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BC Expert: Vote for Independence in Scotland

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James Cronin

James Cronin
Professor of History

Boston College

552-3798 (o)
(617) 905-1756 (c)

James Cronin is professor of history at Boston College, where he teaches courses in modern European history. His latest book, Global Rules: America, Britain and a Disordered World, will be published in October 2014. He is the author of numerous other books, including What’s Left of the Left (co-edited), New Labour’s PastsThe World the Cold War Made, The Politics of State ExpansionLabour and Society in Modern Britain, and Industrial Conflict in Modern Britain.




It’s been part of the British Empire for three centuries but next Thursday, Scotland will have the chance to declare its independence in a nationwide referendum that will determine the direction of the territory and the people who live there.

“In terms of the international order, the Scottish withdrawal could have serious ramifications,” says Boston College History Professor James Cronin. “It’s impossible to say how far those ramifications would go, and what the ultimate consequences would be, but they would be upsetting to the international system, even though Scotland is a small country.

“Scotland is the location for Britain’s nuclear deterrent - the ships that carry Britain’s nuclear weapons  are stationed in Scotland just north of Glasgow,” says Cronin, an expert in modern British and European history. “The people pushing for Scottish independence claim they would get rid of nuclear weapons. If that happens, that would mean that Britain would have to relocate its nuclear weapons south and none of the ports in Britain are quite as big or protected or deep as the port in Scotland. So it would be a major cost for Britain. It would also mean that Britain would be pretty irritated at that.”

“Scotland couldn’t just stay in the EU if it became independent, they’d have to apply and the application needs to be approved unanimously,” says Cronin, author of the book Global Rules: America, Britain and a Disordered World. “So any country like Britain if they were angry could say no. Spain, for example, might veto Scotland’s entry into the EU because they don’t want Catalonia or the Basque country to ask to secede. Other countries who fear secession movements as well wouldn’t want to be rewarding the Scots for having seceded.”

“Scotland doesn’t have a lot of people but it’s very big geographically - it’s a big chunk of land, a big chunk of area which has a lot to do with Britain’s role in the world and in the North Sea,” says Cronin. “To lose that chunk would be fairly substantial given Great Britain’s place as a major world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. In international relations, Great Britain is seen as punching above its weight, and I think there would be a real sense that Britain as a political entity would just be reduced, reduced in strength, reduced in clout and physically reduced in size. It would only lose about 8% of its population but it would lose a bigger portion of its land mass, and that would also add up. There are also emotional ties – most people in Britain think they are better and stronger for having Scotland. And I think most Scots feel pretty good about their connection with Britain except now they’ve been told they can have their independence and also keep all the good things.”

That independence could come at a cost domestically for the Scots. 

“The upside of Scottish secession is the feeling, the reality of making their own decisions on a range of issues,” says Cronin, who also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Social History and British Politics. “But there would be difficulties in the currency - managing their currency and managing the economy. There would clearly be some businesses and some investors who would want to locate in a country that had a somewhat more secure financial system, had a bigger market or more access to global markets. There could easily be some disinvestment in Scotland and therefore an increase in unemployment. 

“Advocates of independence claim that Scotland would continue to spend more on public services – education and health especially – but others doubt that,” Cronin explained. “Much depends on how the proceeds of North Sea oil, which is in any case a declining asset, are apportioned,” according to Cronin, “and just how much the Scots would get remains unclear. They are unlikely to get all they want and plan to spend.”

“While the question of what the Scots could afford in terms of social and government services isn’t clear,” Cronin argues, “what is pretty clear is there would be some disinvestment from businesses in Scotland so it’s likely unemployment would increase somewhat and growth would lag somewhat.”



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Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)