Less than a quarter of Scottish voters say they will vote for independence in next year's referendum, according to a recent Daily Mail story. About 56 percent say they will vote no. The fact that a vote is even happening shows that the peculiar assemblage of some European states may be less stable than assumed.
Scotland's union to the United Kingdom took place in the early 1600s. When Queen Elizabeth died childless, her closest relative eligible for the throne was the Scottish king James VI. He ascended the throne as James I, uniting England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. When his Stuart dynasty died out in the early 1700s, Parliament passed an Act of Union that further bound the two states.
Since then, Scotland settled, fought for, and administered the British Empire to a great extent. Scots peopled the Appalachian Mountains, Australian outback, and Kenyan prairies. They escaped poverty in their own country to fight for and administer the Empire for most of its existence. The United Kingdom has relied heavily on Scotland for centuries, but must sell the idea of remaining in the Union by next September. Although polls heavily favor union, Scottish independence supporters just unveiled a 667 page tome on what an independent Scotland would look like.
Britain is not the only country whose territorial integrity faces uncertainty. Spain's Catalans want to follow the United Kingdom's path of popular sovereignty, but find themselves faced by a Spanish constitution that emphasizes the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation." Spain as of yet has also refused to allow an official referendum.
Such resistance, spelled out in one official's comment that "you cannot divide sovereignty within Spain," could give Madrid more headaches in the long run than London. Periodic independence votes in Canada's Quebec and the United States' Puerto Rico have satisfied promoters and allowed positive venting. Buildup of frustrations in Catalonia could lead to a nastier result.
Europe has several states cobbled together through dynastic relations or treaty arrangements over the centuries. Some have a tradition of cultural separatism from the central government. For example, Sicilians generally do not consider themselves to be Italian. Most do not currently have enough problems with the central government to pursue secession. However, treaty states, such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, split after the Cold War. Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia have proved that hiving off from the core state does not inevitably lead to failure.
Independence movements are hitting states whose constituent parts never had a chance to affirm the national connections. Even when the central government has capably fulfilled its primary role, people may still want their say. As anxious as Scotland's independence vote may make some in London and even Washington (since they are still our primary ally) allowing the vote is the best chance to keep the United Kingdom whole.
Regardless of how it turns out, Scotland's scheduling of a vote does mean that the old ties that bind have loosened somewhat. And these have consequences for Britain, her friends, and other European states.