Scotland vote may prompt ‘age of microstates’

Separate ways: Most Scottish and Northern Irish voters opted to remain in the EU last year.

Scotland’s first minister has promised a referendum on leaving the UK. A Yes vote would mean the UK breaking up. And independence movements are gaining strength in Europe and America.

Taxes would be collected in coin. Women became entitled to a dowry. And daughters could inherit land if there were no male heirs.

These were some of the changes introduced by the Statute of Rhuddlan — the law of 1284 which effectively brought Wales under English control.

This was the first time two members of the country we now call the UK entered a political union. Their concerns may seem arcane, but 733 years later the union has endured — having expanded to include Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But perhaps the trend will now reverse. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister said she would seek permission to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in late 2018 or early 2019.

Sturgeon said she wanted to give Scots “a choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country”. Her announcement was a bombshell: Theresa May, the UK prime minister, accused her of causing “uncertainty and division”; bookmakers made independence favourite for victory.

Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014; 55% of voters chose to remain part of the UK. But Sturgeon now says the UK’s plan to leave the EU has made another vote necessary — particularly as 62% of Scottish voters backed Remain last year.

This month unionist parties lost their majority in Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly for the first time. And although most Welsh voters opted to leave the EU, support for Welsh independence rose in the wake of the referendum.

There are even independence movements in Cornwall and the Scottish islands. And there have been calls to make London — which heavily backed Remain — a city-state in response to Brexit.

In 2014, unofficial referendums found that most Catalonians favoured independence from Spain and most Venetians wanted to secede from Italy. In the US, Texan secessionists grew stronger under President Obama; Californian independence has done so under President Trump.

As Guardian writer Stephen Moss says, “We may be entering the age of the microstate”.

The splits

Great, say nationalists. Strong nations can check the power of bloated institutions and allow people more control over their lives. Tightly-knit communities encourage the creation of fair, tolerant societies based on common allegiances. And many of the most prosperous countries in the world are small nations.

This is dreadful, opponents respond. Nationalism is unrealistic and exclusive. It drives countries apart when they should work together. It is usually utopian and driven by fear. It encourages an economic race to the bottom as countries look out for themselves, rather than using their collective bargaining power. And it exposes the vulnerable to risk.

You Decide

  1. Who would you rather made decisions that affect you: global leaders or people in your local community?
  2. Would the “age of the microstates” be a good thing?


  1. In pairs, create two posters: one in favour of Scottish independence, and one against it.
  2. Choose an independence movement mentioned in this article (or another interesting one you can think of). Write a one-page factfile about it: how long has it existed for? How much support does it have? Why? Bring it to class and share your findings.

Some People Say...

“One day countries will not exist — and that will be a good thing.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So some powerful people are arguing among themselves — but will this change my life?
Scottish voters are deciding who should make the important decisions that affect them. The impact on you may be tough to grasp, but it is more important than any of those decisions would be individually. You may think this referendum is a chance to give people back more power — or you may fret that it could undermine efforts to tackle bigger problems across borders.
But I am not Scottish.
The way Scotland votes will have an impact on the UK and world economy, so it could make it easier or harder for you to get a job you want when you are older. And independence movements are getting stronger in many parts of the world: this will help us to understand what future many other countries might have too.

Word Watch

Property given on marriage.
Scotland joined England and Wales in 1707, creating Great Britain. In 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed. In 1921 Ireland was partitioned; since 1927 it has been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
As the Article 50 Bill was approved by Parliament, May confirmed it would probably be triggered at the end of the month.
Parties which support Northern Ireland’s place in the UK (the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists). This is the first time since Ireland’s partition they have been outnumbered in Northern Ireland’s main seat of government.
In July, 28% of Welsh voters told YouGov they would choose independence if it kept Wales in the EU. Most previous polls put support for independence in single figures.
An independent city.
In 2014, 81% of voters in Catalonia favoured independence. Catalonia’s leader has promised a “legal and binding” vote on independence this year.
In 2014, 89% of people in Venice said they wanted to leave Italy.

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