Special Alert - 17 September 2014

Scottish independence vote - the China dimension

In the final days of campaigning for the Scottish referendum vote, the US has quietly reiterated its preference for a ‘no’ vote.  The reasons for Washington’s preference for the status quo are not hard to find or understand, but the US may have even more to fear from a ‘yes’ vote than most people recognize.

The list of negatives for Washington is long and alarming, and it is hard to find any mitigating positives.  At the top of the list is the potential diminishing of the staunch support the US normally receives from the United Kingdom on matters of international security.  A truncated UK would mean a diluting of the UK’s hard and soft power and hence the effectiveness of the support it could provide going forward to US foreign and defence policy.

Independent Scotland’s initial (and maybe permanent) non-Nato status would also be a worry, particularly at a time of increased tension with Russia, as would the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which is currently based in Scotland.

Another area of concern would be the effect that Scottish independence would have on the rest of the UK.  England is more euro-sceptic than Scotland, and Scottish independence could boost the UK Independence Party (UKIP, which in truth is an English national party) and its cause of withdrawal from the European Union.

The US has good reason to worry about the destabilizing effect that a ‘yes’ vote could have on many other composite states, some of which would be far less civilized in their approach to independence-seeking minorities than London has been.  A domino effect of secessionism would be a worrying additional factor for instability in a global context that is already notably unstable. The threat of financial  instability following on from a ‘yes’ vote only adds to the worry load.

A final area of concern is one that has perhaps not yet even registered on Washington’s radar, namely the possibility of increased Chinese influence in Scotland.  Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond has been assiduous in courting Beijing over recent years for good reason, as China has an established track record of using its money to suborn small nations – and Scotland will be no different.  With the truncated UK likely to drive a hard bargain in any divorce negotiations, and the European Union (because of the views of countries like Spain and Belgium with their own separatist problems) unlikely to be welcoming, the opportunity for China to establish itself economically, politically, and even militarily in a key strategic location for Nato is likely to be seized with alacrity.  Washington has every reason to fear a ‘yes’ vote on 18 September.


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