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.