Credit where it’s due, if you’re going to hold an independence referendum, doing it on the 700th anniversary of winning a battle in the fight for independence is good timing, to say the least.
The independence referendum has brought Scotland to a place where a millenia of history is being discussed alongside that of the past few decades. Sometimes discussion goes no further than the past few days. There is also the matter of which countries are up for discussion. On occasion, it appears to be forgotten that the independence referendum is not Scotland vs. England, it’s Scotland vs. the United Kingdom. Except it sort of is and it sort of isn’t. It’s also Scotland vs. Westminster (the parliament, not the dog show). Fun fact time: London’s population is bigger than Scotland’s. The government that rules over us resides in a city whose population is greater than that of our entire country. Westminster is also hundreds of miles away from Scotland.
In 1320, the Declaration of Abroath was written (and, incidentally, is available to buy printed on a teatowel in our local kilt hire shop). It was signed by men, of course:
History is women following behind. With a bucket.
-Mrs. Lintott in The History Boys
Back to the Declaration of Arbroath, it was a rallying cry: Scotland was independent! And lest we forget:
…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
-The Declaration of Arbroath
Yeah. It didn’t last. To cut a long story short, in 1603 James VI, who was King of Scots at the time, became King of England and Ireland, and ran off to London to do lots of King-ing. This is also why lots of Scottish children will do a history lesson and wonder, since the King of Scotland took over everywhere else, why they’re now ruled by a monarch in London. Fast forward to 1706 and the Treaty of Union: so that come 1707 the United Kingdom was born! Who’s a cutesy-wutesy Kingdom? You are! Yesh you are! Thankfully, Scotland retained custody of the unicorns. Not that they’d have left. So, yes, the United Kingdom. Goodbye Scottish parliament, hello Westminster! It wasn’t until almost 300 years later that a referendum was held: did Scotland want its own government? YES! The devolved parliament came into being in 1999; there was once again a government in Edinburgh at Holyrood.
And that, sort of, is how we are where we are now. Sort of. The idea of true independence has never been very far away. And yet whilst this is meant to be a case of whether or not we stay in the United Kingdom, it does still turn into a case of Scotland vs. England. There is no one reason why, as far as I can tell. I don’t know how to condense a thousand years of history into one sentence. I don’t think even two would do the job.
It is probably worth mentioning that Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved governments, too. Also: the Republic of Ireland is, by nature of being the Republic of Ireland, no longer part of the United Kingdom. And therein lies one of the greatest issues of the independence referendum: what our choice means for other nations. If my nation votes yes, then will Wales and Northern Ireland want to follow suit? What about Cornwall and the Outer Islands? Why are foreign politicians weighing in? Because the United Kingdom is far from being the only country with areas that might like to break away.
There is more to this than the history of yesteryear. There are the politicians of this century and last. For instance, Scotland is still reeling from Margaret Thatcher (the woman who took milk from children and proved time and again that being female and feminist are not one and the same) and well, not to bring Tories into this again, but well, they are Tories. There are times where Scotland can feel forgotten. When there’s talk of The North, it isn’t Scotland, it’s northern England. Scotland is the land beyond The Wall. Take for instance the Tory desire to adopt Double Summer Time where instead of winter being GMT and Summer being BST (GMT + 1 hour), winter would be GMT +1 and summer would be GMT+2. Apparently the idea of Scotland not seeing daylight until after 10 a.m. (or later on the most northern edges!) wasn’t a big deal.
So where does this leave us? Well, it reads like a bad relationship in a bad novel:
Holyrood: We’re fed up of how you keep treating us! We’ve had enough!
Westminster: Fine! Go have your referendum! See if we care!
Holyrood: Don’t think we won’t do it!
Westminster: [shuffling feet] All right! Be that way! But there’s no in between option here! It’s all or nothing!
Holyrood: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
Seriously, though. The original suggestion was that Scotland be given three choices: yes to independence, Devo-Max, no to independence. David Cameron (among others) said no. The question on the ballot could only be about independence. Yes or no.
Look, I married an Englishman. A good part of my ancestry is English (and Irish, for that matter). From where I’m standing, I can see the arguments of both sides. I can appreciate why there is a desire by many to be part of an independent nation. I can see why it would matter to remain part of the union. This is a referendum fighting a hard fight: that of head vs. heart.
What’s the result going to be? No one really seems to know. Whipper-snappers are being given the vote. There’s my generation who don’t know first hand the damage done by past governments and there is the effect of the current United Kingdom government. There are people of great influence declaring their vote and giving donations. There are the auld folk who don’t want to see their nation ruined. Maybe this union is destined for divorce or maybe, like Bella and Edward, it is destined to last forever.
When I walked the same ground that the old Kings of Scotland did over a thousand of years ago, I stood there wondering what their Queens thought of it all. Would they have voted for independence?