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As Scotland Considers Independence, Are There Lessons for Puerto Rico?

On March 18, after more than three centuries as part of the Great Britain, Scottish voters will have the option to choose to become an independent nation again.

The results are currently too close to call.

Those who favor independence for Scotland predict that freedom from England will provide greater economic opportunity.  Scotland’s current economy is on par with the combined average of the United Kingdom in terms of income level, productivity and unemployment.  Nationalists pledge that a new “controlled, transparent and efficient” migration system would attract highly skilled people to boost incomes, employment and public finances.

An independent Scotland could change its immigration system, but there are several aspects of government and the economy that would be outside the new nation’s power to control.  First, if Scotland keeps the British pound as its currency, as is the intention, Scotland would be using a currency controlled by another country. Decisions about interest rates and related financial matters will probably be made on the basis of what is best for the UK, not what is best for Scotland. Perhaps more basic,  currency is a choice that the new Scottish government may not have, as at least Labour leader Ed Miliband has suggested that England would not agree to a currency union with an independent Scotland.

Second, Scotland’s heavy reliance on North Sea oil production could render an independent Scotland’s more vulnerable to continuing reductions in supply. Last year saw a 25% decline in production. Approximately 15% of Scotland’s income is tied to fossil fuels.

Finally, much of Scotland’s industry isn’t favoring independence. Several major companies, including the largest banks, have announced plans to move if Scotland becomes independent.

Scotland united with England when the Scottish King James VI inherited the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII. It was never a colonial situation, though there have certainly been plenty of complications in the relationship. Now, Scotland tends to be more liberal than the rest of the United Kingdom, and supporters of Scottish independence say they can offer a “fairer” society.

As Scotland considers independence, other parts of the world have also started to contemplate a change in status.  Much of the consideration involves the same tension between hopeful visions of the future and the limits on what can be controlled as an independent country in an interconnected world. From many corners of the globe, all eyes will be on Scotland on March 18.

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