U.K. Edges Toward Departure from European Union

Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England.
Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

As Britain's Conservative Party holds its last party conference ahead of May's general elections, the Euroskeptic message looks like a winning one

It’s hard to imagine anything more insular than a British party political conference—except, perhaps, for an island.

The ruling Conservative Party is currently meeting in the U.K.’s second largest city, Birmingham, but delegates tightly ringed by security and focused on the narrow issue of how to win the next election may as well be on a coral atoll for all the connection they have with the wider world.

Events in Hong Kong go unremarked. U.K. participation in the military campaign against ISIS barely merits a mention. A lone protestor standing beyond the crowd barriers bellowed rage against Britain’s fresh involvement in Iraq for hours Monday, but his words whispered in the convention center like distant waves. Even so, events on this artificial island may yet carry global significance. Britain is getting ever closer to the brink of leaving the European Union.

That is the probable outcome if the Conservatives win the U.K. general election next May, as they have pledged to allow Britain’s increasingly Euroskeptic population a referendum on whether to stay or go. Polls suggest a sizeable majority would vote to leave the E.U. under the current terms of membership.

Admittedly a Conservative victory is far from a sure thing in 2015. The Labour Party enjoys a lead of several points in most opinion polls and the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, should expect to be punished by voters for implementing painful austerity policies that have reduced the budget deficit (but not by as much as they promised). But even though Labour may look like the likelier winner, it doesn’t act like it. Neither party members nor the wider public have faith in the current Labour leader Ed Miliband, who capped a lackluster conference last week by forgetting key chunks of the speech that should have energized his troops and instead demoralized them.

In truth all three mainstream parties are suffering from a loss of connection with the public — voters feel they’re untrustworthy, and incapable of championing Britain, whatever form that might take. This disenchantment is fostering the rise across Britain of populist parties that promise a new, more honest mode of politics and more localism. In Scotland this means the Scottish National Party strengthening largely at the expense of Labour, which will struggle to retain its 41 Westminster seats there at the coming election.

But in England, it is the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) that has been attracting support on the back of its strident views, which it calls “unashamedly patriotic”. The party’s manifesto not only calls for departure from the European Union, but also restrictions on the numbers of immigrants entering the country, less foreign aid, and priority in the allocation of social housing given to “people whose parents and grandparents were born locally”.

It’s a message that appeals to many who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the Conservative party. The eastwards expansion of the E.U. was enthusiastically supported by past Conservative governments, because they thought a larger union might be less inclined to move towards federalism and consequent impingements on British sovereignty. But enlargement has increased the pool of E.U. citizens entitled to work in the U.K, and fostered resentment among conservative voters, as the British economy struggles to recover from the economic slump. UKIP has capitalized on that resentment; two Conservative MPs have recently defected to UKIP and more are rumored to be considering jumping ship.

“The biggest issue on the doorstep is immigration,” says Phillip Lee, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, west of London, “but this is also related to Europe.” His constituents would like to see an Australian-style points system applied to jobseekers from abroad, he says. That’s a policy UKIP already proposes for all immigrants, whether they come from the E.U. or further afield.

Even so, the Conservatives are better positioned than Labour—which opposes giving Britons a vote on E.U. membership—to fight UKIP on its own turf. Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-Scottish referendum promise of “English Votes for English Laws” plays to demands for more local control, while his party is ramming the message home at every opportunity during its conference that only a Conservative government will deliver an in-out referendum on the E.U. It will doubtless be a pivotal passage in Cameron’s keynote address to delegates tomorrow.

Cameron first made the offer partly in an effort to hold together a fractious party that has a long history of falling out over Europe. But his official position—that he wants Britain to remain in the E.U., but on renegotiated better terms—also happens to be his real preference, not least because many British businesses worry that an E.U. exit will load costs and obstacles on to their European operations. His ideal is to retain the advantages of E.U. membership while shielding Britain against moves to closer E.U. integration precipitated by the euro zone crisis. But in a BBC interview this morning, Cameron made clear that he wouldn’t be too upset if Britain left the E.U. entirely. The sales pitch being rolled out in Birmingham is clear: vote UKIP, get Labour, lose the chance of a referendum.

Despite what the polls say, many Conservatives believe this is a winning formula, and they could well be right. But the same urges the Conservatives would be tapping to win election victory would inevitably still be in play if and when Britons voted on their relationship with Europe. An exit would mean a period of extended turbulence for Britain and for the E.U., used to British intransigence but also used to Britain as a counterbalance to German muscle and French protectionism. The rest of the E.U. hopes Britain stays put, and so does Washington, which still often looks to the U.K. as a bridge to Europe.

British politicians hear these voices but their message, like the shouts of the man outside the Conservative Party conference, are muffled. This island nation with its parochial politics could well be headed for greater insularity.


U.K. Parliament Debates Joining U.S. Air Strikes Against ISIS

Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London.
Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street before heading to The Houses of Parliament on Sept. 26, 2014 in London. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

British MPs last year delivered a surprise rebuff to plans to intervene militarily in Syria, derailing not only U.K. policy but U.S. plans. Today they are weighing another intervention — and their decision matters more than you might think

What a difference a year makes. Friday, the U.K. Parliament has been recalled to debate joining a U.S.-led military intervention, the same topic that convened Members of Parliament for an emergency session on Aug. 29, 2013. Back then, everyone expected a majority of MPs to rubberstamp the action, just as the MPs gathered Friday in the House of Commons are predicted to approve today’s motion.

These scenarios may appear near-identical, but they differ in one glaring respect. When British parliamentarians served up a surprise and rejected involvement in the planned U.S. air strikes against the Syrian regime last year, they triggered a chain of events that saw U.S. President Barack Obama abandon his mission at the 11th hour in favor of a new round of diplomacy. The consequences of that swerve are still being assessed, leaving Syrian President Bashar Assad in power and, according to proponents of the intervention, allowing jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to grow. Others maintain that the aborted campaign would have simply fueled the jihadists’ rise. Another, wide strain of opinion in Westminster and among the British public looks back at Britain’s 2003 decision to join the U.S. in toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a profound error that must never be repeated.

These arguments are even now being rehashed. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had barely begun his speech when he was interrupted by veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner who asked, scornfully, “How long will this war last and how soon will mission creep start?”

There are other such skeptics in the chamber — their numbers will become clear at around 5 p.m. London time, when MPs vote. But here’s one reason why that vote, irrespective of outcome, looks very different to the one that took place 56 weeks ago in the same chamber: the result won’t make a significant difference to American policy.

The U.S. Air Force has been running missions into Syria and Iraq since Monday alongside jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeting ISIS militants as well as infrastructure and supply routes used by the group now occupying extensive territory on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. If British MPs go against predictions again to vote against joining in, these missions will continue. Moreover, the motion under discussion is limited in scope, committing the U.K. to air strikes in Iraq and specifically ruling out extending any action into Syria or deploying combat troops on the ground. Britain has received a direct request for assistance from the Iraqi government that proponents of the motion argue gives the proposed action legitimacy under international law that the strikes in Syria do not necessarily share.

Even so, what Britain decides matters—perhaps not as much as Britons reared on tales of Empire and World War victories are inclined to think, but enough that the U.S. has worked with the U.K. to ease the passage of the motion, accepting its limited nature and careful to say nothing that might make it more difficult for Cameron to unite his own Conservative Party on the issue, coax his Liberal Democrat coalition partners on board and, most importantly, to secure sufficient Labour Party support. It was Labour opposition that torpedoed the 2013 vote. This time around, Labour leader Ed Miliband issued a call to support the motion, partly on the basis that in asking countries in the region to engage, Britain needed to show a moral lead. He added that in helping to oust Hussein, “the Iraqi state that emerged is partly our responsibility.”

That history has made both Labour and Conservatives wary of appearing to yield too easily to pressure from Washington. Cameron acknowledged Obama had “made clear” he wants British support, but based the core argument for British participation on a humanitarian imperative and on British national interest. “If we allow [ISIS] to grow and thrive there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of threat to the country would increase,” he said.

U.S. officials have denied claims made this week by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of a specific threat by ISIS to attack subway systems in New York and Paris, but the U.S. and the U.K. are both worried about the possibility of blowback. Last month, Britain raised its terror threat level to “severe.” As Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, pointed out in an article in the London Evening Standard, published on the eve of the debate, as many as 12,000 citizens from 74 different countries are estimated to have gone to fight with rebels in Syria alone. British security chiefs believe at least 500 Britons have made the journey, including the ISIS member dubbed “Jihadi John,” shown in videos murdering U.S. and British hostages. Those murders and the threat to further hostages still held by the group have strengthened the appetite to tackle ISIS.

In case that appetite falters, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour have all ordered their MPs to support today’s motion, deploying the so-called whip. Rebels can expect reprimands and will certainly be marked down as troublemakers by party officials. This, together with the restricted scope of the motion, should be enough to secure a positive outcome but will also add to the resonance if there is still a rebellion of any size.

Because another reason today’s vote matters is that it marks the beginning of a longer and more difficult decision-making process in a country that has lost faith in military interventions but is also alarmed by appeal of jihadism to its own citizenry. There is little agreement among the political parties about how to counter that trend, and they are divided over the possibility of any action in Syria. There will be a brief moment of clarity later today and, most likely, an announcement of British jets roaring into action. The bigger issue of the role Britain will play in the Middle East will remain urgent and unresolved.

TIME Jordan

Radical Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada Cleared of Terrorism Charges in Jordan

Abu Qatada
Radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada sits behind bars at the Jordanian military court in Amman, Jordan, on June 26, 2014 Raad Adayleh—AP

The British Home Office insists the 53-year-old is “not coming back to the U.K.”

Radical Islamic preacher Abu Qatada has been acquitted of terrorism charges by a Jordanian court. He was deported to the Middle Eastern kingdom from the U.K. in 2013.

On Wednesday, a court in the capital Amman found him not guilty of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on Western and Israeli targets in Jordan during millennium New Year celebrations, reports the BBC.

He was accused of providing “spiritual support” through his writings to those alleged to have plotted the attacks.

In June, the 53-year-old cleric was also cleared of a conspiracy to attack an American school in Amman.

Abu Qatada had been involved in a decadelong legal battle in the U.K. Government ministers repeatedly tried to deport him to Jordan so he could face the charges in his home country, but judges were concerned he could face torture if repatriated.

After the U.K. and Jordan signed a deal in 2013 stating evidence gathered against Abu Qatada obtained by British deportees in Jordan could not be used, British Home Secretary Theresa May secured his deportation.

“It is right that the due process of law has taken place in Jordan,” a spokesperson for the Home Office told the BBC.

In 1994, Abu Qatada was granted asylum in the U.K. but officials quickly saw him as a security threat.

British judges called him a “truly dangerous individual … at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda,” reports the BBC.


TIME Scotland

Scotland Votes to Stay the Same, and for Change

Yes vote campaigners console themselves outside the Scottish Parliament building after the people of Scotland voted no to independence on Sept. 19, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Yes vote campaigners console themselves outside the Scottish Parliament building after the people of Scotland voted no to independence on Sept. 19, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

The independence movement has lost the vote but won the argument

Updated: 3:17 a.m. E.T.

The U.K. remains just that, united. “I’m deeply disappointed like thousands across the country,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister and a leading member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which engineered the referendum. It was 5:30 a.m. and although the final tally had not been calculated, with 26 of 32 voting districts declared, the proponents of Scottish independence recognized defeat was now inevitable. Scots had voted by 55% to 45% in favor of retaining a status quo that has lasted 307 years.

So, a return to business as usual? Not after the surge in support for independence that today leaves almost half of Scotland, like Sturgeon, deeply disappointed. It will also taste bitter to independence movements across the world that had seen in Thursday’s referendum a model for their own efforts to shake free of a larger state. There is, said Sturgeon, “a clear appetite for change” and she’s right. Scotland may have opted for reform rather than revolution, but nobody who has observed the campaigns at close quarters believes this has given the U.K. government in Westminster a free pass to keep on keeping on as before.

For one thing, the three main Westminster parties — the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and the opposition Labour Party — came together to promise a greater devolution of powers to Scotland if voters agreed not to ditch the union. Now they must deliver. That means a new law by January 2015 expected at very least to give Scotland more control over taxation and social benefits.

There’s another reason change must come. Somebody has to figure out what to do with all that disappointment. Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, voted by 53% to break with the rest of Britain. So did its fourth largest, Dundee. Before the polls even closed, Scots were worrying about the aftermath of the vote. Francesca Kelsey, a 26-year-old who runs a small clothing business in Edinburgh, told TIME of the deep divisions that the referendum has opened. “You need to have some sort of unity to go forward,” she said. It’s not clear how that unity will be restored — or by whom.

Because the reason so many voted for an independent Scotland and so many more were tempted to do so, even if they eventually chose the devil they knew, is that the British political system leaves many citizens feeling alienated and disempowered. Influence is concentrated in Westminster, in the hands of a political class that has lost the trust of many voters. And so as Scotland eyed independence, there has been a groundswell elsewhere in the U.K. for change, for greater autonomy for England’s regions and for Wales and Northern Ireland, and also for something else — a new kind of politics.

That realization prompted U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron toward an old political maneuver, outflanking his opponents. Early this morning he hailed the Scottish decision in a statement outside 10 Downing Street, pledging that further devolution for Scotland would be matched by similar moves across the rest of the U.K., including within England. “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard,” he said. The problem for Cameron, governing in an uneasy coalition and facing a general election in May 2015, is that it may well prove impossible to achieve political consensus, and constitutional change, on such a tight schedule.

On Thursday, Kay Simpson, a 54-year-old teacher, voted Yes in Edinburgh’s Leith neighborhood. The polling station was packed. “People are inspired,” she said, gesturing to the packed polling station. “Whatever happens, we want that to carry on with.” Voter turnouts have been falling in the U.K. for decades. The prospect of a vote that could actually deliver change, rather than just speak in hopey-changey slogans, galvanized a nation. Voter turnout at the referendum was 85%.

The union may be safe. The status quo is not.

TIME Scotland

LIVE: Scotland Votes to Stay in the U.K.

Only four Scottish constituencies voted in favor of seceding from the U.K.

Correction appended: Sept. 19.

Scotland rejected independence in Friday’s referendum count, with around 55% of voters choosing to stay within the U.K. The 307-year-strong union has survived, although increased powers will be devolved to the nation.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who spearheaded the Yes campaign, conceded defeat at around 6:17 a.m. local time. “On behalf of the Scottish government I accept the result and pledge to work constructively in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“The process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit upon Scotland. A turnout of 86% is one of the highest in the democratic world for any election or referendum in history — this has been a triumph for the democratic process and participation in politics.”

Despite a hard-fought campaign, only four of the 32 local authority districts voted for independence, including populous Glasgow, although even in this key constituency the margin was not particularly large, in a devastating blow to the Yes camp.

The final bell tolled for secession advocates after Edinburgh voted to maintain ties with the south by 61%.

“I am delighted,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron, hinting that more devolved powers would also be rolled out to other British regions. “It would have broken my heart to see the United Kingdom come to the end.”

Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer who led the No campaign, admitted that the closeness of the result was a wake-up call.

“Today is a momentous today for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole,” he said. “While confirming our place within the union, we have confirmed the bonds that tie us together — may they never be broken.”

Pubs across the country were staying open throughout the night with customers both anxious and excited to see whether the historic union would be consigned to the history books.

Greg Waddell, a doctor working in Glasgow, told TIME that he voted Yes “because disempowerment breeds dependency; because the current extent of social inequality in Scotland demeans every one of its people.”

Others among the 4.2 million registered voters were less optimistic about prospects for going it alone. Nick Allan, an oil executive from Aberdeen, said the Yes campaign promises were enticing, but he voted No as it would be impossible to pay for them — especially not with North Sea oil.

“The problem comes down to money,” he says. “How on God’s earth are you going to be able to afford all of these improvements? The country will be bankrupt in a matter of years.”

Many questions regarding what a truly independent Scotland would look like remained unanswered, including over currency, health care, defense and E.U. membership. Spain’s Prime Minister was one of several European leaders who said he would not support Scotland’s application to the bloc, as the Iberian nation was unwilling to fan separatist campaigns of its own.

These fears were echoed by Professor Michael Desch, an expert on foreign policy at the Notre Dame University.

“Ironically, a peaceful Scottish secession from the United Kingdom could open Pandora’s Box by raising unrealistic expectations about the ease of parting long-established national ways,” he said.

The vote captivated social media. Over the past 24 hours, 1.3 million people on Facebook in the United Kingdom made 3.3 million interactions regarding the Scottish referendum debate.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated where the 1.3 million people on Facebook had made 3.3 million interactions regarding the Scottish referendum debate. It was the United Kingdom.

TIME Scotland

Scotland Decides Its Fate Today

Voting in the historic independence referendum has begun. Crucially, some 8% of voters remain undecided

Scotland must decide Thursday whether to become independent from the U.K., with last-minute opinion polls putting the outcome of the referendum on a knife-edge.

Voting booths are now open and ballots will be cast at 2,608 polling stations until 10 p.m. local time. Results are expected to trickle in overnight with a final announcement at around 7 a.m. on Friday morning.

If Scotland votes yes, it will be the 61st territory to gain its independence from the U.K., which once boasted an empire upon which the sun never set.

“When people go into the polling booths tomorrow they are going to vote for … that vision of more prosperous but also a more just society,” Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, leading the Yes campaign, told supporters on Wednesday. “That’s what’s going to motivate people in the polling stations tomorrow.”

Of Scotland’s population of 5.3 million, a whopping 97% of those eligible to vote have registered, a sign of just how galvanized opinions over the 307-year-old union have become.

The voting age has been lowered to 16 for the first time in modern British history. Residence in Scotland, rather than Scottish nationality or birth, is the voting criteria, and other British, E.U. or commonwealth nationals residing north of the border can participate.

“This morning in Edinburgh it’s really quite tense,” Jan Eichhorn, a social policy expert at the University of Edinburgh, tells TIME. “There’s a feeling of entering an exam and needing to do the right thing.”

The latest YouGov opinion poll showed 52% of Scottish residents were against independence. Crucially, though, more than half-a-million voters are undecided.

Swing voters may be mulling the raft of extra powers Scotland has been offered if it rejects outright independence.

The No campaign, reeling from falling behind in opinion polls for the first time earlier this month, has dangled to Scots the carrot of increased control over health, education, employment, the economy, transport and infrastructure — but crucially not over foreign policy, defense or pensions.

“It’s a major transfer of power,” former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told CNN on Wednesday. “Never in the history of the island have we seen so much decentralization of powers from Westminster to one nation in the United Kingdom.”

Brown, who was born in the Scottish lowlands town of Giffnock, said that as a result “there has been a distinct movement” back to the No campaign, which he is spearheading. Independence “doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Scotland boasts just 8% of the U.K. population but 30% of its landmass. Scottish residents already receive more money per capita in terms of welfare spending than other Brits, but many in the Yes camp believe Scots would fare even better with independence, largely due to North Sea oil.

However, according to a recent report by Edinburgh-based oil and gas consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, “post 2018, decline is forecast to set in once more with production dipping below 1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2023, less than a quarter of the 1999 peak.”

Meanwhile, disagreement has emerged over whether an independent Scotland could keep using the British pound sterling currency. All the three major Westminster-based political parties claim that they would veto any such continuation, but the Yes campaign insists the issue remains outside of Westminister control, pointing to Panamanian use of the U.S. dollar.

Some suggest that an independent Scotland may have to wait five years before E.U. membership would be considered. This has raised the concerns of the nation’s whisky distillers, which currently account for a quarter of the U.K.’s total food and drink exports and some 35,000 jobs. “Even a temporary interruption of E.U. membership … would be damaging and difficult to manage,” David Frost, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, wrote in his annual review.

Defense is also a quandary. Scotland currently hosts the British fleet of Trident nuclear submarines, which Salmond says would have to relocate in the event of independence. In addition, thousands of Scottish soldiers current serve in the British armed forces.

TIME politics

What Happened Last Time Scotland Tried for Greater Independence?

SNP from Oct. 28, 1974, issue
Douglas Crawford, then vice chairman of the Scottish National Party, pictured in the Oct. 28, 1974, issue of TIME TIME

Back in 1974, TIME reported that Scots had a "general feeling" of England that "she's a tired old ship that is foundering at sea."

On Thursday, when Scottish voters put their relationship with the U.K. to the ballot, three hundred years of membership in the United Kingdom will be at stake. But those 307 years of togetherness haven’t passed unquestioned. In fact, it was almost exactly 40 years ago that the movement for an independent Scotland reached a similar tipping point.

The Scottish National Party had spent nearly half a century as a mere footnote to Scottish history when, in the mid-1970s, it became a force to be reckoned with. In 1974, running on a self-government platform, the party secured 30% of the vote, driven largely by Scottish interest in gaining control over North Sea oil production. “There is no rancor toward England in most cases, no implied violence or even incivility, just a general feeling that she’s a tired old ship that is foundering at sea,” TIME reported on Oct. 28 of that year. Polls at the time found that 17% of Scots wanted complete independence and 85% wanted self-governance without a split. By the end of the following year, Prime Minister Harold Wilson had announced that there could be a vote in Parliament delegating some of its duties to the regional governments in Scotland and Wales.

It took years for that promise to go anywhere, but in 1979 Scotland and Wales voted on “devolution,” that process of delegating authority. Wales rejected the referendum — and, in a surprise, Scotland did too. This despite the fact that polls one month prior to the vote had shown a 2-to-1 preference for devolution. The final count? A mere 33% voted yes.

“Appealing to local pride, the Scottish Nationalists argued that if devolution failed to pass, Scotland would ‘be good for nothing more than to tart up a few British ceremonies.’ But the antidevolution forces, led by the Conservative Party, mounted a late-blooming campaign that focused on an even more basic Scottish instinct: they charged that the cost of home rule would be quickly felt in the form of higher taxes,” TIME reported.

For this week’s vote, a large majority of Scots are expected to turn out to vote, and recent polls have shown that the yes/no votes could be close. But the 1979 vote, over a much less drastic change, was supposed to be a win for devolution. Instead, the status quo won handily. If this week’s vote follows the pattern of the 1970s decision, then a large percentage of the yes votes indicated in early polling will disappear when the decision must be made.

Support for increased Scottish independence has been fairly steady since the ’70s, according to the Scottish Parliament’s own historical records. In fact, that Parliament — which had been dissolved April 28, 1707, in order that a united Parliament of Great Britain could come into session — only exists because of that support. The first meeting of the Scottish Constitutional Convention took place in 1989, and in 1997 the U.K. government published a white paper on the topic of a Scottish Parliament. A referendum for devolution was held in September of that year, and the resulting “yes” vote led to the 1998 passage of the Scotland Bill, which established a Parliament that opened the following year. The powers of the Scottish Parliament, known as “devolved powers,” included education and housing; the “reserved powers” that stayed with the U.K. Parliament included immigration and defense. In 2012, another Scotland Act added — for example, setting a national speed limit — to the list of devolved powers.

The last time Scottish self-governance lost at the polls, TIME posited that the “no” vote wasn’t just a matter of taxes: “Some Scots also began to ponder the fact that devolution might lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom, which none but the most extreme nationalists want.”

Which is, of course, exactly what the Sept. 18 referendum — no matter of mere devolution — will determine. It’s no longer such an extreme-sounding prospect. In fact, Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, told TIME in 2011 that he believes Scotland will join the list of nations that used to live under English rule sooner or later.

Read the full interview with Alex Salmond here: Is Scotland’s Independence from the U.K. Inevitable?

TIME Scotland

POLL: Should Scotland Be an Independent Country?

Cast your vote

The Scottish people will vote Thursday on whether or not to declare independence from the United Kingdom.

If the “No” vote is successful, England’s northern cousin will remain a part of the family; should the “Yes” vote prevail, Scotland will strike out on its own and leave Great Britain significantly less Great.

Polling forecasts a close race, with the nationalist movement gaining steam over the past few weeks. But while Thursday’s referendum is open only to residents of Scotland, many other people around the world feel invested in the future of the Highlands. Not just Hibernophiles and other Celtic advocates, for whom the keening whine of the bagpipe represents a cry for freedom, but also devotees of the sovereign state who would rather the Union remain intact.

So we’d like to give readers a chance to register their own opinions on Scottish independence, answering the same question the voters themselves will face. We’ll publish the results on Thursday morning, as the Scots themselves go to the polls.

TIME celebrities

J.K. Rowling Tweets Her Opposition to Scottish Independence

The Harry Potter author lives in Scotland

Author J.K. Rowling took to Twitter on Saturday to express her opposition to the upcoming vote on Scotland’s independence from the U.K. England and Scotland have been united politically for 307 years, and Scots will vote on whether to secede from the U.K. on Sept. 18.

Rowling is English, but lives in Scotland and has donated significant funds to the Better Together Campaign (#bettertogether) which advocates for keeping Scotland in the U.K.

Below are a couple of her tweets:

In the second tweet, Rowling expresses her hopefulness over rumors that the U.K. government will offer the Devo Max option (short for maximum devolution) as an alternative to independence. Devo Max would provide greater economic and political independence to Scotland while keeping it in the U.K.

The author has received backlash for her firm opinion on the matter, especially after she wrote a long essay about her position in June. Rowling says she opposes secession because of the potential for an economic mess, as well as cuts to research funding. “Having put a large amount of money into Multiple Sclerosis research here, I was worried to see an open letter from all five of Scotland’s medical schools expressing ‘grave concerns’ that independence could jeopardize what is currently Scotland’s world-class performance in this area,” she wrote.

Rowling has even called parts of the debate “a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”


Prince William and Kate Are Expecting Another Baby

This will be the royal couple's second child, and betting has already begun in earnest on whether it will be a boy or a girl

It’s official: The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with her second child. A tweet posted Monday from the official account of the British monarchy confirmed that Kate Middleton, who married Prince William in 2011 and gave birth to their son Prince George in July 2013, is expecting another baby.

“The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child,” the tweet said.

Royal officials told the Associated Press that the Duchess was being treated for severe morning sickness, and Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted by the happy news.”

Since William is second in line to the British throne, this would make the upcoming addition to the royal family fourth in the order of succession.

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