International reactions to the Scottish referendum



    1. Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews.
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    • My thanks go to the many individuals in governments who have given generous time to discuss the issues with me, always off the record. I am also grateful to Alyson Bailes, Rick Fawn, Colin Fleming, Charlie Jeffery, Juliet Kaarbo and Nicola McEwen for valuable comments on a draft. I bear sole responsibility for opinions expressed in the article.


The referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country will be held on 18 September 2014. This article reflects on the evolution of foreign governments' attitudes towards the referendum since its confirmation in October 2012, and on their expectations should a ‘yes’ vote result. With few exceptions, they have adopted a policy of non-intervention, treating the referendum as the UK's domestic affair. President Obama's expression on 5 June 2014 of his desire for the UK to remain ‘a strong, robust, united and effective partner’ may, however, be seen as a sign of increasing apprehension abroad. Concerns of foreign governments aroused by the referendum include the diminution of the UK's power and role in international affairs, the possible encouragement of other secessionist movements, and disturbance to international organizations and alliances. It is commonly assumed that Scotland would become a reasonably prosperous and reliable small state. But how would the rest of the UK (rUK), a much more powerful and populous country, respond to ‘the loss of Scotland’? How would it affect the UK's already unsettled relations with the EU, including the prospect of a referendum on EU membership? Despite many uncertainties and a febrile political atmosphere, it is widely expected abroad that Scotland and rUK would settle into a cooperative relationship after a difficult transitional period, and that an independent Scotland would be accepted into the EU and NATO if it displayed flexibility on important issues.