Eyes on Scotland

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury

Their right to choose cannot be resisted through undemocratic means. Could the same be true in the developing world?

  • It is the Scottish who will make the final call

The historic Scottish referendum is taking place today, but interestingly it didn’t get enough media attention globally. The “Yes” outcome, which has a 50-50 chance now, will have weighty consequences in some sense though. A “Yes” vote would mean the breakup of historic first world country Great Britain/UK, and the reduction of both to basically an English domain. It would certainly mean the rebirth of an old independent state called Scotland.

It is often considered that the nationalist sentiment in Western Europe is a thing of the past. Western Europeans themselves, and people all around the world, think that Europe has become mature enough through its bloody nationalist conflicts of past centuries to not use that divisive tool anymore. Yet, from what we are seeing in Scotland of UK, Catalonia of Spain, and in Northern Italy – could we now be sure of that?

A large part of the history of the British island is about the bittersweet relationship between the English and the Scots. There is a lot of historical difference between these two great nations of the island.

The English, often referred to as Anglo-Saxons by historians and anthropologists, are basically a mixture of two emigrating German tribes: Angles and Saxons, who fought their way in the island in the period of migration of European history in late antiquity. They forced the ancient Celtic people gradually towards further West and North.

The Scots, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish are the modern Celtic people who live in this Anglo-Irish archipelago and are well aware of their history. We all know the struggle of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and so on of Scotland in the medieval ages for the independence of Scotland against English invasion.

The Irish had their own history against English subjugation and eventually gained independence as late as the early 20th century. But again, there were a lot of mutual reconciliations, corporations, and collaboration between the English and the Scottish. The English invited Scottish King James VI to take over their throne, and he did. That’s how the dynastic union was done.

The Scots maintained a lot of distinctiveness in terms of laws, traditions, etc. They also had great contributions in the modern liberal thoughts, economic ideas, scientific inventions, and industrialisation. But why didn’t the Scottish go the Irish way? There were several reasons. The Scottish weren’t foolish enough to let the pie of the British Empire go by through mistimed conflict with the English. Again, both the English and the Scottish are largely protestant nations that dislike papal influence, whereas the Irish are historically Catholics.

Now, why are the Scots pondering about independence so late? Are they taken over by an unlikely nationalist fervour? The truth is, a new party called Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) under their charismatic-yet-shrewd leader Alex Salmond, gained political strength that forced Westminster to devolve a lot of power to a newly formed Scottish Parliament back in 1997 through a referendum. Initially, the Labour Party won the Scottish election, but the SNP, in the last one, got a clear majority and has since forced this issue of independence referendum.

Interestingly, the SNP’s core argument isn’t Scottish nationalism; rather it’s that an independent Scottish parliament will do better service and deliver better governance to the citizens of Scotland. The appeal is more social democratic than right wing. Alex Salmond’s economic argument implicitly hinges around the huge North Sea oil reserve discovered recently, which largely falls within Scotland’s EEZ.

Alex Salmond has cleverly vowed that the queen would remain the figurehead of an independent Scotland, forcing Buckingham Palace to take a neutral position. The monarchy also has some acceptability among certain loyalist quarters in Scotland.

The main debate revolved around currency though: What currency the independent Scotland would adopt. The most desired option is to carry on with the sterling, for which Alex Salmond wants a currency union with the rest of UK. But there are complex issues involved, and if that doesn’t happen, the Scottish economy may take a downturn.

As per opinion polls, the results may go either way. If Scotland becomes independent, it won’t really be a disaster for the UK or England, because Scotland counts up to only 8% of Britain’s population and is situated in the northern mountainous third of the island.

But for many British, it would definitely be a psychological shock. Most Scots actually want more devolution of power than independence, which, interestingly, isn’t a choice in the ballot this time around due to the agreement between the politicians. In case of a “No” in the referendum, more power would be devolved – David Cameron has already announced.

The best thing to notice here is the civility of Western nations. As the SNP made a case for independence by winning the Scottish election, London politicians have unreservedly acknowledged that it’s the Scottish people who will make the final decision.

Nothing can be imposed on them, nor can their right to choose be resisted through any undemocratic means. Could the same be true in the developing world scenario? Here lies the true difference between the levels of civilisational progression.

Source: Dhaka Tribune