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?
5 replies on “A Completely True and Totally Unbiased View of Scotland’s Independence Referendum”
I spent my semester abroad interning in the newly devolved Scottish Parliament (this was before they had the fancy new headquarters at Holyrood and the whole thing was seen as a Darien Scheme). When I was there (early 00’s) the main concern was financial solvency and there was a thought that Scotland could be financially solvent only with Westminster.
But there’s oil in them there hills and I think Westminster would be quite put out to see Scotland’s profitable natural resources go under the financial wing of either the Euro, the dollar, or some other currency.
I think the argument that Scotland couldn’t have money without Westminster is bunk. After all, Adam Smith was Scottish and our neoliberal financial system owes a lot to his philosophy. I think the Scots will do just fine.
In the midst of the conservatives threatening to have a referendum on the EU sometime in the near future, I can’t help but think that all of this posturing is going in the wrong direction. Who ever got stronger by breaking apart? The Scottish referendum is fuelling nationalism to a huge extent, and to what end? Westminster has already agreed to let Scotland decide more things for itself.
I don’t think it’s a good idea economically for Scotland to leave, either. The powers that be have already said they can’t take the pound with them. I really can’t help feeling like Scotland’s referendum is like Rick Perry squealing about how angry Texans are about “federal government” and threatening to secede. After all, Texas is hundreds of miles from DC!
In a world of increasingly stricter border control and prejudice against immigrants (especially within the EU), I for one don’t want to see any increased borders here.
And the NHS is the best health care system in the world – why mess with that? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
As Robert Webb said, the Scottish referendum is like demanding to go live in the shed when your housemates have offered to renovate your room.
(I say all of this as someone who absolutely ADORES Scotland and I really hope my wife and I have the opportunity to move up there in the next few years. I just have strong opinions on the referendum, as you do! :) )
I think there has been an interesting collision of political debates; Cameron has scoffed at the need for a Scottish referendum, yet is desperate to have an EU referendum. I think that’s where some of the “Yes” votes (and general discontent) come from: Westminster has kind of scoffed at the desire for a referendum and not taken it very seriously, it’s only as we approach September that they have begun to panic. Regardless of which way Scotland votes, I think one of the biggest mistakes of this government has been not showing the people of Scotland much respect; it doesn’t matter which way we vote, at least respect that this is a huge moment for our country (see also: daylight savings). I’d also reiterate that ROI seems quite content being independent! And also that Westminster has agreed on nothing post-referendum. There have been suggestions of what powers *might* be handed over, but there has not – as far as I’m aware – been anything that is remotely set in stone. If the current government is anything to go by, election promises aren’t to be trusted.
I’ll admit, I don’t have an in depth knowledge the economic side of the argument (something that I’m working on!). There is obviously the oil debate and where income would go from there, how much would be guaranteed, etc. Again, as an issue of respect, Westminster has been talking about how many fish suppers a “No” vote would mean, and it’s just patronising. I think the distance of government does matter too, in that many English MPs (there are 533 English MPs to Scotland’s 59) don’t necessarily have a grasp on how their decisions impact everyone else (Wales and NI, too) when they are the ones with the overwhelming majority and therefore power.
The NHS is super! It’s also already separate! This is a very interesting read on what powers lie where: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserved_and_excepted_matters
Hmn, that an interesting quote from Robert Webb! Not one I’ve heard before :) Without this turning into a “what have the Romans ever done for us!” type of situation, Westminster hasn’t offered to do anything beneficial in Scotland. There have been vague suggestions of what might happen post-referendum if there is a “No” vote, but nothing is set in stone. In terms of renovation, Westminster has caused chaos with recent decisions. In one instance to the extent that the Scottish government asked for more power: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27257700 For what it’s worth, it would be interesting to see where the debate would go if it weren’t a primarily Conservative power in Westminster.
Totally off topic: come up! Tea and cake for all!
All very fair points. The narcissistic prats in Westminster have absolutely no idea how to see anything outside of a privileged, white male view. I’m not saying that The UK has always been sunshine and daisies with Scotland – of course not. They have a history of being selfish and condescending.
I’ve been reading up on the economic side of things, and to be honest I worry what will happen with a “yes” vote. But then again, polls seem low for the yes camp, so we might not even have to worry about it. It just seems, from where I’m sitting, that a yes vote is really motivated by nationalism, rather than genuine concerns about Westminster.
On the other hand, maybe Scotland’s immigration restrictions wouldn’t be quite so barbaric regarding non-EU spouses?
(We’d love to! We got married near Glasgow last August, UGH SO GORGEOUS. Someone give us jobs in Scotland, please?)
Speaking as an Irish person (from the Republic), yes independence has been good for us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Two points on the comparison, though: our culture, legal system and history were less intertwined with the UK’s for less time than Scotland and England’s – our Act of Union was 1803 and we got our own parliament again in the 1920’s; and Ireland was a very poor country for decades after independence and that left its own mark.
Far be it for me to pontificate on how people in Scotland should vote, but I think there’s a difference between long-term and short-term outcomes. If I was asked to vote on the reunification of Ireland (which is decades away if it ever happens) I’d want very clear short-term and long-term pros and cons.
Long-term, yes, I think Scotland has the resources to be a prosperous independent country. But is everyone who votes yes willing to take the short-term (perhaps decades-long) consequences of that? I don’t know. The only discussion I’ve seen about that possibility is from the ‘No’ side (like JK Rowling’s open letter).