THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 2014: A Nation Decides

The referendum ballot boxes have been counted from an unprecedented electorate turnout of 84.51% and Scotland has decided to remain within the United Kingdom. The No campaign (against independence) gained 55.3% some 2,001,926 votes cast, whilst the Yes campaign (for independence) gathered 1,617,989 votes or 44.7% in the polls. From the 32 council voting regions only 4 had a majority Yes result (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire & Dundee).  Personally I’m surprised the winning margin of votes was more than 10%, all along I thought there would be a narrow Yes decision for independence. My husband on the other hand felt a narrow No majority would prevail, so we are both glad the outcome was more decisive. I write this within a few short hours of the final result being declared, and I am personally relieved at the outcome. Having taken a brief look at the TV news reactions and social media forums (Twitter & Facebook), I’ve come to a few interesting conclusions I’d like to share with you.

Yes 4 No 28 Why?

In my last post I mentioned that Lady Scotland does not forget her Them (England) and Us (Scotland) arguments easily, and that old rivalries can simmer for decades or even centuries. It would seem the polls have endorsed that feeling emphatically. From social media referendum chatter I’ve seen the mention of Ravenscraig Steelworks, coal mining, ship building & poll tax (first practiced on Scotland by a Tory government in the 1980s). Many of these issues are decades old arguments but they still influenced the voters of Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, where the people were directly affected by the demise of these local industries. I’m not exactly sure how Dundee comes into this sphere, although I have a vague feeling a car plant debacle may be involved somewhere. Anyway, what is clear is that the ills of a fractured society from yesteryear still reverberate to this day, and remain influential in voting trends regardless of the ”nature” of the vote. I’ve also seen the notion that the outcome is a victory for the English Tories, and that “wealthier” Scots who voted No to remain within the UK, have effectively “spat in the face of the little man”. Throughout the world there has always been an element of “those who have” and “those who have not” and although most definitely not fair, is a sad reality. This Scottish referendum has heightened the feelings of injustice within her society, not only between the English power masters and a poor little nation, but also between the Scots themselves. The idea that “rich” Aberdeen voters are any less patriotic in voting No than the hard-pressed “poor” Lanarkshire guy who said Yes is absurd. But I have a feeling that many in the four Yes vote regions will think along these lines. I’ve said that the referendum created a schism in Scotland that will not go away easily, and initial views suggest I am not wrong in that viewpoint.

There Are More Questions Than Answers

The No vote success north of the border hasn’t given David Cameron and his “English Tories” any victory, in fact the whole process has opened up a “can of worms” that will be hard to contain. In the days leading up to the referendum vote, an increasingly worried Prime Minister frantically tried to ensure a No success, by promising a greater level of autonomy for the Scottish Assembly. He will have to be seen to honour those “last minute” guarantees or he will look a fool. However, what about England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Giving Scotland a larger share of the money distributed by Westminster will not go down well with Wales and Northern Ireland, who will be concerned their share will go down! At present Westminster votes involve all four nations’ MPs but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland vote alone on many issues regarding their own nation. So England has a more dilute influence on her own decision making powers than the other three. That can’t be right either, and so the “West Lothian” question arises, whereby English MP’s vote on issues involving England to the exclusion of the others. This spectre would undoubtedly terrify the Labour party in opposition at present who rely heavily on their Scottish Labour majority. It would raise the possibility of a future Labour government being able to make largely general decisions but being incapable of influencing more specific issues of government. At present they have 41 MPs from Scotland, and to lose that leverage in decision making with more devolvement for England is unthinkable. So the referendum question may have kept Scotland within the UK, BUT it will undoubtedly be a catalyst for a major upheaval, in how political decision making is achieved in the country as a whole.

A Parliament of Contradictions

Ever since the three smaller sized “home nations” gained their own voting Assemblies the winds of change began to blow. With the Scottish Referendum that reasonably amicable gentle breeze has become a full force gale that will not be appeased. With this vote Scotland has demanded to be heard, and her voice has sent shock waves that now reverberate throughout Westminster. Wales and Northern Ireland have been woken and will now demand the same courtesy that Scotland is getting. England may well decry the feelings of being “second class citizens in their own land”, something the Scots have felt for centuries. Considering the issues surrounding prescription charges and university tuition fees (to name a few) England can easily feel aggrieved. This could raise the prospect of an English Assembly residing in Westminster, with a clear majority Tory influence and a hint of UKIP thrown in for good measure, deciding on English issues. In my mind this is possibly an even worse outcome than Scotland going independent after all.

Although there are three major political parties in the UK, only two of them are real game changers, Conservative (Tory) and Labour. Sorry Liberals but it’s true, whatever clout you think you may have in the coalition. Labour was mainly created to represent the working class demographic from the factories, local industries (steel, coal, ship building etc), and the British majority who did not have land, titles or wealth. Sadly the industrial heartland that fed the Labour fire has all but vanished from the landscape. The majority remain without the “perks” of the upper classes, although with home ownership land issues may be slightly less relevant these days. Many however in the 21st century still suffer from the economic hardships brought about by successive governments both Labour and Tory. I know several “Yes” referendum voters who brought up the lamentable “bedroom tax” as a factor in their decision making. But people the length and breadth of the UK are suffering because of this legislation, not just the Scots.

All For One And One For All

The Scottish referendum has decided that Scotland will remain as part of the United Kingdom, and I strongly feel we are far stronger together than apart. The land of my birth has more say in her affairs today than in my youth, and with more devolved power will continue strengthen. To my mind this is an undisputed fact: each home nation needs the other three to act as a moderator in decision making. Only then can the voices of everyone have ANY chance of being heard, for any nation with an unchallenged party majority cannot be a healthy one, in today’s uncertain and dangerous times!

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THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM 2014: Thoughts of a Disenfranchised Scot

On September 18th 2014 the people of Scotland will vote in an election to decide whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom and the Westminster Parliament. Those eligible to vote are aged sixteen and above with a residential address within Scotland, who have lived there long enough to get on the electoral roll. There are two options on the ballot paper: Yes for independence, and No to remain within the UK. In the dim and distant past there was a third option suggested, to offer the choice of more governmental powers to the Scottish Assembly. However, this idea was idiotically dismissed by politicians in Westminster, and they may live to regret that decision.

Scotland Decides Or Does She?

People living in Scotland, British and other nationalities have the vote in the Scots independent debate. Last month Alex Salmond described the process as “an impeccable democracy” which is so wrong, and I was incensed by these words. My DNA is 100% Scots to the core and my psyche has been shaped by living under the shadow of Ravenscraig Steelworks and the pall of the Rangers/Celtic football rivalry. I have been influenced by the foibles of my home nation and have a feel for her underlying psychology. This is something that no one who has lived there for less than a year can begin to understand. Yet they have a vote, whereas I, a born and bred Scot living in England have NO vote. US citizens worldwide can vote in their own elections, so WHY can’t I? I strongly feel that at the very least, Scots born British citizens living within the UK should have a say in the matter. After all whatever the result next week, indirectly all in the UK will be affected by the outcome. I would have happily gone to any nominated major city with my passport to be able to cast my vote. Sadly I will not have that opportunity, and for someone who has voted in every election I was eligible for to exercise my democratic right, this rankles. I have been kicked in the teeth by the land of my birth, so much for an impeccable democracy Mr Salmond!

Make Voting Compulsory

My beloved Granny Bowes was born in 1898 and passed away in 1976 when I was six years old. I remember her emphasising to me that in her younger days women didn’t have the vote, and that people died to have that right. She hit home with the message “you may only be one person but you have the right to a say so use it. You might think all the candidates are a bunch of charlatans, but always use your voice, that one voice could make a difference”. When you think about the George Bush election and the miniscule percentage Florida vote that elected him, Granny’s words have a somewhat prophetic resonance to them.

Many an election here has had a low turnout of the voting population, and many a person has had a good whinge about the government in power. My philosophy on this has always been “if you put a cross on the ballot paper then fair enough have a moan, but if you can’t be bothered to use that vote then shut up”. To my dismay, my 29 year old brother has proudly told me in the past he has never voted, yet he has reaped the benefits (if a little meagre) from successive governments in power. The independence referendum seems to have galvanised him into taking a political interest, and although I’m glad he may use that political voice at long last, I admit that this sticks in my throat. In Brazil voting is compulsory to get any benefits from the state, and I think that policy would be a good idea here. At least then you could say the whole eligible voting electorate had a say in every election. I have no doubt that a large turn out to vote will occur next week and 90 % + would not surprise me. However the style of voting here would not necessarily ensure the majority were happy with the result.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The referendum looks to be a closely fought debate, and whatever the outcome, no one will be a winner. After all, if the vote went to a 51/49 split that winning 2% majority would be declared the “will of the people”. Where on earth is the unity from such a decision? I think there should have been a mandate that a minimum percentage of the vote had to be one way or the other, in an attempt to guarantee a majority decision. In the 1979 devolution referendum, the Yes campaign won a majority of 77437 votes but had 32.9% of the registered electorate vote, falling short of the minimum 40% requirement. I recall my Dad commenting on the awful weather on March 1st 1979 and lamenting at the woeful turnout to vote. I still feel that a decisive decision should have a good winning percentage margin, to be convincing of a majority consensus. Say 2 to 1 in favour so 66.667% of the votes cast, perhaps too simplistic and idealistic I know.

I have deliberately avoided any TV coverage on the referendum because I have no say on the outcome. But from the odd bits I’ve heard and seen (it’s everywhere so hard to avoid completely) I have been extremely dismayed. I’ve heard that friends and family members have been torn apart by the “Yes/No” question, and of the palpable distasteful undercurrents within communities that have emerged since this referendum question arose. Last night I saw campaigners nose to nose shouting and gesticulating at each other on the news. My immediate thought was that of the miners’ strike in the 1980s. To this day the animosity in former mining communities between strikers/scabs remains, but that argument was largely confined to a small industrial community. The referendum issue has effectively divided a nation, and long after the ballot boxes have been counted, the lingering resentments WILL remain. My feeling toward David Cameron in allowing this farce of an election to take place is this: Westminster took a map of Scotland, rolled it into a ball, and lobbed a nation sized bombshell called “civil war” into the heartland of the country. Scotland today is a divided nation thanks to this issue and nothing good will come of it.

Them & Us

Before the 1707 union between Scotland and England, the clans fought amongst themselves for their “wee bit hill and glen”, but generally were unified in their animosity toward England. The Them (England) and Us (Scotland) mentality is entrenched into the DNA and fibres of Scotland’s psyche, and remains to this day. As recently as the 1990s I was accused of being a traitor for marrying an Englishman, by a Scot living and working in England. In another conversation with a Scots guy I heard every complaint about how terrible the English were. Both Scots had arrived south of the border to find work successfully, had homes and kids educated in English schools. Yet neither had a good word to say about “the Auld Enemy”. I left both in no doubt what I thought about this anti-English attitude. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Lanarkshire I was far more aware of the problems concerning Northern Ireland than I would have liked. Graffiti daubed on bus shelters and walls left me in no doubt of a Them (British/Protestant) and Us (Scotland/Ireland/Catholic) siege mentality. Sport gave no respite from this with the Rangers and Celtic bitter rivalry being endemic where I lived. Add to this melting pot the Orange Walks around the 12th of July and you have a simmering brew of centuries old rivalries between religions/decades old political arguments remaining today. Although the discriminations and social injustices of yesteryear Catholics has gone, the entrenched differences that helped form Rangers and Celtic football clubs in the first place linger to this day. Lady Scotland never forgets her Them and Us arguments, and so the referendum question will not go away after votes have been cast. The ramifications of the No (Them) Yes (Us) campaign will be felt for generations to come, for it has created an artificial schism that will not go away easily. It’s clear to me that Westminster sanctioned this referendum with no thought whatsoever to the social impact on Scotland’s psyche.

All For One & One For All

Scotland today is far more empowered than she was when I was growing up, thanks to the Scottish Assembly. You can say the same thing about the other “minority” home nations of Northern Ireland and Wales too. It would have been far more preferable if a third option had been available on the Scottish referendum ballot paper. This would have allowed more devolved power going to Edinburgh but with Scotland remaining in the UK. I really feel that the four home nations are far stronger together than apart.

Since that 1707 union Scotland has been indelibly tied to the UK in every sense politically, socially, economically and educationally. She enjoys benefits that her English residential neighbours do not, for example free prescriptions and no university fees at her universities (for Scots anyway). I can hear the words “North Sea Oil money going into Westminster coffers pays that”. Perhaps, but I also can’t help but feel the astronomical taxes my English husband pays may make a contribution too. The idea of Scotland’s North Sea Oil money paying for just about everything is a bit naive I think. It does not belong to Scotland exclusively, and is not a source to rely on forever. For better or worse Scotland is part of the EU, and to think that will continue unabated if a vote for independence occurs, again is a bit naive. Around February the head of the EU said he thought it would be difficult for an independent Scotland to remain a member, and that re-application would probably need to be considered. About the same time keeping the pound and the Queen as head of state were issues being discussed by Alex Salmond. I remember Alex reacting to the noises from Westminster and Europe about these issues “Scotland will not be bullied or threatened from London”. Since when was stating cold hard facts an act of bullying! Educationally universities in Scotland have research funding from British Research Councils, so how can an independent Scotland hope to maintain this source of revenue for their higher educational institutions? These issues are just a fraction of the concerns raised from the spectre of an independent Scotland, and I don’t think many of them have been properly addressed. I’m not saying Scotland is unable to go it alone, she can, but undoing her UK ties will be a long, slow and painful process.

I always say that there are two ways of starting an argument, talk about religion or politics. For that reason I keep my views on both close to my chest. I have tried to avoid at all costs the Scottish Referendum debate; my head, my heart and gut wish it was not happening. Alas it is a reality that has to be faced, and I’ve forced myself into tapping into my thoughts on the matter for this blog. I’ve found an incredible sadness, a deep rooted resentment and a lingering palpable anger that bubbles under the surface. Sad my country will not be the same when I return, resentment at Westminster for allowing the situation and rage at being disenfranchised from the decision making process.