I think Scotland will vote Yes for independence. I will be disappointed by what that means for The Labour Party and my friends in Labour, but I will want to see an independent Scotland succeed as thoroughly and quickly as possible, for the Yes campaign's vision is a progressive and reformist one.
An independent Scotland's success would be a repudiation of the Conservatives. The country of Adam Smith has no great love for neo-liberalism. The rhetoric of the Scottish National Party (SNP) has been to downplay the nationalism aspect. There's no real anti-English aspect to the Yes campaign except for some extremists on the fringes trapped in the very distant past. Plenty of Scots who are voting Yes would explain to you that by doing so they are not suggesting for a minute that the UK was a bad idea in 1707 or even in 1957. Protestantism, Empire, Industry, and then the Social Welfare State were ties that bound surprisingly firmly. (See Ian Jack's excellent commentary in The Guardian, "Is This the End of Britishness?") But those ties have all come undone—not completely, but quite a bit so. Alex Salmond has even said the referendum isn't really about independence per se but about what's the best mechanism for a fairer society within Scotland.
The vision the SNP has put forward is for a Scotland that is decidedly more liberal (in the American sense of the word—socialist, really) than the rest of the UK is now, and if political mechanisms existed within the UK's system by which Scotland could move in more leftward directions in actual governance, the independence referendum would have never picked up steam.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron refused to let a third option be on the referendum ballot, an option for further devolution of power to Scotland's parliament (some call the option "devo max" or "independence light"), even though Alex Salmond requested it, and polls at the time showed it was the first choice option for most Scots.
David Cameron may within 24 hours from now be regretting that as the biggest mistake of his career.
The above graphic (click to view it full size in a pop-up window) from The Economist shows pretty well why the Scottish feel politically alienated. The question is: is independence the best solution given the risks of independence, the benefits of the union such as a shared currency, pooled resources and open borders, and the symbolic value of union—the UK as a whole greater than the sum of its different countries....a progressive concept in 1707 when it was created, and through which a tremendous amount has been accomplished by Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland (after 1922 Northern Ireland) working together.
The larger question though is whether or not the vision being offered by the SNP, however much I like it—though I'd prefer it be achieved through the mechanisms of the UK that would require more patience and compromise, to be sure—is a vision that is realistic and possible. A friend on Facebook spelled out the dangers as clearly as anyone I've read in the UK media:
Scotland probably can't afford the kind of social democratic state Scotland wants. Their subsidy from the south can be made up, or even exceeded, by oil and gas revenues. However, as those revenues are highly variable, and will make up a far higher percentage of Scotland's budget than they do UK's, it will be tricky. But they still won't have the money for everything they want to do, and the oil and gas will eventually run out. Raising taxes is risky; if anything, copying Ireland's strategy of lowering them to be more competitive would make more sense. And it's certain that some financial companies will move significant operations south, cutting tax receipts further. Unless and until they can develop new industries, they'll face significant fiscal limitations. Especially as the UK has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world, and Scotland will take on it share. But without the British Treasury's credit history, it won't be able to borrow as easily or at such low rates. They will be boxed in, yet Salmond will feel obliged to deliver on at least some of his promises fairly quickly. If that's followed by economic problems with the transition, or a more general downturn, or both, they could get into trouble relatively fast.
An independent Scotland may, in fact, raise taxes markedly and quickly. Small nations with high taxes can be very successful. Look at Denmark. It has a 60% income tax and the tax on a new car is around 225%. The nation is wealthy and happy. Of course, it is also fully integrated into the EU, which is something that would take Scotland about 5 years to achieve, it is estimated, assuming nations like Spain—that have their own separatist issues to deal with—will even permit Scotland to enter the EU. On the other hand, nations like Iceland have been very successful without being in the EU so long as they enter into other treaties and agreements allowing freer trade, more open borders, and so forth.
Is Alex Salmand's Obama-esque message of Hope and Change a pipe dream? Perhaps. Probably not entirely. Is it realistic? Probably not, but probably not entirely unsound, either. Like the Obama campaign, the Yes campaign has many different elements of a society seeing the same campaign in slightly different ways; elements that might actually become a broken coalition if independence is won. (It is interesting that the Greens support an independent Scotland when so much of the independence vision rests on the Scottish North Sea oil regime.) Within two years of President Obama's election, the Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives in a sweeping backlash in the form of the Tea Party movement. Many, a minority, of those who voted for President Obama wish they had not, or so they claim. Alex Salmond speaks of "Team Scotland" that will work together beginning September the 19th. We shall see. The possibility exists that the referendum will have stirred up divisions that have yet to become recognized widely, not just divisions between Scotland and the "rump UK" ("rUK"), especially England, but divisions within Scotland itself. If that occurs, then the true measure of Salmond's political skills will be taken, based on his ability keep the new nation smoothly governable.