With unresolved economical and political issues in the way, Scotland’s future after the referendum is unclear. So why is the country pushing for independence from the UK now?
Whether by the means of violent battles, like William Wallace, or with beautiful verse, like Caledonia’s national poet Robert Burns – Scotland’s crusade for independence from England has been a long one. This year’s September 18th, the fight could finally come to a victorious end, as the Scottish people are asked to vote ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to become independent from their neighbour to the south.
With the date of the vote rapidly approaching, the mood among citizens of both England and Scotland is mixed. “A lot of people are afraid that the country will falter and not be able to survive,” says Fraser, an independent filmmaker from Glasgow. These fears are not unsubstantiated, and their reasons have been hotly discussed in and out of the media: who does the oil on Scotland’s coasts belong to? Will the country keep the British Pound, or get its own currency? Will an independent Scotland automatically be a member of the European Union, and if not, how long will the application period take? Will a non-EU Scotland have to tariff at its borders?
Alongside these issues that concern Scotland’s outward politics, there also are inner factors to ponder, like national taxes, financial and economical stability, as well as Scotland’s role as a member of the Commonwealth and therefore keeping the Queen as head of state. Confronted with this slew of unsettled issues, the question is: why should Scotland strive for independence? The upcoming referendum has made Scottish people think out loud about how they perceive their own nationality, and about being part of a community of states with a higher governmental entity making all major decisions. “I feel that the UK government as a whole doesn’t take Scotland, Ireland or Wales seriously at all and is mostly in it for itself,” says Fraser and continues: “Only now that we’re talking about leaving the union are they suddenly trying to convince us that they want us to stay.”
“An English interpretation of Britain”
Kate, who has lived in Glasgow until she moved to the Highlands at age 17, also feels that England is putting its dominant mark on all dealings of the kingdom: “Most Scots do not feel that we are as important as the English proportion of the British population – we often feel like we live in an English interpretation of Britain.” Both Fraser and Kate first and foremost identify as Scottish and agree that the country should have more autonomous decision power, adding that an independent Scotland could continue to work well with the rest of the UK.
Jonathan, an English medical student at Cambridge University from Canterbury, has gathered opinions from his side of the border about one of the most talked-about topics in the English media: “Among my fellow English men and women, the majority of the people I speak to tend to be anti-independence on the grounds that it would reduce our role on the world stage and lead to a myriad of practical problems.” These problems include issues during travels between the two nations (especially during the time Scotland would not yet be a member of the EU), and the possibility of having to change the UK’s national anthem and the flag. “I personally feel that most Brits haven’t quite gathered the importance of this referendum for their day-to-day lives,” says Jonathan and sardonically adds that Great Britain even might have to change its name to ‘Lesser Britain’ after Scotland’s separation from the union. On the subject of Scots not feeling as important as the English-born citizens of the union, Jonathan fears that the Scottish National Party (SNP) feeds the Scottish public the idea that they are second-class citizens in order to harbour resentment – a notion that Kate emphasises as well: she is disgusted with politicians who have reduced the referendum to an empty propaganda campaign.
For Englishman Jonathan, though, Scotland plays a disproportionate large role in the UK: he cites the huge impact that Scots, like physician Alexander Fleming, authors Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling, and former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, had and continue to have in the UK as a whole as well as globally. The attitude towards post-independence Scotland will largely depend on how the separation is executed, says Jonathan, adding: “If the new Scottish Government were to make unreasonable demands, there might be a lot of resentment.”
As far as Scottish officials go, an independent Caledonia would strive for a cooperative future, says Angus Robertson, who is a member of the Westminster Parliament for the SNP. But he insists that first of all Scotland needs to further the priorities of its citizens – a point that according to him has been neglected in the past: “While we remain in the United Kingdom, we remain a small part of a political union that is ever diverging from the desires of the people of Scotland.” In 2012, both the Scottish and the UK governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which states that in the case of Scotland’s independence, only the political union between the two countries will be dissolved, but not the social one, which would mean no border controls between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The oil question has been decided as well, says Robertson, who also serves as the SNP Campaign Director for the referendum: “Scotland’s maritime borders are already established under international law; these borders contain over 90 per cent of the oil and gas revenues.”
The ‘nay’ votes have declined
According to officials like Robertson, the questions of currency and head of state have already been decided: Scotland would continue to use the British Pound and keep the Queen as head of state. When asked about this, Kate also agrees with the officials concerning the Queen: “She is as Scottish as she is English in terms of bloodline and rights.”
The most recent ICM poll from April 20th shows the highest support for independence since the referendum has been on the way. According to this survey, ‘nay’ votes have declined four points to 42 per cent, whereas at the same time the ‘yay’ votes have remained steady at 39 per cent. Excluding the 19 per cent of yet undecided voters from the end result of the last poll, the opponents of Scottish independence are losing ground to the supporters by 52 to 48 per cent. If the ‘yay’ wins, Scotland will have time until March 2016, the intended independence date, to clear as of yet unanswered issues regarding finances, politics and the EU membership application period.
Despite Scotland’s unsure future, Fraser sees the positive changes independence can bring to the north of the British isle: “We will be in charge of our own finances, future and what happens to Scotland. Nationally and culturally we shouldn’t change,” he continues. “Union or no union, we are Scottish and we are proud.”