End of the United Kingdom

Scottish nationalism in the park. Edinburgh, 2012.

Soon, on the 18th September, all adult residents of Scotland will be offered a rare opportunity. They will be asked to cast a simple yes/no vote on whether or not Scotland should break from the United Kingdom. As a Scottish expat in Berlin, I have been watching keenly, but having left Scotland, I feel a certain sense of detachment from it all. However as decision day draws closer, I find myself thinking more about what this vote means in a wider context. Scotland’s voters need to grasp the moment while they can, both for themselves and, more importantly, for approaching the respective political philosophies behind the Yes and No campaigns.

The general feeling amongst many Scots is that Thatcherism has failed them, and that London doesn’t seem to accept it. Scotland continues to feel the effects of the rapid social and industrial dismantlement that began with Thatcher, and was carried through successive governments. The result has been that for Scotland more broadly, and particularly for my home city of Glasgow, employment opportunities and support networks have been decimated. This has led to our home being dubbed “The Sick Man of Europe,” near the top of the European tables for everything from murder, heroin overdoses, and diet-induced illnesses, to low life-expectancy.

It is abundantly clear that something needs to change. For many, the prospect of a government directly accountable to the Scottish people is an opportunity that can’t be passed up. The unfairness in Scottish electoral representation is a good enough reason. The Tories have ruled over the United Kingdom, including Scotland, for thirty-nine of the past sixty-nine years. However, they have only won the majority of seats once in that time. It is to the ongoing resentment of many Scots that the Tories are able to implement policies the majority have not assented to. Indeed, Cameron’s lurch rightward has been a massive boon to the independence campaign, alienating many of the traditionally much more left-leaning Scots. There is something to the idea that independence is actually Left vs. Right, though the argument that Scotland’s departure would empower the Tories in the rest of the UK has been statistically debunked.

Of course, there are Yes campaigners who want an exclusive form of Scottish nationalism, along with England-bashing and downright nationalism. I personally have an aunt who told me about a man who said he was voting “yes” in the hope of “getting rid of all the Pakis and Jews.” Despite that, though, the campaign has been refreshing in its positivity and its vision of a fairer, more welcoming, and more socially just nation. The Common Weal proposals are proof enough that Nordic-style post-Cold War social democracy is the driving idea here. Higher standards of living, increased immigration, free higher education, and renewable energy are all proposals. What’s not to like?

The “Better Together” No campaign, in contrast, seems to be based around a mixture of fear-mongering and threats. There is doubt about Scottish economic viability as an independent nation. There are suggestions that Scotland wouldn’t be able to use the Pound (which is debatable.) We have all also seen the weird No campaign ad where a housewife votes “no” because she has been too busy doing the dishes to think about political issues, but is worried about how uncertainty will affect her children. #PatronizingBTLady is a popular hashtag as a result, but beyond cheek, the general message is that independence will throw out good old-fashioned British values. Even when that rhetoric works, the “British” part of it still reinforces the idea that Scotland is very far away from the House of Commons. A government in Edinburgh would be a fresh start, and would provide a much closer republican voice to voters themselves. This can only be good, especially since its easier to march on Edinburgh than London.

Scotland is an enviable position. A “no” vote would be an endorsement of rapidly degenerating Westminster politics, which appears more concerned with clinging to colonial grandeur than resolving social problems. Scotland would be directly validating an elite that has within recent memory taken us into illegal wars, and are currently perpetuating policies that allow ever more of its population to become reliant on food banks. A “yes” vote, on the other hand, would be a massive blow against austerity, xenophobia, and a self-serving elite. It would also be a wake-up call around the world. If Scotland secedes peacefully, then other potential countries will consider it as well.

The “yes” vote would only be the start, of course, but Scots have the unique ability to decide if they can actualize their dormant potential. Whatever happens, the result will be good. Scotland has been more politically mobilized by this than any other event in its recent history. That is definitely a positive. Just look at the fact that 97% of eligible Scots have registered to vote ahead of the referendum. The challenge, whether Yes or No, is to keep on going in the same vein.


Photograph courtesy of Martainn MacDhomnaill. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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