My country makes an epic decision Thursday.
Of course, I mean, my former country. Actually, I only ever lived in Scotland for four years of my life. And I wasn’t even born there. But born to Scottish parents, I can assure I feel no less Scottish than anyone.
So, it is with great interest that I have been following the Scottish independence referendum being held Thursday. As a Canadian, I have the privilege of holding two perspectives on the whole debate over whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom.
I can view the issue through the filter of having watched Canada go through a divisive debate over independence for Quebec. As a Scottish immigrant, I also feel the emotions involved in the vote taking place Thursday. After 300 years, my ancestral homeland could become it’s own nation as a political entity. There can be no doubt that Scotland feels and is seen as a nation already.
It has a long history as an independent country – a thousand years. Scotland was a nation before England.
It has a culture that has it’s own limited degree of diversity (Celtic Highlands, predominantly Anglo-Saxon Lowlands). There’s no one who would deny that Scots are a people and that the northern part of the island of Britain is Scotland.
And that’s where the difference between the Scottish referendum and the Quebec independence movement differs. Scotland was and is a country, even after 300 years of “unification” with England (and Wales). It was a bit of a forced marriage, lest we forget; not a partnership of equals.
Quebec never actually was a nation. It was a colony and then it’s home nation was defeated in battle but it was incorporated into the newly-created entity that became Canada by the act of a British Parliament and as an equal partner. It was later prejudice and economic domination that fostered the current grievance towards the rest of Canada.
However, Quebec is similar to Scotland in that it is a distinct society with its own language and culture.
But that’s all history. What about the present? Would I vote for independence in tomorrow’s referendum if I had stayed in Britain (or, more correctly, returned to live there as an adult)?
My Scottish nationalism has been as virulent as anybody’s in the past, even as a youth growing up in Canada. As an adult viewing the debate through the eyes of someone who has to support a family and consider the future of my children, I would have to filter that nationalism through a more practical lense.
But, in the end, I am mostly convinced that I would vote for independence. It’s probably not the practical choice. Maybe not even the most realistic choice. But despite last minute professions of love for Scotland by ROB (Rest of Britain, i.e., England), my former homeland has been the junior partner in the “united” kingdom.
Of course, England likes unification, it dominates British political and social life. The Thatcher years illustrated that clearly.
While England was in the throes of Conservative dismantling of the social democratic state, Scots were left isolated politically; powerless to change the course. The majority of Scots didn’t vote for Thatcher’s vision of Britain. And they still don’t.
But like British Columbians within the Canadian state, Scots get to watch the rest of the country decide their fate.
Need I remind you of how it feels in British Columbia to vote and then turn on the T.V. after the ballots close at 8 p.m. to see that the national government has been all but determined by voters in earlier time zones further east?
In case you missed it, my point is Scots feel a significant degree of grievance towards the British political system. And then there’s the years of being the butt of jokes and cheapskate stereotypes (generated during the immediate post-unification period when Scots had to come crawling to the London government to beg for its share of federal funding).
But this to me, isn’t an economic issue. It’s an emotional one. Scotland has never lost its national identity. It’s always been a cultural entity unto itself.
The English/British argument is, according to the current “No” campaign slogan, “we’re better together.”
And you know what? I believe economically and politically, Scotland is probably better off remaining in the union.
As an aside, I have to say that the current language of the debate focusing on the partnership and unity, the almost federalism (without the federal structures) of the United Kingdom is all too little too late. It’s only in recent years that Britain has realized that it needs some sort of federal structure to appease its regions where separatism was fomenting.
Will Scots feel any less a people – any less a nation (in the cultural sense) – if independence is rejected? No.
And if the No side wins, I believe the genie is out of the bag and Britain will have to devolve powers to Scotland and take on the trappings of a federal state like Canada and the U.S. And that will be a good thing. The referendum will push that further along than it might have been otherwise.
But on the emotional level in which I view this debate, the issue won’t be resolved until independence is gained. It will always be an issue.
It’s like the Quebec debate. I believe Canada will keep having periodical independence referenda until Quebec separates. Once it does, there won’t be continual referenda to re-join Canada. You can bet on that.
But as a Scot, this is an opportunity to proclaim: “We’re still here.”
And Thursday, Scots will decide whether they’ll go forward by themselves or with the rest of Britain.