the rest of the world thinks the fight over the UK’s constitutional future is worth keeping an eye on. Indeed, the prospect of an end to the world’s oldest political union, and the partial break up of its sixth largest economy, has piqued the interest of the world media and sent dozens of correspondents scurrying to Edinburgh.
Unsurprisingly, there has been significant interest in those countries where constitutional issues remain a running sore. According to Canada’s CTV, Quebec separatists the Parti Quebecois (PQ) – twice unsuccessful in independence referendums since 1980 – will travel to Scotland later this year to share information on strategy and tactics with the SNP. “It depends on local circumstances. It’s up to them to prepare,” former PQ Premier Bernard Landry told the network, further urging the SNP to be careful with timing and remain wary of rule-bending rivals.
Reflecting on the opening skirmishes of the battle of wills between David Cameron and Alex Salmond, Doug Saunders, London correspondent for the Globe and Mail, noted: “At stake is not just the future of a nation but the political careers of two powerful men.” Saunders judged Cameron’s attempt to formalise a process by intervening in the debate “a politically bold and sensible move” with echoes of Canada’s Clarity Act, which handed power over the conduct of future referendums to the federal government.
While the Belfast Telegraph dismissed the two leaders’ jousting as “a side show”, Mark Hennessy of the Irish Times wrote that “Cameron’s intervention has not played well in Scotland”, adding that Salmond was shrewd to allow Nicola Sturgeon to name autumn 2014 as the date for the vote in order to prevent him becoming the single face of independence.
However, Hennessy found Sturgeon’s claim that the SNP favours a straight “in” or “out” question, rather than one that simply offers extra powers to Edinburgh, “disingenuous at best”. Devolution-max, he argued, would be seen as “a considerable consolation prize” for the SNP.
On an independent Scotland’s economic prospects, Reuters’ Matt Falloon predicted “a cash-rich economy buoyed by North Sea oil and Edinburgh finance,” but also “another small state on the edge of Europe vulnerable to global shocks”. Scotland’s size, Falloon continued, would endanger its triple-A credit rating, while the prospect of higher government borrowing and austerity measures might put flagship policies such as free university tuition and prescriptions at risk.
Saunders provided an even more gloomy view.
An independent Scotland in 2012 would be a European leader in “homicides, hard-drug abuse, obesity, cancer deaths and alcoholism,” and would remain “a single-resource nation that would be spending all its resource revenue within its own economy” – “not a recipe for prosperity”.
On the likelihood of independence, the New York Times’ John F Burns said the SNP has an “unmatched opportunity,” while the ever-pugnacious Russia Today surmised that “Britain may be a 300-year-old union that once ruled the waves and half the known world, but on home soil, the country is closer than ever to a messy divorce.” Finally, the Christian Science Monitor noted an upswing in support for independence since Cameron’s decision to veto a new EU treaty, adding that Salmond will seek to use the issue “to drive a wedge” between an isolationist England and a pro-European Scotland.