A referendum to watch
The United Kingdom is a country consisting of four culturally-distinct territories -- England (by far the largest in population), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2011 the Scottish National Party (SNP) which advocates independence of Scotland from the UK, won a majority in the Scottish Parliament and went ahead with plans for a referendum on secession. That referendum will be held on September 18, three weeks from tomorrow. Scotland (like Oregon) has voting by mail, and ballots are arriving at residences there today.
How serious a loss would Scotland be? While it looks large on the map of the UK, Scotland has only 5.3 million people out of the UK's total population of 64.1 million, or 8.3%. But this is comparable to the population size of Texas relative to the whole US, and clearly the loss of Texas would have a substantial impact on the US. The UK would be distracted for years by internal problems such as division of North Sea oil resources, division of the national debt, what currency Scotland would have, what to do about UK military bases on Scottish territory, etc. Also, Scotland is more leftist-voting than the UK as a whole, so the subtraction of its voters from the UK electorate would lead to more conservative UK governments which, there as elsewhere, would be generally bad for the economy.
(The current UK government is conservative and Scots are widely disgruntled at its policies, such as ongoing cuts to the National Health Service. Cutting the NHS doesn't carry much political cost in England, because as wait times increase and services deteriorate, the public just blames immigration.)
That currency question, by the way, is a surprisingly thorny one. The SNP had originally said that independent Scotland would adopt the euro, the common currency used by the majority of countries of the European Union (though not by the UK, which still uses the pound). When it became clear that the euro is a fiasco which has helped ruin the economies which use it, the SNP switched to saying that Scotland would keep using the UK pound even after independence. The UK has said that it would not allow that. There are various options for a separate Scottish currency, but these would carry problems of their own. A good overview is here.
A pro-independence vote would also likely encourage secessionist movements elsewhere, notably Spain, Italy, and even France, distracting and preoccupying European leaders who need to be focused on the real problems of recession, immigration, rising anti-Semitism, and the erosion of democracy and national sovereignty by the EU.
The good news is that polling shows the pro-independence side losing by margins ranging from 3% to 20%, though polls don't yet reflect the effects (if any) of a TV debate on Monday which SNP leader Alex Salmond is perceived to have won. Scotland's business community is also urging a no vote. The EU elections in May showed a resurgence of nationalism in the UK (as in other countries, notably France), a sentiment which will hopefully work against a national break-up.
If public opinion doesn't favor independence, why did the SNP win a majority in 2011? At that time the UK's left-wing Labour party was badly discredited after years of the unpopular Blair and Brown government (among other things, Blair took the UK into the Iraq war), but Scotland would no more vote for the rival Conservative party than California would vote Republican, so the SNP may have won by default. Also, voters sometimes vote to "send a message" even if they don't actually support the platform of the party they're voting for.
At any rate, thanks to mail balloting, Scots begin voting on the question today, and in a little over three weeks we'll know the answer.