Watch out for ripple effects of Scotland's independence vote

Richard Halloran says Scotland's coming independence vote is creating waves and is bound to stoke similar calls elsewhere, whatever the result

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 1:42am

In September, the voters of Scotland are slated to go to the polls to decide whether their nation will become independent or remain in the United Kingdom. The decision will have at least two far-reaching consequences if the voters choose to secede.

First, this would be the last strike in breaking up the British empire that started with the American Revolution. This will further dilute the influence of Britain in the international arena.

Second, the Scottish vote will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on separatist movements elsewhere - even if Scotland remains in the UK. That will be especially true in Asia and the Pacific, maybe even in Hawaii.

Two months before the September 18 referendum, pollsters say Scots who prefer to remain in the UK have garnered more votes than those opting for independence. But Scottish nationalists assert they will close the gap before the vote.

The Economist has urged the Scots to stay, arguing that they will be more prosperous within the UK. But the magazine acknowledges that, emotionally and politically, "it is the nationalists who have fire in their bellies".

Scotland and England formed the United Kingdom in 1707, at which time Britain had begun to acquire colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia. But even as the UK built the empire on which, it was said, the sun never set, moves towards shedding British rule surged.

The first to break away were the Americans, in 1776. Then, Canada in 1867, Australia in 1901, New Zealand in 1907, South Africa in 1910, and Ireland in 1922 became autonomous or independent. After the second world war, India, Pakistan, Burma, Malaysia and Sri Lanka became sovereign, as did nations throughout Africa.

Looking ahead, the Scottish vote will be keenly watched in Taiwan, home to a strong independence movement. Taiwan's Next Media Animation has made a video about the Scottish referendum. "What matters most," says the narrator, "is the right of self-determination for Scotland."

In mainland China, the Uygur minority in Xinjiang has been struggling for autonomy or independence. The Uygur American Association, seeking to draw attention to that struggle, said in an article on its website, "Scots aren't the only ones considering independence".

In Japan, a nascent independence movement in the Ryukyu island chain that stretches for 1,000km from southern Japan nearly to Taiwan seeks to shed Japanese rule. That began in 1879, when the Ryukyus were absorbed into modernising Meiji Japan.

Elsewhere in East Asia, Muslims in the Philippines' southern island of Mindanao have long sought independence from the Christian majority ruling from Manila.

So far, the Scottish referendum seems not to have resonated with the vociferous band of native Hawaiians seeking to have the island state withdraw from the US. But if the Scots secede, Britain may redesign the national flag, the Union Jack. Since the state flag of Hawaii has the Union Flag in its upper left hand corner, that too may require revision.

Richard Halloran is a former New York Times foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington