By Michael Rosie, Special Editor for Scottish Affairs, Volume 23.3 (2014)

Scotland does not stand still. The last 15 years have seen four elections, the death of a First Minister, the transition from a Scottish Executive to a Scottish Government. The electoral system has thrown up two coalition Parliaments, one minority government, and one – to considerable surprise – governing majority. And that majority, being the SNP, has shifted the game further. In September 2014 Scotland addresses the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

Through these radical and rapid shifts in how we are governed (and how, indeed, we govern ourselves), the Scots have barely raised their voices, let alone thrown punches and smashed windows. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the 2014 referendum is how normal it feels. ‘Independence’ was, in the 1970s, something rather exotic. A wild dream for some, a puerile and violent fantasy for others – the latter exemplified by Hurd and Osmond’s ludicrous novel, Scotch on the Rocks, subsequently a never-repeated BBC drama. Yet here we are, with a White Paper, and a Red Paper, and the promise of substantial new powers if we vote ‘No’, and of a new – but unthreatening – dawn if we vote ‘Yes’. Independence is one possible future, one to be discussed, debated, weighed and judged soberly and democratically. It feels less a matter of ‘freedom’, or of the destruction of a hallowed unity, than of how to find the best fitting governing mechanism to meet Scotland’s aspirations.

In making sense of the referendum Scotland has an incredible resource in the What Scotland Thinks website. Run by ScotCen Social Research with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, What Scotland Thinks provides impartial and non-partisan information on public attitudes to Scottish independence, and observations and analysis on the state of public opinion in Scotland. In many ways this Special Issue has been inspired by What Scotland Thinks, and is intended to make a similarly accessible contribution to the debate. The Issue has two main parts, and it should be noted that articles were finalised in late March, or early April, 2014. To repeat: Scotland does not stand still, so in some respects these articles cannot keep up with the tide – but we feel that the quality of the analysis in each is such that their arguments will remain robust and relevant up to and beyond Thursday, 18 September. As such we present relatively short pieces rather than lengthy excursions. The aim is to inform debate and, perhaps modestly, to help in the careful judgement by Scotland of the proposal in front of it.

The first part of this Special Issue deals with a variety of themes surrounding the referendum itself. Part II of the Special Issue consists of four essays on the theme of Scotland seen from (near or) afar.

 Extract taken from: Scottish Affairs 23.3 (2014): 275–279; DOI: 10.3366/scot.2014.0027

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