Five years ago, when Scotland voted in a landmark referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, the issue of North Sea oil—who owns it and how it should be administered—was a key feature of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) independence platform. If—as seems increasingly likely in the context of Britain’s ongoing scramble over Brexit—Scots vote again on the future of their union with England, the heavy winds and tides that buffet Scotland’s coastline will play an equally critical role in the next campaign.

By some estimates, Scotland has 25 percent of Europe’s total offshore wind and tidal resources and around 60 percent of the U.K.’s onshore wind capacity. Renewable energy is worth nearly 6 billion pounds (about $7.5 billion) annually to the Scottish economy—and green electricity exports are rising every year. But in the face of an accelerating global ecological crisis, both advocates and opponents of Scottish independence think the country can go further in embracing alternative energy sources—they simply disagree on whether Scottish independence would help or hurt that goal.

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In the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016, Scotland seemed to be on the brink of independence.

Scots rejected Brexit by an overwhelming 24 point margin, prompting Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon – the head of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh – to start preparing the ground for a fresh referendum on separation from the UK.

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2017, it seemed, should have killed the campaign for Scottish independence stone dead.

At the UK general election in June, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a third of its Westminster seats, forcing SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to “reset” her plans for a second independence referendum. Then, in August, new analysis showed that an independent Scotland would face a projected budget deficit of 8.3 per cent – the largest of any EU state. And on top of that, major splits have begun to emerge within the ‘Yes’ base, as younger, more radical activists sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have clashed with older, more conservative nationalists loyal to the SNP. 

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In the strange and obscure world of Scottish constitutional politics, something can be utterly inevitable – until it suddenly isn’t. For most of the past ten years, and certainly for the past two, a widespread consensus has existed in Scotland regarding the inevitability of independence. That consensus has been based on the almost total dominance of Scotland’s electoral landscape by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Last month, the landscape changed.

At the UK’s snap general election on 8 June, the SNP shed 21 of its 56 Westminster seats and saw its share of the vote slump by 13 points. Angus Robertson, the party’s chief strategist, and Alex Salmond, its former leader, both lost their once rock-solid constituencies in the rural north-east. Towering nationalist majorities across Glasgow and the central belt crumbled. Even the Liberal Democrats enjoyed a modest Caledonian revival, adding three new Scottish MPs, in Edinburgh, Dunbartonshire, and Caithness, to their previous, solitary total of one.

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