Washington Keeping Scottish Independence Referendum at Arm's Length

If there’s a unifying message Washington is trying to publicly send about the referendum that could split Scotland from the United Kingdom, it might be “c’est la vie.”


Administration officials have been stressing that it’s the UK’s business, refusing to give much of an opinion when asked about Thursday’s crucial vote.

The polling margin is decidedly toss-up. A Sunday Times poll from Sept. 9-12 found 46 percent yes, 47 percent no, and 7 percent undecided. A Telegraph poll conducted Sept. 12-15 found 43 percent in favor of secession, 47 percent saying no and 9 percent undecided. The video of ISIS beheading Scottish aid worker David Haines was released in the early morning hours UK time on Sept. 14.

A Scotsman poll conducted Sept. 12-16 found the “no” vote at 45 percent, with “yes” at 41 percent and 14 percent undecided. A Panelbase poll taken Sept. 15-17 found the “no” votes pulling head, at 50 percent to 45 percent on the “aye” side; five percent were still undecided.

By any measure, it’s too close to call.

When asked in Paris on Monday about the upcoming vote and its broader implications for Europe, Secretary of State John Kerry eschewed a characteristically verbose response.

“No, no. Honestly, I — anything I would say to that effect would be — become part of the campaign, and it’d be inappropriate for me to say anything at this point,” Kerry said.

“I will say this: that we’ve — just that the president has said — I think the president said in the past at various locations the strong and united and proactive United Kingdom has been an important player and an important contributor. But he and I and no one in our government are commenting on this vote.”


White House press secretary Josh Earnest noted that President Obama was standing next to British Prime Minister David Cameron at the G-7 meeting in Brussels when he gave the definitive White House meme on the referendum.

“You recall that what the president said was he said that — that from the outside, the United States has a deep interest in ensuring that one of the closest allies that we’ll ever have remains strong, robust, united and an effective partner with the United States,” Earnest said Monday.

“So, this is a decision for the people of Scotland to make. We certainly respect the right of individual Scots to make a decision about the — along these lines. But, you know, as the president himself said, we have a — we have an interest in seeing the United Kingdom remain strong, robust, united and an effective partner.”

“United” — so does that mean Washington does have a position on the vote?

“Well, this is a — this is a question before the people of Scotland on Thursday. And they’ll cast a ballot in a way that they believe is in the best interests of communities in Scotland,” Earnest said. “And I will certainly respect their right to cast their own ballot without interference from people on the outside.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Tuesday that President Obama’s previous statement on the U.S. government’s position “continues to stand.”

“As he said, we have a deep interest in making sure that one of the — our closest allies that we will ever have, the United Kingdom, remains strong, robust, united and an effective partner,” Harf said, adding that “decisions need to be made by the people of Scotland and that remains our position.”


Harf didn’t know if the department had any contingency plans to open a consulate in Edinburgh should Scotland split.

Cameron visited Scotland on Monday for a last chance to press the flesh and try to convince voters to stay in the kingdom.

“There’s no going back from this. No re-run. If Scotland votes ‘yes’ the UK will split and we will go our separate ways forever,” the prime minister said in Aberdeen. “…If you don’t like me I won’t be here forever. If you don’t like this government it won’t last forever. But if you leave the UK that will be forever.”

If Cameron doesn’t have vocal allies in the White House, he’s got a friend in a former occupant of the Oval Office.

Former President Bill Clinton released a statement for the Better Together campaign that stressed he didn’t want to butt into their business, but he hopes Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.

“Because the independence vote is a decision for the Scots alone to make, and because Scots are already legendary for their independence of mind, I have been reluctant to express my views on the matter. I hope my decision to do so will be received in the spirit of friendship with which it is offered,” Clinton said.

“I have watched the debate on the future of Scotland with great interest and admiration. With so much turmoil and division across the globe, I hope the Scots will inspire the world with a high turnout and a powerful message of both identity and inclusion,” he continued. “I understand and sympathize with those who want independence. Scotland is blessed with impressive human and natural resources and a strong desire for more widely shared prosperity and social solidarity.”


“However, I hope the Scots people will vote to remain in the UK for several reasons,” including currency issues and secession’s “potential to weaken” the Scottish economy.

“The increased autonomy promised Scotland by the UK provides most of the benefits of independence and avoids the downside risks,” Clinton added. “Unity with maximum self-determination sends a powerful message to a world torn by identity conflicts that it is possible to respect our differences while living and working together. This is the great challenge of our time. The Scots can show us how to meet it.”


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