I’m not British so in theory there is no reason why I should be bothering giving an opinion on whether a foreign country splits into two or not. To my benefit, I am completely unbiased and ambivalent about the matter, not least because my own country (Mexico) thankfully does not have a simmering secessionist movement. On one hand, I sympathize with the desire of many Scots to see their country independent; they are, after all a distinct ethnicity and some of them (particularly the Glaswegian sort) speak in a language that at least to these Mexican ears sounds completely unlike English. On the other hand, I truly wonder whether the differences between Scots and Englishmen are truly irreconcilable, and that separation is the only solution to this 300 year Union which, to be fair, has mostly worked out quite well for both sides: England has benefited enormously from Scottish ingenuity and industriousness while Scotland has profited from its attachment to a former imperial power, which to this day remains one of the world’s largest, richest and most sophisticated economies.
I don’t have a particularly structured idea of how to proceed with this piece so I’ll just dish out some of my thoughts on the matter at random.
The economic argument is pure fearmongering. The No campaign is fundamentally based on the economic arguments and these in turn, are based on fear. Fear that a newly independent Scotland will collapse like a deck of cards amid all the unanswered questions over its economic viability. What currency will it adopt? Will it turn into a fiscal disaster? How ill oil revenues be shared? How many companies will end up relocating? These are not questions to be taken lightly. But although Scotland’s economic problems are real, they are not at all insurmountable. Certainly the economic argument has not stopped any other recently independent country from taking the plunge, despite most of these countries having a fraction of the government efficiency and institutional strength that Scotland would boast. I mean seriously, if East Timor and Kosovo can pull it off, it is absolutely ludicrous to think that Scotland can’t, especially considering that this is a country with no shortage of capable economists, bureaucrats and thinkers. These people invented modern economics, for fuck’s sake.
The No campaign has been incredibly patronizing. Where to even begin. Perhaps with the “No Thanks” that is emblazoned on the No vote’s propaganda. No thanks? That somehow suggests that you don’t want something that by reasonable assumption you should. Want dessert? “No thanks”. Want a kick in the bollocks? Nobody with any sort of self respect would say “no thanks“ to that. The funny thing is that no other reply could possibly be more, ehem, English: exaggerated politeness that hides smug condescension. More pathetic is the way that the leaders of the main political parties (ehem, English political parties) have recently gone north of the border to fill buckets with their crocodile tears, and cave in to the plan B that should have been plan A all along: maximum devolution into a quasi-federalist state whereby Scotland would mostly be able to run their own affairs. I truly doubt the Yes vote would be neck and neck at such a late stage of the game if this had been on the menu from the start. As it is, it is an incredibly insulting gesture that is more a sign of last-minute desperation that anything else.
Scotland is not bound to Britain the way England is. Ask most people around the world, and the terms English and British are interchangeable. Many people are actually surprised that England has its own flag. Call this geographical and cultural ignorance but it does reveal the inability of England to create a distinct identity to that of Britain, mostly because dominant groups inevitably end up monopolizing the identity of the larger whole they belong to. In this recent debate about “Britishness” and quintessential British values, I struggle to identify one which couldn’t be used to describe England alone which is why I find it hilarious when I read about people demanding an English parliament: this idea is as asinine as having fashion magazines for white people, or a straight pride parade. As such, Scottish identity is powerful enough that it has a case for deserving its sovereignty. After all, if British people can’t even come to terms on what are the fundamental values of “Britishness” that separate it from “Englishness”, then it clear that there is absolutely nothing British about being Scottish aside from a shared history as a nation-state.
The idea that England has screwed over Scotland is misleading. The Yes campaign seems to suggest that Scotland has somehow been economically screwed over by England, particularly in the last 35 years from the onset of Thatcherism. True, the structural change in the UK economy since has led to a decline in those industries that had previously been Scotland’s strengths such as manufacturing and shipbuilding. But those have also been decimated south of the border so at least the pain has been shared. Then, the claim that Scotland has somehow lost out to the financial primacy of London and south-east England also doesn’t hold strength. Scotland did pretty darned well at beefing up and then mismanaging its own banks in the years before the financial crisis, as is the case of RBS and HBOS. Let’s not conveniently forget how HBOS was actually merged in a government-sponsored shotgun wedding to an English bank (Lloyds TSB) in order to save itself – and almost ended ruining the latter. Surely Scots themselves deserve some share of the blame for the UK’s 2007-08 banking meltdown.
You can’t judge the last 30 years without thinking of the last 300 years. The Union which brought Scotland and England together took place in 1706, not in 1979. It has mostly worked quite well for both peoples. Scotland was not conquered through strength of the sword (although it did have some elements of a hostile merger). Nor was it a poor, peasant Catholic country controlled by a foreign landed gentry that leeched its resources for the profit of the crown, an arrangement that led to a borderline-genocidal famine (in other words, it is not Ireland). For the most part, the Union has been one of near-equals despite the gross disparity in population and military power which favors England. If Scots feel that their natural liberal values are fundamentally at odds with the “Tory toffs” in Whitehall, does this justify suddenly breaking away? This would be akin to California or Massachusetts demanding independence whenever the Republicans control the White House. That is, unless you believe that Whitehall’s politics and economic policy-making are broken beyond repair…
… and on this last point lies my verdict. The nationalist in me leans towards independence if only because I have such a pessimistic view on the UK’s future that I’d rather risk sinking in my own ship. Forging a new country is a daunting yet exciting challenge that could well end up being surprisingly successful if the newly Scottish government puts pragmatism at the fore and works constructively to solve the many economic questions that it has so far failed to convincingly address. After all, the Tories may be kicked out of office next year but if the other options are “New Old” Labour and UKIP, then we still have a problem. You can’t blame the Scots for preferring to deal with their own mess.
That said, my preference would not be a strong one and I do not fundamentally disagree with those who believe that the two peoples are better together. In fact, I genuinely feel that the federalism option is the best one: to use the oft repeated relationship analogy, it would neither be a broken marriage nor an ugly divorce but more like some form of cohabitation with both sides open to shagging other people to let off steam (does this make any sense at all???). I guess in the end, I’ll abstain. Which is convenient since my Mexican ass can’t vote in the first place…