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Scotland's 'Day of Destiny'
On October 18, 2014, Scots will get a chance to vote for independence from the United Kingdom.
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2012 11:01
David Cameron's Conservative Party is more unpopular in Scotland than at any time in its history [GALLO/GETTY]

The Scottish Sun described it as Scotland's "Day of Destiny".

The revelation that October 18, 2014, will be the day when Scots get a chance to vote for independence was splashed across the front page of Rupert Murdoch's new Sunday newspaper.

It was a tabloid exclusive that sent politicians, scrambling for television studios, and even reverberated across the Atlantic.   

The New York Times published a column from the veteran commentator Neal Ascherson, who told readers, "A fresh wind of new ideas is blowing from Scotland and tempting all the queen's subjects to reimagine their identities."

The big question is whether that "fresh wind" will blow Scotland out of the UK altogether.  

"Autumn 2014 is the correct timetable for the referendum, which reflects the proper procedures of the Scottish Parliament, and the need for the fullest possible public debate on Scotland's most important decision for 300 years," Angus Robertson, the independence campaign manager for the Scottish National Party (SNP), told Al Jazeera.  

Opinion polls

Opinion polls suggest that the economy is likely to dominate the debate on Scotland's constitutional future. Most Scots will vote with their pockets.  

Cameron in plea to Scots to remain in UK

According to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which was published in November, almost two thirds of Scots would back independence if they thought it would make them £500 ($790) a year better off. 

However, Scots are currently pessimistic about the impact a Scottish breakaway would have on their personal finances.  

Professor John Curtice, Research Consultant for ScotCen Social Research, which produces the survey, told Al Jazeera: "If the SNP are to persuade a majority of Scots to back independence, they will need to convince them of the economic case for leaving the Union - and that is a debate that is still to be won or lost."

He added that, "Alex Salmond (Scotland's First Minister) still has some way to go to sell an independent Scotland as a land of milk and honey."

Labour Party's MP, Alistair Darling, who is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, says the economy will be at the front of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK: "Scotland is better off being part of the same economic union as our major trading partner, England, in the same way as the UK is better being part of the same economic union as its major trading partners in the EU."

He told Al Jazeera, "Across the world, people are talking about breaking down trading barriers, not putting them up."

The SNP are trying to make it easier for Scots to vote "yes" by offering a reassuring version of sovereignty. Scotland would keep the pound as its currency, there would be no customs at the border with England and the country would remain in the EU.   

Angus Robertson says, "Full responsibility for fiscal policy while remaining within a common Sterling currency area will give Scotland the maximum degree of flexibility and control of the key financial levers we need to take the decisions best suited to our own economic interests."

With many Scots yet to make up their minds, the quality of the respective campaigns will be crucial.  

There is a strong expectation that the Nationalists will run an effective campaign. It will be well funded and led by Alex Salmond, the most popular politician in the country. It remains to be seen if the Unionists can match them. 

Commonwealth Games

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party is more unpopular in Scotland than at any time in its history. With just one Scottish MP, he can look like the leader of a foreign power on his visits north of the border.  

The UK government is therefore relying on the Labour Party, which has a much stronger Scottish presence, to set out the case for Britain. 

Scotland to launch independence referendum

Alistair Darling, who represents Edinburgh in the House of Commons, told Al Jazeera that steps are fairly well advanced in creating a single cross-party campaign to defend the Union. He said it will involve a wide coalition of supporters from all walks of life, "It will include people in all political parties and some from outside politics."

Whilst 2014 will be a big year for politics in Scotland, it will be a huge one for sport. Glasgow's Commonwealth Games will be held in July and August, and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is in September. 

The Nationalists hope that the Commonwealth Games, in particular, will help create a feel-good factor that boosts national confidence ahead of the referendum.  

Unlike in the Olympics, Scotland has its own team. If Sir Chris Hoy takes gold in the cycling, or Hannah Miley wins in the pool, they will do it for Scotland, not Britain. During the medal ceremonies Flower of Scotland, rather than God Save the Queen, will echo around the arenas.  

John Curtice says it is crucial that the Unionist campaign does not allow the Nationalists to capture the agenda: "If I were running Cameron, I would say that at the opening of the Commonwealth Games you are standing next to Alex Salmond and waving a Saltire. He has to look as proud to be supporting Scotland as Salmond will. That picture would be worth more than a thousand words."

Glasgow's Commonwealth Games is a known event that politicians can plan for, but there is also the possibility of the unexpected: Scotland could qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. 

Being a Scotland supporter is generally a miserable experience, but the emergence of new talent like Celtic's James Forrest and Aston Villa's Barry Bannan offers real hope for the national team. 

If the Scots exceed expectations and go on a run to the quarter or even the semi-finals who knows what might happen? It would be a dream come true for the "tartan army" and a nightmare for the Unionist campaign in the run-up to the referendum.  

David Cameron might feel that he doesn't have any choice in the matter, but allowing Alex Salmond to choose the timing of the vote could prove to be a crucial mistake by the UK government.  

John Curtice predicts that: "If the SNP can fight an effective campaign they might just pull it off." 

Follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter: @apmcfadyen

Source:
Al Jazeera
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