A WEEK today people living in Scotland will be asked in a referendum whether they want to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Polls suggest it is currently too tight to say confidently which way the referendum on Thursday, September 18 will go.
It has come about because the Scottish National Party (SNP) won the 2011 Scottish Parliament election by a landslide.
That gave them the mandate to stage a referendum vote on the issue and the SNP’s central aim is independence.
The Yes and No campaigns have been in full force for several months now and it all comes down to what the Scottish voters opt for on the ballot papers.
Voters as young as 16 will be asked the simple Yes/No question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
There are, of course, two sides to the debate.
The Scottish government - led by First Minister Alex Salmond - believes the 300-year-old Union is no longer “fit for purpose”. He believes that an independent Scotland, supported by its oil wealth, would be one of the world’s richest countries.
He is calling for Scotland to take charge of its own destiny and break free from the “shackles” of Westminster control.
The UK Government, however, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, firmly believes the United Kingdom is better together.
Among the key issues are oil, currency and defence:
At the centre of the Scottish Government’s case for independence is the North Sea oil and gas reserves.
First Minister Alex Salmond has said previously earmarking a tenth of revenues - about £1bn a year - could form an oil fund similar to the one operated in Norway.
But the No campaign argue the North Sea has been a “British success story” and it needs the “broad shoulders” of the UK for support.
If the referendum is in favour of independence, the Scottish Government is keen to keep the pound, in line with the rest of the UK.
But the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats say whoever wins the next General Election in this country in 2015 will not agree to that.
Another key issue is how a Yes vote for Scottish independence would affect Trident - the UK’s nuclear weapons programme based on the River Clyde.
Britain has the ability to fight a nuclear war with the weapons which are carried on four Vanguard-class submarines based at the naval base on the west coast of Scotland.
Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats in the UK favour maintaining nuclear weapons, but the Scottish National Party-run Scottish Government has vowed an independent Scotland would get rid of nuclear weapons.
Who Can Vote
As long as they are registered to vote, people aged 16 and over who live in Scotland can vote in the Referendum.
Eligible voters must be British, EU or Commonwealth citizens with permission to enter or stay in the UK. It means the 800,000 Scottish people living in other parts of the UK do not get a vote.
But the 400,000 people from elsewhere in Britain who live in Scotland, do get a vote.
SEVEN days ahead of the biggest votes in UK history, Scots living in Hartlepool have mixed views on whether they would like to see an independent Scotland. Some told the Mail’s RICHARD MENNEAR they are firmly in the Yes camp, while others were against a break away from the rest of the UK. There are also beliefs within the town that the referendum is asking the wrong question and should include a breakaway from the EU as well as the UK.
TOWN businessman Jim Gillespie has lived in Hartlepool for 25 years but he believes the Scottish Referendum is asking the wrong question.
Mr Gillespie is the owner of Fumus Electronic Cigarettes, based in Stockton Road. He originates from Glasgow and is married to Maggie and they have a 26-year-old son called Nick.
He said it shouldn’t just be about leaving the UK but also about Scotland leaving the EU as well.
The 52-year-old said: “If I was up there and Yes meant leaving the UK and EU I would vote Yes.
“But if it just means leaving the UK and staying in the EU then what is the point?
“All of the problems in this country are down to being part of the EU and as a businessman I cannot think of any positives being in it gives smaller businesses in the UK.”
He said the “elephant in the room” was the issue of oil, with the No camp being pessimistic over oil reserve levels and the Yes camp more positive.
Mr Gillespie added: “People are not being given accurate figures.
“This is going to be an historic vote and generally speaking, the older generation seem to be favouring No but the younger ones Yes and those as young as 16 can vote.
“Alex Salmond has been on this crusade for decades and no matter what the decision, we will all have to live with it.”
COUNCILLOR Jonathan Brash told the Mail Scotland has been an “integral part of Britain” and hopes it will continue to be following the referendum.
Coun Brash, who was born in Ayrshire, said: “As someone who was born in Scotland and who’s family have long lived there I am very passionate about this debate.
“Some people think you are either proud to be Scottish or proud to be British, it’s nonsense.
“You can be both.
“The SNP want the argument to be about the creation of a new country, when actually it is about the break up of another.
“It was Britain, not Scotland or England, who founded the NHS, the welfare state, the trade union movement, it was Britain that stood united in the face fascism to liberate Europe, it is Britain that continues to lead the world today in fighting hunger and disease in some of the poorest parts of the world.
“Scotland has been an integral part of Britain’s greatest achievement and I hope it will continue to be following the referendum.”
Coun Brash is a teacher, living in Hartlepool, and is an independent Labour councillor for the Burn Valley ward.
WILLIAM White, known as Bill, came down to Hartlepool from Coatbridge, near Glasgow 46 years ago to work in the pipe mills in town.
The 76-year-old, who is married to Janet, said: “I’m glad that I don’t have to vote.
“I am still leaning towards the No campaign.
“I am worried about the long-term consequences of what happens regardless of whichever way the referendum goes as some are really for it and others fiercely against.
“It isn’t a hatred of what is south of the border, not at all, it is about being dictated to by London and that goes for the North-East as well.”
He added that interference from Whitehall wasn’t going to help the No campaign, adding that Scots didn’t like to be told what to do.
He added: “If they tell people to vote a certain way, the likelihood is they will do exactly the opposite. I really can’t understand why they are interfering at this late stage.
“I have friends on both sides but some have said they would be more likely to vote yes if it wasn’t for Alex Salmond.
“It is very close though.”
Mr White, a dad-of-three who lives in the Seaton Carew area of town, added: “It would be a logistical nightmare for all Scots not living in Scotland to have a vote.
“Where would you stop?”
ALISON Lilley has lived in Hartlepool for 40 years after leaving behind her home village of Inchinnan, on the west coast of Scotland.
A former councillor, Mrs Lilley represented the Fens & Rossmere ward on Hartlepool Borough Council before losing her seat in May after seven years serving as a councillor.
Mrs Lilley, married to councillor husband Geoff, is firmly in the Yes camp and has stickers to prove it.
The pair went on holiday touring Scotland for three weeks this summer in their campervan complete with Yes stickers on the front and back.
Mrs Lilley, 67, said: “Although Hartlepool has been a wonderful home to me for 40 years I would still vote yes to independence, if I could.
“That is a decision from both my heart and head because sitting here I can see what Scotland has that we do not - free prescriptions, free further education - and I think the Scottish Government is going in the right direction.
“We went to Scotland for three weeks and I only met one person that was a definite no.
“Scottish people living outside of the country should be given the chance to vote,” added Mrs Lilley, who represented the Putting Hartlepool First (PHF) group, served the Fens ward between 2007 and 2012 before representing the Fens & Rossmere ward from 2012 until May.