Would an independent Scotland sink or swim?

As the United Kingdom approaches its date with destiny and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the debate surrounding the possible shape of a post-Union Scotland are only going to get fiercer. What Scotland might look like outside the United Kingdom, whether Scandinavian utopia or isolated backwater, is one of the key fronts on which the battle for the hearts and minds of Scottish voters will be fought.

Alex Salmond’s vision, designed to maximise separation’s appeal, is of a Scotland with options: joining the Euro; membership of the Common Market without the single currency; keeping the pound. All intended to give the impression that an independent Scotland would be the master of its own economic destiny.

Yet there are good grounds for suspicion that this is not the case. For a start, it is unlikely that Scotland would be able to claim automatic membership of the European Union as the SNP often claim.

In the instance of Scottish independence, the continuity-UK would almost certainly qualify for ‘successor state’ status under international law, due to possessing (much) more than 50% of the territory and population of the United Kingdom as presently constituted.

Thus the UK would retain its identity and membership, leaving none for Scotland to inherit. Were Scotland to then apply for membership in its own right, there are further hurdles. The UK’s treasured opt-out from the single currency is not offered to new members; likewise the option of joining the European Economic Area without acceding to the EU.

Thus Scotland would either have to join the EU, single currency and all, or not at all. Even assuming the SNP retained their former enthusiasm for the single currency and took the plunge, there’s no guarantee they’d be accepted. Spain, Italy and Belgium are all wrestling with their own separatist movements and will not want to establish the precedent of secessionists gaining EU membership – see Spain’s position vis-à-vis Kosovo.

If not Europe, then what? In an effort to soften the blow for soft-unionist Scots, the SNP are keen to stress the links that they would seek to retain with the UK. Scotland could, the nationalists argue, keep the pound, and British submarines could still be stationed at Faslane to fend off the fear of defence cuts.

Assuming all this was true (and in the case of defence it almost certainly isn’t), Scotland on the pound would be tied to the British economy without having a say in the governance of it, while trying to keep whole communities going via sustaining now-foreign military bases.

The SNP thus risk locking Scotland out of the UK without breaking free from it. As the pro-Union campaign put it, there are polities outside the UK with similar relationships. Until recently, they were called ‘dependencies’.