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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
There was More than the Independence of Scotland On the Line in the Scottish Referendum
Nicoḷ Conti, Associate Professor, Unitelma Sapienza of Rome and New York University Florence
La Pietra Dialogues
September 25, 2014

On September 18, 2014, the Scots voted “no” in a referendum on the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. This result was welcomed by many European governments and by the EU.

Other states in Europe have internal problems of national unity, with minorities claiming their right to independence. If Scotland seceded from the United Kingdom, Wales and Northern Ireland could follow the same example. Over the past decades, the Catalans have negotiated concessions with the Spanish government to make Catalonia a more independent country within Spain and now they also want to hold a referendum on full independence. Belgium is internally divided between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgians and their mutual independence, or the respective accession to the Netherlands and France, are always on top of the agenda in Belgian politics. And there are other examples of minorities claiming self-determination across Europe. The independence of Scotland could create a snow-ball effect with unpredictable consequences and push other minority nations to claim their full independence. The creation of new states with the consequent fragmentation of power can destabilise the actual geo-political order on the European continent and create problems for the EU process.

What would be the position of these new states within the EU? In order to become a member of the EU, each member state has to agree on accession. It could prove difficult for a seceding country to get the assent from the state it has separated from (UK in the case of Scotland). Moreover, in order to avoid the snow-ball effect, other member states might be motivated to veto the accession of any seceding country (the Spanish government declared they would never vote in favour of accession of Scotland to the EU as an independent country). In the end, with 28 member states in the EU, it is easy that at least one does not give its assent (Greece currently vetoes the accession of the Republic of Macedonia – a splinter state of former Yugoslavia – under justification that the name Macedonia is historically used in a Northern region of Greece and the accusation that it would promote territorial claims on the country). It is easy to imagine how embarrassing it could be for the Nobel Peace Prize winning EU to deny membership to countries that have democratically decided their self-determination and that legitimately aspire to become part of the EU.

The victory of the “no” vote in the referendum on the independence of Scotland has avoided serious political tensions on the European continent. The consequences of the independence of Scotland would have a scope much larger than the sole United Kingdom. However, we should not ignore that the referendum has produced some effects. To avoid secession, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, committed to the decentralisation of powers in favour of Scotland. The terms of such a process are still vague, but they could at least partially reward the advocates of Scottish independence who still represent a large part of the population. And if the pledge of extra powers to Scotland – that was also signed by the leaders of the other two main parties at Westminster, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – is not fulfilled there could be reason for resentment and future revenge by the Scots who already, this time, proved a serious threat to the unity and stability of the United Kingdom and beyond.

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