by Adrian Sturrock | September 14, 2014 3:33 am
Thursday 18th September is the date that Scotland will eventually vote on its independence from the UK – a strikingly more peaceful attempt at exiting relations with England than earlier attempts at liberation, as Mel Gibson would no doubt testify.
But what will this mean in real terms? Whether Scotland chooses to stay part of the British Union or to go it alone, there will undoubtedly be consequences of varying degrees. As a UK citizen, however, I’m equally interested in the motivations of the individual voters. My gut feeling is that, for most Scots, their vote will be emotionally based rather than grounded in a solid consideration of the political or economic consequences. I don’t say this with any sense of condescension. In fact, I totally understand the emotional fire that will inevitably drive many Scots to vote for separation from England. I am myself a citizen of a country not overly enamored by English rule.
I come from a small town on the south coast of Wales that my wife still can’t pronounce, despite my having taken her there several times. Llanelli (you have a go), is as Welsh in culture as it gets. This is a town that still holds a defiantly strong sense of its Celtic self. It has had to.
As part of the UK, Wales in general has long been subject to the political and economic whims of Westminster. This has caused a certain degree of generic resentment towards the direction of England, a resentment at street level that is also shared by many Scots.
Much like Scotland, Wales has had to strive hard to maintain its sense of national consciousness. Part of this in Wales is found in its national game, rugby, the recent defiant renaissance of the national language and the (even more defiant) burning down of Welsh houses bought up by the English.
If you’d like definitive proof of the Welsh view of the English, it is encapsulated in a very famous pre-match pep-talk given by the Captain of the Welsh rugby team, Phil Bennet, to his team-members, minutes before going out to do battle with their English opponents:
‘Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and they only live in them for a fortnight every 12 months. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon”.
Bennet understood what makes up the DNA of the Welsh and articulated his call to war precisely, to drip like hot rain onto the psyche of his peers. It resonated brilliantly and remains a talking point today. For the Welsh, when it comes to rugby played against the English, this isn’t a game. Likewise, it has been widely reported that ‘It is part of the Scottish psyche that victory over England on any sporting field is frequently regarded as the be-all and end-all”.
However, this attitude does not always contain itself to the sports field: When I was very young, my family migrated to England to find work. We moved to a town in Northamptonshire, (Corby), which already had a large migrant population of Scots who had also been forced to uproot themselves to look for work. One evening while out, my father found himself in a heated misunderstanding with a Scotsman over a taxicab. The exchange got intense until the Scot suddenly stopped to ask my father where he was from (recognizing my father’s strong accent). ‘Wales’, replied my father. ‘Oh, sorry’, said the Scot, in his strong Glaswegian accent‘, I thought you were English!’
The English themselves no doubt see this as racism. For the Welsh and the Scots, it reflects a justified resentment based on a tradition of Westminster (the English) treating both of these Celtic nations as second-class peoples. In fact, the Welsh word for the English, ‘Saes’, is a term of abuse rather than a noun, much the same way as the word ‘Tory’ (the colloquial term for the Conservative Party currently in power in Westminster) is spat out by the Scottish. Like Bennet, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, understands, reflects and exploits the mood of his people through his current pro-independence tour.
As a child, my Welsh speaking grandmother was beaten at school whenever she was caught conversing in her own Welsh language. The language of school was to be English only – ‘the language of commerce’, she was told. Historically, this has been a common tactic used by invading countries looking to assimilate occupied territories into itself.
Likewise, the Anglo-Scots relationship is still coloured by the cruelty of the English shown during the wars of independence and the continued lack of privilege still afforded them by Westminster. (According to ‘Business for Scotland’, “Every year, the Westminster Treasury deducts a sum from Scotland’s block funding grant to pay for a share of the UK’s rising debt, none of which Scotland ran up. In the latest figures the amount removed from Scotland budget was £4.02bn or 33% of Scotland’s deficit in 2012/13.”)
So when it comes to the emotional atmosphere present in the Scottish lead-up to this week’s Referendum, I am in a privileged position of being able to empathise totally. I understand the static currently in the air. This leads me to the question, should all Scots be expected to carefully consider all the political and economic ramifications before committing their vote to paper on Thursday or is an emotional vote equally valid? Perhaps it’s enough to concede that sense of community and sense of self are partly synonymous and there’s much to be said about feelings of freedom versus feelings of servitude.
Scotland is a small nation in global terms, but even the anti-independence voice concedes that Scotland has enough about it to be a valid global player. However, beyond the case for ‘sticking it to the English’, how would one balance the cases for and against?
According to Alex Salmond’s pro-independence, it is right that the Scots should have control of their own destiny and, anyway, a no vote would be an agreement that Westminster should continue to make decisions on Scotland’s behalf without real consultation with the Scots. This is the emotional call, admittedly a rather striking one at that.
Regarding economic ability to stand on its own, The Scottish Government asserts that Scotland is in a stronger fiscal position than the UK as a whole, to the tune of £12.6m.
Pro-independence advocators also point out the variety of resources that Scotland is able to draw on to secure growth as an independent global player. This includes its natural resources, its world class university sector, a highly educated population, its strength in life sciences, tourism, creative industries, financial services, IT, energy, renewable energy and carbon technologies. Quite a formidable argument, I feel. Included in this is its commitment to remaining part of the EU, ensuring a continued strength in numbers.
In fact, even key anti-independence figures such as David Cameron and the former Chancellor Alistair Darling agree on the potential for success of an independent Scotland.
Cameron accepts that: “Supporters of independence will always be able to cite examples of small, independent and thriving economies across Europe such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway. It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.”
Alistair Darling has added that, “The question is not whether Scotland can survive as a separate state. Of course it could. The real question is what is best for Scotland’s future.”
This sounds like a no-brainer for Scotland, then.
So what are the disadvantages of independence? Well, much of the argument against appears to be concerned with vague scare-mongering. Other than Westminster’s ultimatum that independence will mean a departure for Scotland from UK sterling (though I doubt this hasn’t been considered and accounted for by Alex Salmond, despite him currently seeming to play his cards close to his chest, at least at this side of the vote), a number of larger UK retailers (and banks) have warned they ‘may’ take their headquarters (and some stores) out of Scotland, due to possible currency ramifications.
There are also threats in the media of general price rises on goods and services for Scottish consumers. However, all of this is currently being caveated with the word ‘possible’, which makes me wonder a little.
For me, I’m torn between the nostalgia of wanting to maintain the UK that I grew up in and a sneaking desire to see Scotland take its first brave steps into a new world. But there’s another issue bouncing around my mind. I’ve little doubt that many European countries will be watching Thursday’s outcome and the events that will follow for Scotland. What I don’t want to see is Scotland becoming the lab rat for other EU countries thinking of their own potential independence from a struggling EU economy. I don’t want ‘The Scotland Experiment’ kicking off a trend, being used to fuel the same dissipated Europe that resulted in two World Wars not so long ago. Independence is liberating but it can also form the basis of the ‘them and us’ mentality upon which the darker aspects of tribalism has so often been founded.
Currently, as I write, opinion polls leaping around the screen in front of me are registering the Yes/No vote as being pretty much a 50/50 split. ‘It’s anyone’s call’, say commentators. I shall watch this week’s outcome with interest, both as a UK citizen and as ‘a Welsh’, as my wife calls me. In the meantime, I will wish the Scots well in whichever direction things go. “Alba gu bra” is Scottish Gaelic for ‘Scotland forever’. ‘Cymru am byth’ is the Welsh for ‘Wales forever’. I mean them both.
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