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 Australia

Australian Police Foil Islamist Terrorist Plot in Country’s Largest Ever Raid

AUSTRALIA-ATTACKS-IRAQ-SYRIA-CONFLICT-POLICE
William West—AFP/Getty Images New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione, second from right, speaks during a press conference in Sydney on Sept. 18, 2014, after Australia's largest ever counterterrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to "commit violent acts"

More than 800 security personnel raided 25 addresses in two cities

Australian security officials say that they have thwarted an alleged plot by Islamist extremists to snatch a random member of the Australian public and behead them on camera.

The revelation comes after raids on 25 homes across Sydney and Brisbane early Thursday morning by more than 800 uniformed police officers, forensic experts, and agents from chief spy agency ASIO, in the largest counterterrorism raid every conducted on Australian soil.

The raids resulted in the seizure of computers, documents, a firearm and the arrest of 15 suspects, one of whom, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari, will face court in Sydney later on Thursday, when details of the alleged beheading plot are expected to be revealed.

“You know it is of serious concern that right at the heart of our communities we have people that are planning to conduct random attacks,” New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a press briefing. “Today we worked together to make sure that didn’t happen. We have disrupted that particular attack.”

The swoop took place on the same day that 10 Australian military aircraft, 400 support personnel and 200 special-forces troops were dispatched to the United Arab Emirates as part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The raids also follow the arrest last week in Brisbane of two suspects at an Islamic bookstore, accused of recruiting jihadist fighters for Syria, and an announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the country’s terrorism-alert level had been raised from medium to high.

Abbott said at the time there was “no specific intelligence of particular plots” but asked the community to be vigilant and warmed of an increase in security measures at airports, government buildings and major events, including the 2014 G-20 summit to be held in Brisbane from Nov. 15 to 16.

Clive Williams, an adjunct professor with the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at the Australian National University, tells TIME that the recent cancellation of the passports of up to 60 Australians suspected of extremist links may have inadvertently increased the chance of an attack on home soil.

“The policy of stopping extremists from traveling overseas and fighting in Syria or Iraq has resulted in a large pool of frustrated people,” he explains. “They are a large risk to us and more of a threat than [Australian jihadists] who are already in the Middle East and may decide to come back one day.”

Sam Makinda, professor and founder of Murdoch University’s security, terrorism and counterterrorism studies program, says that “having supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and so on, Australia had long ago painted itself as a target.”

He adds, “The only reason Australia has not yet suffered a terror attack is because ASIO has worked so efficiently, professionally and successfully in the past.”

TIME The Philippines

The Philippines’ Most Active Volcano Is Now Shooting Lava and Super-Heated Boulders

Nearly 24,000 people have been evacuated

Evacuations are continuing on the island of Luzon in the Philippines after an active volcano began billowing smoke and spewing lava and heated boulders.

Seismologists have raised the alert level at Mount Mayon to critical. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology says that magma is now accumulating at the crater and that a major eruption is possible “within weeks,” according to CNN.

The institute’s head, Renato Solidum, told the Associated Press that technically the volcano was already erupting “but not explosive.”

He said: “Currently, the activity is just lava coming down. If there is an explosion, all sides of the volcano are threatened.”

AP reports that nearly 24,000 people from villages within an 8-km (5 miles) radius from the crater have been evacuated.

Scientists have recorded rock falls and small earthquakes around the crater and say the red glow of lava is visible at night. Volcanologist Ed Laguerta told AP that lava and boulders could be seen rolling down from the crater on Tuesday night from as far away as 12 km (7 miles).

Mount Mayon, which lies about 330 km (210 miles) southeast of the capital Manila, is one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes. It has erupted 50 times in the past 500 years.

[AP]

TIME Scotland

TIME Readers Vote ‘Yes’ For Scottish Independence in Online Poll

Graffiti supporting the "Yes" campaign is painted on a road in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides
Cathal McNaughton—Reuters Graffiti supporting the "Yes" campaign is painted on a road in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides Sept. 17, 2014.

Over 16,000 people voted

Respondents to an online TIME poll have voted for Scotland to become an independent nation.

A total of 16,418 reader votes were tallied, of which 9,436 (57.5%) were for Scotland’s secession from the U.K. and 6,982 (42.5%) were for the maintenance of the 307-year-old union.

Some 4.2 million Scottish residents are eligible to vote in the real referendum on Thursday, polls for which open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. local time. Results from the 32 local authority areas are expected to trickle in during the wee hours of Friday. A nation, or possibly two, is on tenterhooks.

TIME politics

What Happened Last Time Scotland Tried for Greater Independence?

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

Brits Outside Scotland Angry They Don’t Get a Say in Union’s Future

Sir Bob Geldof speaks to members of the public and supporters of the 'Better Together' campaign from a raised stage in Trafalgar Square on September 15, 2014 in London.
Dan Kitwood—Getty Images Musician Bob Geldof speaks to members of the public and supporters of the Better Together campaign at Trafalgar Square in London on Sept. 15, 2014

The future of the U.K. lies in the hands of just 8.3% of its population. Is that fair?

As Scotland prepares to vote in Thursday’s momentous independence referendum, the buzz is growing. If the pro-independence Yes campaign wins, the U.K.’s political map will be forever changed. But those watching from outside Scotland — both expats and non-Scottish Brits — have lamented the fact that the future of the U.K. lies in the hands of just 8.3% of its population.

Any British or E.U. citizen ages 16 or over currently residing in Scotland was eligible to register for the vote. Around 15% of the electorate (650,000 people) were born outside Scotland but are now living there — J.K. Rowling is a famous example. But the 59 million U.K. citizens living outside Scotland — who include more than 800,000 Scots who moved south of the border at some point before September 2014 — are not permitted to vote in Thursday’s referendum. And many aren’t happy about it.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last week, eminent BBC broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Paxman called it a “real scandal” that “in this union of supposed equals, only one side gets to vote on whether the union continues.” Paxman, who is one-quarter Scottish, points out that the resentment of Westminster politics driving support for the pro-independence campaign is not confined to Scotland. There are plenty of British citizens, he writes, especially those from outside London, “who think the Westminster Parliament is remote and unrepresentative. Some of them believe that it is not just unattractive but also absurd. They’re just not being offered a chance to say so.”

Paxman isn’t the only one angry at not getting a say. In January 2012, Labour Party politician Baroness Symons called for U.K.-wide participation on the question of Scottish independence, which she said would be “the most important constitutional issue to face any of us in our lifetime.” She argued that England, Wales and Northern Ireland had an “equal right” to make their views known on the matter, because the breakup of the union would “affect all of us.” On the same day in Scotland, Elaine Murray, a Labour Party member of the Scottish parliament, made the case for Scots living outside Scotland to be able to vote. She said it was “hugely unfair” that the franchise would not be extended to Scotland’s expats in other parts of the U.K. and around the world, who number roughly 1 million, or a fifth of Scotland’s population.

Lord Wallace, advocate general for Scotland and former deputy first minister of Scotland, rejected these arguments, despite agreeing that a breakup of the union would be “very grievous.” He insisted that “whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom is a matter for Scotland.” Looking to the U.K. political history for similar cases, Wallace noted that the Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum in 1973 set a precedent for allowing only those residents in one part of the U.K. to vote on that part’s sovereignty.

Bruce Crawford, Scotland’s minister for government strategy, also noted that the principle that referendums should be determined by residency was “internationally accepted.” In fact, only two of 11 referendums in the U.K. since 1973 have involved the whole of the union. Lord Wallace also warned that relationships within the union would suffer if Scotland felt it was being prevented from achieving independence by other parts of the U.K. Christian Allard, a French-born Scottish Nationalist Party member of parliament, told Reuters: “It’s a new kind of nationalism … It is about where you live and where you decide and choose to live and have children and grandchildren.”

Though many outside Scotland may wish they could have a say in the future of the union, the Scottish government chose an electorate with a physical stake in the country’s future. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has called the referendum “an act of self-determination.” And given the record level 97% of Scotland’s electorate registered to vote, it’s clearly an act the country’s residents are taking very seriously.

TIME Congress

House Passes Bill to Train and Equip Syrian Rebels

Mideast Syria
AP A photo provided by the antigovernment activist group Aleppo Media Center shows a Free Syrian Army fighter aiming his weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 17, 2014

The bill passed despite wariness from lawmakers in both parties about President Barack Obama's strategy against ISIS

Correction appended, Sept. 18

The House passed legislation Wednesday to authorize the training and equipping of Syrian rebels, approving a key part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting Islamist militants in the region.

The legislation, which also funds the government through mid-December, passed 319 to 108. But the amendment to arm the rebels passed 273 to 156, with more than 70 members from each party voting against it—signaling the bipartisan wariness of many in Congress to engage in another Middle East conflict.

“I don’t think it was the best choice but it was a step in the right direction,” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California. “It’s my understanding that we’ll get an opportunity to deliberate and then eventually vote on what we’re going to do in December … It was the first time I can remember that I was actually sitting there [on the House floor] wondering how I’m going to vote until I actually voted. And I voted yes.”

Lawmakers who opposed the amendment said the President’s strategy to arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels is misguided. The Obama Administration is hoping these fighters can help beat back the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“I’ve never been satisfied that we’re not going to end up fighting people that we’ve armed at some point in the future,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, said. “No one ever defined victory to me that made any sense whatsoever.”

The amendment even lost the support of Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a top Democratic leader.

“I support the President’s overall strategy; I support what he’s doing in providing air support for the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels,” Van Hollen said. “I have misgivings about this piece because the priority of the so-called Syrian rebels is to defeat [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad. And I understand that, but it’s hard at this point to see how defeating Assad strengthens the mission against ISIS.”

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation later this week.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the vote tally for legislation to fund the government. It passed 319 to 108.

TIME Canada

Rob Ford Has Cancer

Toronto Mayor Ford participates in a mayoral debate hosted by the Canadian Tamil Congress in Scarborough in this file photo
Fred Thornhill—Reuters Toronto Mayor Rob Ford participates in a mayoral debate in Scarborough, Ontario, on July 15, 2014

The Toronto mayor has said he won't seek re-election amid health problems

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, his doctor said Wednesday.

Dr. Zane Cohen of Mount Sinai Hospital confirmed that Ford has a rare cancer that will be treated with chemotherapy, CTV reports. Ford is expected to make a complete recovery. Cohen said the mayor is in “some pain still” but that doctors are working to manage it.

Ford was initially hospitalized last week after complaining of intense abdominal pain and had been diagnosed with a tumor, but further details of his condition couldn’t be confirmed until a biopsy was conducted. Ford, who drew global headlines when he admitted to doing crack cocaine, said last week that he won’t be seeking re-election.

[CTV]

TIME ebola

Here’s How Much Money the World Has Spent Battling Ebola

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
John Moore—Getty Images A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia.

The number's a lot lower than you think—but hundreds of millions more have been pledged

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that nearly $1 billion will be required to fight Ebola, but less than one-fifth of that amount has actually been funded.

As of Wednesday, roughly $155 million has so far been delivered, with funds coming from countries, global agencies, private companies, individuals and other entities, according to data collected by the Financial Tracking Service (FTS), which records all reported international humanitarian aid.

According to FTS’s most recent data, another $183.5 million has been pledged — meaning the donations have been promised but not yet delivered — and on Tuesday, the Obama Administration committed an additional $500 million. If every dollar pledged so far is delivered, $838 million will have been donated to fight the ongoing Ebola crisis.

The U.S., African Development Bank, and private individuals or organizations top the donor list, according to FTS data, while the World Bank has the highest uncommitted pledge of over $100 million. (By definition, FTS reports “funding” as the sum of payments delivered and contributions bounded by legal obligation. “Uncommitted pledges” are nonbinding announcements of an intended contribution. FTS data includes only 2014 funding and pledges. Additionally, figures include only what the FTS is able to document.)

Here’s a full breakdown of what the world has spent battling Ebola, as of Wednesday, Sept. 17.

That the actual funding to fight the Ebola outbreak lags behind its goal follows the trends of other crises and natural disaster donations logged by FTS. Historically, only two-thirds of total requirements per year were actually funded: in 2013, for example, only 65% of the total requirements of crises were met, and in 2012, that number was 62%. Here’s a look at specific crises and natural disasters, and how funding has failed to meet requirements.

TIME energy

Why China’s Insatiable Appetite For Coal Has Likely Peaked

China coal pollution
STR/AFP/Getty Images Coal powers China today, but that may be changing

The biggest coal consumer in the world is rethinking its energy policy

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

China’s run as the world’s most voracious consumer of coal may be coming to an end.

A recent report from Greenpeace found that China’s coal consumption declined in the first half of this year and new Chinese government data suggests that the country’s coal imports have dropped. Estimates indicate that by the end of the year, China’s coal imports could be 8 percent below 2013 levels.

China imported 18.86 million tonnes of coal in August, thelowest level since September 2012.

Part of the reduced demand is due to a slowing Chinese economy. After years of double-digit growth rates, China’s GDP expanded by just 7.7 percent in 2013, and it could struggle to hit its 7.5 percent target this year. Some analysts are predicting an average growth rate of only 6 percent in the next few years.

But a lower GDP growth rate is only part of the reason. As the Sierra Club’s Justin Guay points out, China may be beginning to “decouple” its growth from coal consumption. In other words, China’s economy could continue to expand even while its coal consumption drops – something unthinkable not long ago.

That’s due in large part to China’s declared “war on pollution,”announced earlier this year.

Years of increasingly choking smog have sparked public anger and even led to protests. In 2013, a government survey of 74 Chinese cities found that all had pollution levels that exceeded levels the World Health Organization deems safe.

“We will resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty,” Premier Li Keqiang said in March. The plan calls for the closure of old and dirty steel, cement, and coal plants: An estimated 1,725 small-scale dirty coal plants are expected to be shuttered. The government also declared it would spend $275 billion in the next three years to reduce pollution.

China has also set up environmental courts, instituted fines for offenders of environmental standards, granted non-governmental organizations the right to sue polluters, and now requires the nation’s largest factories to disclose pollution data to the public.

The efforts are starting to pay dividends, as evidenced by declining coal import levels. This is a major reason that international coal prices have reached their lowest levels in six years. And the low prices are not succeeding in stoking a resurgence in demand.

And more declines could be coming, thanks to a series of proposed new laws. The central government released a draft version of a law on Sept. 10 that amounts to an outright ban on coal with a high sulfur and ash content. This could significantly hurt coal exporters, like Australia and South Africa.

The government is also seeking to cut coal production by 10 percent because low demand is causing economic losses for 70 percent of China’s coal companies.

Moreover, China is considering a permanent limit on the overall consumption of coal. The current five-year plan aims for consumption of 4.1 billion tonnes of coal in 2015, up from 3.7 billion tonnes in 2013. But in the next five-year plan, which will run from 2015-2020, China could cap its coal consumption at the same 4.1 billion tonnes-per-year level, and even ratchet it downwards.

And in 2016, efforts to slash coal demand will likely only accelerate, considering China’s announcement that it will introduce a nationwide cap-and-trade program. Details are murky, but if successfully implemented, major producers will be incentivized to improve efficiency and switch to cleaner sources of energy.

As the world’s largest consumer of coal, as well as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the significance of China’s policies on coal use cannot be overstated. Thanks to a concerted effort by the government to improve air quality, the era of insatiable Chinese demand for coal could be over.

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