How Markets and Soccer Could Impede Scottish Independence
Recent polls suggest that support for Scottish independence is growing, and the once comfortable lead by opponents has diminished with the approach of the September 18 referendum. The pro–Great Britain supporters lead only 48 to 42 percent, with 10 percent undecided. Suddenly, a victory for the Scottish independence camp no longer seems implausible, and financial markets have responded with a modest sell-off in the value of the British pound, strengthening the case for a “no” vote.
Prime Minister David Cameron deserves credit for supporting the referendum in an open and fair political atmosphere. He can claim to be putting his country ahead of his party, because a Scottish secession would turn the Tories into the natural governing party in London by removing mostly Labor voters from UK elections. But his campaign has so far been a failure.
Some natural advantages to Cameron’s cause remain. Voters in favor of the status quo are often decisive, a trend that has caused the defeat of referenda favoring a new European Treaty or entry into the euro elsewhere in the European Union. In a referendum on secession, however, the trend would favor rejection, with Scottish late deciders likely to stay in the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, the grassroots pro-independence campaign in Scotland is far better organized than the UK government and adept at making Cameron’s scare tactics backfire.
The new factor is the reaction of the financial markets, which might scare those voters leaning toward independence. Proponents of secession admit they have no idea what independence would look like, and financial markets hate such uncertainty. Markets may well speak more loudly and clearly than any leader of the anti-independence camp. The more uncertain the polls suggest the result is, the more financial market volatility can be expected. By not agreeing with Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, about the consequences of independence, voters are left without a roadmap in a tightening race. No roadmap makes independence less likely.
On the other hand, independence movements and patriotism are also often about symbols. Here the Scottish nationalists may have an advantage derived from sport and the strange system of “home nation” (e.g. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) representation in many important sports in the United Kingdom. At least in sports, Scotland has trappings of an independent state already, sustaining the notion of an independent Scotland among fans. Tens of thousands of people painting themselves in Scottish colors in stadiums around the world and singing “Flower of Scotland,” when the blue St. Andrew’s Cross is raised, are practices that Flemish and Catalan nationalists can only dream of.
Thus a victory for a Scottish sports team before September 18 might produce a gust of national pride swaying voters to embrace the independence cause. Fortuitously, Scotland plays Germany’s newly crowned world champions in a qualifier for the 2016 European Championships in Dortmund on September 7.
Beating Germany away from home in an official soccer qualifier game would surely be a feat worthy of William Braveheart himself. Cameron, however, should be rooting for Germany to do to Scotland what it did to Brazil at the World Cup, snuffing out Scottish pretentions to nationhood.
One can almost hear Cameron’s cry from Downing Street 10—Come on, Germany! Come on, Germany! Come on, Germany! Come on, Germany! The future of the United Kingdom may depend on you!