The make or break referendum in Scotland is just a few days away. People of Scotland will vote on September 18 to decide whether to stay part of the United Kingdom or break the 307 years long union. Why the Scots did waited this long, almost three centuries, to conduct a referendum for separation?
Recent opinion polls suggest the referendum race is neck and neck. There are four million voters – which for the first time will include 16- and 17-year-olds – to be asked a single question: “Should Scotland become an independent country?”
Previous opinion polls showed support for independence at between 25% and 35%. This week’s polls put the Yes at 51% and No at 49% thus a narrow lead in favour of independence.
Even after the Act of Union of 1707, Scotland continued to keep its distinct identity differently from the rest of Britain. It maintained its own separate education system, law and justice systems, and church and sports teams. But until the vote to set up a devolved government for Scotland in 1997, all major decisions were made by the Westminster parliament in London.
A referendum in 1979 on a devolved Scottish assembly garnered 51.6% of votes in favour, but the vote was defeated on a technicality: the low turnout meant those voting in favour constituted only 32.9% of the electorate, below the 40% bench mark. Many Yes supporters felt cheated, however, this time around there is no turnout requirement. A simple majority of 50%+ will carry the day.
Scottish people tend to dislike rightwing parties; the ruling Conservative party has only one Conservative Member in the current Westminster parliament. When Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister she imposed a deeply unpopular poll tax in Scotland that led to riots. It was left to the current Tory leader, David Cameron to offer an apology to the people of Scotland in 2006. Yet, the Conservative Party remains deeply unpopular in Scotland.
The election of Tony Blair’s New Labour party in 1997 initiated change. The Scottish devolution referendum of 1997 was a pre-legislative referendum held in Scotland on September 11, 1997 over whether there was support for the creation of a Scottish Parliament with devolved powers, and whether the Parliament should have tax-varying powers. The referendum was a Labour manifesto commitment and was held in their first term after the 1997 election. This was the second referendum held in Scotland over the question of devolution, the first being in 1979. Turnout for the referendum was 60.4%. The prime minister confidently predicting the result would cement the union, not encourage further cracks.
However, calls for more powers have grown and following an electoral wipe-out of centrist Liberal Democrats in Scotland’s 2011 parliamentary elections the stage was set for the Scottish National Party (SNP) government committed to a referendum on a decisive break with the United Kingdom.
Not surprisingly all the major parties in Britain and based in London are opposed to the referendum. The leaders of all the three parties, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic chief Nick Clegg have taken time off to descend in Scotland last Wednesday to campaign not jointly but separately against the Yes side. In a show of cross-party unity, they pulled out of the weekly House of Commons question session to make a dash to Scotland. They are pleading for a united United Kingdom amidst polls suggesting once fanciful notion of Scots voting to break from Britain a real possibility. The three parities are campaigning for a No vote under the umbrella of Better Together.
Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP said the London based politicians were only in Scotland because “they are panicking” and predicted their visit will help his “Yes” campaign.
More than any others Prime Minister David Cameron are worried about the outcome of the referendum. He said Scottish independence would break his heart. “We desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart,” Cameron wrote in a column published in the Daily Mail. Naturally he does not wish to go down in history as the last Prime Minister of Great Britain. In an act best described as a sign of desperation, Cameron ordered the blue and white Scottish flag to be flown at No.10 Downing Street his official residence.
Amid the Yes campaign’s lead in the polls, the British Chancellor, George Osborne, pledged greater devolution of powers if Scots vote to stay within the union, promising “much greater” fiscal autonomy and tax raising powers. Scots would have “the best of both worlds”, Osborne promised, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show. An agreement reached by the three parties promises greater income tax-raising powers, the potential devolution of control over housing benefit, the work programme and other taxes, including air passenger duty and capital gains tax.
The lead campaigners for independence are the SNP, with its charismatic leader Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, the most recognisable faces for many voters. The Scottish Green party, a smaller group that has two representatives in the Holyrood parliament, also backs yes. The Yes campaign is not on party lines, yet SNP supporters are heavily involved in it.
At this point it is worth recapitulating the history Scotland and England before their union more than three centuries ago.
During the ice age Scotland was uninhabited. However, when the ice melted forests spread across Scotland and Stone Age hunters moved there. By 6,000 BC small groups of people lived in Scotland by hunting animals like red deer and seals and by gathering plants for food.
Then about 4,500 BC farming was introduced into Scotland. The early farmers continued to use stone tools and weapons and this period is called the Neolithic (new stone age). The Neolithic people used stone axes or fire to clear forests for farming and they grew wheat, barley and rye. They also bred cattle and sheep. They lived in simple stone huts with roofs of turf or thatch.
By 1,800 BC people in Scotland had learned to make bronze. The Bronze Age people continued to live in simple huts but they are famous for their stone monuments. They arranged huge stones in circles. The fact that they were able to do so indicates they lived in an organised society.
The recorded history of Scotland begins with the expansion of the Roman Empire in Britain when the Romans occupied what are now broadly England, Wales and Scotland administering it as a Roman province called Britannia. They were, however, unable to subdue the fierce tribes in the north. A massive wall was built across the island from sea to sea on demand by the Emperor Hadrian to keep these tribes from invading Britannia. Parts of this Hadrian’s Wall still stand on the Scottish border today.
The Normans conquered England in 1066, after which many Anglo-Saxons from England settled in the Lowlands of Scotland. This is when the Scots gradually adopted the English ways. Feudalism was established and the chiefs of the clans became nobles. Scottish towns began to grow, trade was increased and Scotland thrived.
In the year 1290, the heiress to the throne, Margaret, died. Sir Edward I of England claimed the right to bestow the Crown and made John de Baliol the king. When Edward sought help from John against the French, John entered into an alliance with France. This was the beginning of the 260 years that Scotland held to this so-called ‘auld alliance’ with England’s enemy.
Edward crossed the Scottish border in the year 1296, took John prisoner and proclaimed himself the King of Scotland. The Scots weren’t very impressed with the change and they rose again. They were led by Sir William Wallace. Under his leadership they managed to route the English at the Stirling Bridge in 1297 and pursued them across the border. Edward returned the following year and inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Scots at Falkirk. Wallace was imprisoned and was brutally executed.
Robert the Bruce followed in Wallace’s foot steps and fought against the English in 1314 at Bannockburn near Stirling Castle. Only in 1328 did Edward III formally recognize Scotland’s independence.
After that, James IV of Scotland married Margaret the daughter of Henry VII of England in 1503. When he died the throne went to his baby daughter, Mary Stuart.
Mary was driven out by John Knox who was a follower of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the reformation. Mary returned to Scotland, however, in the year 1561, but was captured and imprisoned. She escaped and fled to England, where Queen Elizabeth I captured her and executed her.
Mary’s son, James VI, was brought up as a Presbyterian and took over the throne of Queen Elizabeth when she died. Scotland and England were united under one single king; however, Scotland remained a separate state with its own parliament and government.
The age-old rivalry between Scotland and England ended formally in 1707 when the parliaments of both nations agreed to the Act of Union. This act merged the parliaments of the two nations and established the Kingdom of Great Britain. Eventually a new Scottish parliament was established in Edinburgh to oversee the territory of Scotland.
In the 20th Century Scotland suffered very high unemployment during the 1920s and 1930s. Traditional industries such as shipbuilding, mining, iron and steel were badly affected by depression. The Second World War brought a return to full employment and the 1950s and 1960s were years of prosperity. However recession returned in the early 1980s and early 1990s.
Nevertheless new hi-tech and service industries grew up in Scotland in the late 20th century to replace the old manufacturing ones and in 1990 Glasgow was made the Cultural Capital of Europe.
During the 20th century there was a growing nationalist movement in Scotland. The National Party of Scotland was formed in 1928. In 1934 it changed its name to the Scottish National Party. The first SNP MP was elected in 1945. In 1974 11 SNP MPs were elected. Finally in 1999 Scotland gained its own parliament. In 2011 the Scottish Nationalist Party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Today the population of Scotland is 5.2 million.
The former Kingdom of Scotland (until 1603) is today one of the four constituent nations which form the United Kingdom, it occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain. The nation shares a land border to the south with England and is bounded by seas and oceans on all other sides. The country consists of a mainland area plus several island groups, including Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides. The following is an overview of Scotland:
•Status – Semi-autonomous part of the United Kingdom
•Population – 5.2 million (2001 census) Ceylon 20.33 million (2011 census)
•Capital – Edinburgh
•Area – 78,772 km² (30,414 sq miles) Ceylon 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq mi)
•Languages – English, Gaelic
•Major religion – Christianity
•Monetary unit – 1 pound sterling = 100 pence
•Main exports – Food/drink, chemicals/petroleum products
•Border country – England
•Related countries – United Kingdom
•Countries in the region – Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway
If there is one country that is extremely worried about the outcome of the Scottish referendum that country is Canada. Canada fears a successful referendum in favour of independence might once again fuel Party Quebecor’s demand for separation. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird have made statements throwing their weight behind Britain. “We think the United Kingdom is better united as they built one of the greatest societies of the world” said Baird in an interview with CTV’s Don Martin this week. Help also came from former Bank of Canada governor who now leads the Bank of England. He discounted any possibility of Scottish nationalists’ vow to keep the UK pound in an independent Scotland.
Another country which is concerned about the Scottish referendum is Spain. Separatists in North-eastern Spain are demanding ‘independencies’ for Catalan. Catalonia regional leader Artur Mas said his government is not wavering from plans to hold a November 09 referendum in the region of 7.6 million people, even though experts say any attempt is sure to be blocked by Spain’s constitutional court.
Independence to Scotland will not be painless. Scottish people have to pay a price. Scotland would be saddled with £143 billion of debt after independence and forced to make deeper spending cuts. Extra North Sea oil revenues would only cover a third of that shortfall and leave Holyrood paying billions of pounds in “IOUs” to Westminster for debt interest payments, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). They also said that sharing the pound after independence would leave Scotland “hostage to fortune” and cause borrowing costs to increase, potentially affecting savers through a spike in mortgage payments. It paints a picture of an independent Scotland with higher taxes and lower spending than that outlined by Westminster.
Oil and gas funds between 2019 and 2041 would account for only about one third of Scotland’s inherited share of UK public debt, it said, noting that the rest of the UK’s debt burden would also increase. Scotland would have to renegotiate its entry to both NATO and the European Union.
Yet Scottish people might decide that it is worth paying the price for since independence will put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. Countries which have broken away from union with overweening neighbours – in recent times, Slovakia from Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States from the Soviet Union reported an improved national culture, one able to be truly national and thus more self confident in their relationships with the outside world. There are counter examples – the two Slav states of Ukraine and Belarus have done badly, democratically and economically, after leaving USSR. Pakistan has not found any kind of stability after separating from India. But in a rich country with no hostile neighbours, Scotland bids fair to feel the national blood pulse faster.
Ultimately, it boils down to the question whether man lives by bread alone. If people are asked to choose between bread and freedom, they will choose freedom. History is replete with numerous examples of people choosing freedom over bread. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early nineties all constituent states declared independence. Not one single state opted to remain with the USSR. Poland became the first Warsaw Pact state country to break free of Soviet domination.
In a similar fashion Yugoslavia broke up into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Another example is Czechoslovakia that got dissolved on January 01, 1993 into Czech Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. It is sometimes called the Velvet Divorce, a reference to the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989 that led to the end of the rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the formation of a democratic government. All these states became independent under the principle of right of self-determination of people. Universal recognition of the inalienable right to self-determination was the most effective way the global community could guarantee protection of fundamental freedoms.
The creation new nation states resulted in increase in the membership in the UNO which rose from 51 founding members in 1945 to 80 in 1956, 104 in 1961, 138 in 1971, 144 in 1975, 147 in 1976, 179 in 1992, 184 193 and 193 today. The last to join the committee of nations is South Sudan in July 2011 after voting in a UN supervised referendum.
The era of the old-fashioned nation-states is over. It is time for a world of self-determined peoples. The creation of more states based on the principle of national right of self-determination brings freedom, sovereignty, equality, self-respect, dignity and ultimately peace.