Scotland's year of soul searching

opinion March 10, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Referendum in September on whether to sever ties with the United Kingdom could re-open old wounds, whatever the result

The Scots want to mind their own business. Whether that desire is strong enough to severe sovereign links with England will become clear in September, when a referendum on independence will be conducted. It will be an intriguing world affair, although it won’t send world leaders into war rooms to reconsider existing strategies. It will be, as explained in “Scottish Independence for Dummies”, similar to someone having to decide whether to move out of an apartment he shares with his best friend, who is as supportive as he is exploitative and annoying.
Financial independence and political pride are the key issues for the referendum. It’s not that the Scots have been politically oppressed or anything. The Dummies manual says England’s “creative accountancy” has left a lot to be desired by the Scots. Simply put, there is disagreement over whether the current arrangements take unfair advantage of Scotland when it comes to financial contributions and debt burdens.
Diplomatically speaking, the Scots will be completely free to do whatever they want. If they vote “Yes”, that is. But again, it will involve largely economic aspects. On the non-economic international front, independence will not bring about anything as earth-shattering as, say, the Ukraine crisis. The countries have been too close to really drift apart ethically or morally.
A lot of things will change. Some observers predict that nothing will ever be the same no matter what the referendum produces. There are fears that when the referendum draws near, nationalistic and ideological noise may intensify. Past wars could be retold and old wounds reopened. According to an opinion piece on The Guardian’s website, the referendum campaign “is underlining the huge differences between politics as practised in Edinburgh and London. Even if they lose, the yes campaign’s repeated highlighting of the Tories’ illegitimacy in Scotland will have done its work, while the spectacle of Westminster politicians threatening the Scots with blue murder if they go it alone has only increased the sense of the London political class as an alien, oppressive force”.
This is a far cry from the days when English and Scottish warriors slaughtered each other on the battlefield and people were dragged from homes and executed. The “alien, oppressive force” scenario features not much besides the facts that Scotland elects 4 per cent of the UK parliament and most income tax and VAT, corporate tax, oil revenues, etc, from Scotland go to the UK treasury and the Scottish government is not free to borrow money. 
On the political pride, an analysis of elections since 1945 shows that only on two occasions did Scotland’s votes make a difference to results. Most Scottish MPs voted against war in Iraq with many defying their “party whip” when the House of Commons as a whole voted in favour of it.
England doesn’t want Scotland to leave, of course. More than six out of 10 voters in England and Wales want Scotland to stay in the UK, according to poll findings run by The Guardian. They suggest “English and Welsh people, as well as the three main Westminster parties, will be exerting pressure on the Scots to vote no”.
But the Scots are stronger now and pro-independence politicians are having louder voices. The marathon campaign may not end in independence, with the “We’re better together” movement holding some big advantages, but this is a major soul-searching year for the Scottish people all the same. The desire to mind their own business will persevere regardless of the referendum’s call, meaning that another soul-searching opportunity could come about in the future.