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Will United Kingdom Stay United?

On 18th September, the people of Scotland will vote for a major decision in the history of United Kingdom (UK) and Scotland – whether to stay a part of the Unitary state UK, or leave it and become a new separate and independent state. Today’s United Kingdom is the collective name for the four countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each country of the UK has its own administrative system and geographic delineation, whose origins often pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom. UN Economic and Social Council has defined that in the UK there is ‘no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom’.

In medieval European history Scottish Kingdom existed 1058-1256. The family of Malcolm III ruled the country for more than two centuries. During this time Scotland became more prosperous and more civilized. The Kings of England mostly considered the Scottish Kings their subordinates. Due to affront by the English monarchy the Scots started a war of independence in 1297. On 11 September 1297, the main leader of the Scottish insurrection, William Wallace, defeated the English Armies at Sterling. This prestigious victory at Sterling enabled William to rule Scotland for a very short period. William Wallace was captured by the English on 5 August 1305 and transported to London. On 23 August 1305, he was taken to the Tower of London, stripped naked and pulled through the city at the heels of a horse. He was strangled by hanging, but released while he was still alive, emasculated, disemboweled and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head was placed on a pike at London Bridge.

After the death of William Wallace, the Scots lacked a leader and a King. On 25 March 1306, Robert the Bruce was chosen to be King of Scotland and to lead the fight for Scottish independence against King Edward I of England. From 1307 onwards, with energy and determination, Robert waged highly successful guerrilla warfare against the English occupiers, establishing control north of the Forth, and gradually won back his kingdom; by 1314 except Sterling. In 1324, the Pope recognized Robert as king of an independent Scotland.

England and Scotland became a single kingdom under King James VI of Scotland who also became King James I of England, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. It must be remembered, however, that this was not a political union but merely two countries sharing the monarch. Politically they were still two states, each with its own Parliament. Political union came about only during the reign of Queen Anne, in 1707. It was in this year that the Scottish Parliament assembled for the last time and the formal union of Parliaments was effected. Scotland became the part of Great Britain on 1 May, 1707 under the Treaty of Union when the Parliament of Great Britain was constituted in the Palace of Westminster.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) was formed in 1934, but did not achieve significant success in elections until the late 1960s and early 1970s. A document calling for home rule, the Scottish Covenant, was signed by two million people (out of a population of 5 million) in the late 1940s. Home rule, now known as Scottish devolution, did not become a serious proposal until the late 1970s as the Labor government of Jim Callaghan came under electoral pressure from the SNP. A proposal for a decentralized Scottish Assembly was put to a referendum in 1979, but this resulted in no change. A narrow majority of votes were cast in favor of change, but the statutes were cancelled due to a clause requiring that the number voting ‘Yes’ had to exceed 40% of the total constituency. In 1997 referendum, Scots clearly supported a decentralized Scottish Parliament. The new Scottish Parliament was established in 1998 with its first election on 6 May 1999. The SNP became the majority party in Scottish Parliament in 2007 elections with a manifesto to hold Scottish independence referendum. In January 2012, the UK Government offered to authorize the Scottish Parliament with the powers to hold a referendum, providing it was ‘fair, legal and decisive’. The Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2013 and received Royal approval on 7 August 2013.

On 15 November 2013, the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Future, a 670-page white paper laying out the case for independence and the means through which Scotland might become an independent country. The Scottish Government’s papers are, understandably, designed and presented to garner support for a ‘yes’ vote. The series of papers produced by the UK Government in the ‘Scotland Analysis’ series are, on the other hand, drafted and presented to support the case for preserving the Union. It may be a much closer race than many had expected. Until recently, and especially after the first televised debate, the ‘No’ campaign was sitting on a clear lead. But in the past few weeks the gap has narrowed substantially. Last week a poll put the gap between the two sides at just six percentage points, and this weekend the Yes campaign took the lead for the first time. A You Gov poll that excluded those who expressed no opinion gave the pro-independence campaign a 51 per cent to 49 per cent advantage. Many analysts predict that people are more likely to swing towards the status quo as polling day approaches, but the Yes campaign say that the momentum is with them. Many of the most important questions about the consequences of a ‘yes’ vote cannot be answered before it occurs. Uncertainty is extensive and likely to continue for some time after such a vote.

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