"'Should Scotland be an independent country?' Residents of Scotland will answer this question in a referendum on September 18. The 'No' campaign had a 22-point lead in August, but after a shift in favor of independence the referendum appears headed for a close finish. The latest poll numbers indicate that the race is too close to predict. Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are the four 'nations' that comprise the United Kingdom--the world's sixth-largest economy and fifth-largest military power (by expenditure), and the country often considered the United States' closest ally. Scotland's population, about 5.3 million, is over 8% of the U.K. total, and Scotland's gross domestic product (GDP) is nearly 10% of the U.K. total. The crowns of England and Scotland were joined in 1603 and their parliaments merged in 1707. In 1998, the British Parliament passed an act creating a Scottish Parliament with powers over regional issues. The Scottish National Party (SNP) won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011 and intensified its push for a referendum on more devolved powers or outright independence. In 2012, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who leads the SNP and is the chief advocate of independence, agreed on a single-question, in-or-out referendum. Cameron asserted that he agreed out of respect for Scotland's election of a party that has long wanted a referendum."
CRS Insight, IN10150