Thursday 18 September 2014 is a very important day for the United Kingdom. That is the day on which Scotland holds a referendum to decide whether the country will leave the union to become independent. It is still very hard to say what the outcome will be. Opinion polls have mainly pointed to a no vote but recent poll showed a small majority for yes.
I shall return to the details. I am a Scot, that is to say my family are Scots, although my whole life has been spent anywhere but in Scotland. Nonetheless, it is my national and cultural identity. That means impartiality is nigh on impossible since I support independence and objectivity may be called into question. I shall, however, try to be objective. So, to begin with here is the background from the origins of the ‘cause’. Bear with me because it is a bit long but also very truncated to begin to give enough of a picture to put the background for the referendum in place.
What is being kept out of the public domain is when this begins. The 1603 Union of the Crowns is when it began with the accession of James VI, King of Scots, to the thrones of England and Ireland. Ireland seceded from that union in 1937. Scotland is not doing that. The bone of contention is the Union with England Act passed in 1707 by the Parliament of Scotland. It put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union that had been agreed 1706, after negotiations between commissioners representing the parliaments of the two countries. The problem is that some claimed that some people in Scotland thought that the union would enable them to recover from the financial disaster brought about by the Darien scheme. The Darien Scheme was an unsuccessful attempt by Scotland to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called ‘Caledonia’ on the Gulf of Darién which is on the Isthmus of Panama during 1690s. Poor planning, weak leadership, almost no demand for the proposed trade, epidemics and serious shortages of food led to the colony being abandoned after it was besieged by Spain forces in 1700. The Darien company had been backed by something between 25% and 50% of all the money circulating in Scotland. Failure left the aristocrats and landowners and other parts of the economy almost completely ruined. The very small number of people responsible for the scheme negotiated what became the 1707 Act. Well over 99% of the population knew nothing about it. As Robert Burns wrote about this: We’re bought and sold for English Gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.
Despite recent claims it has worked very well since, history is full of holes as it tends always to be. The treaty was highly unpopular in Scotland. Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath was the only member of the Scots negotiating team who was absolutely against union, noted that “The whole nation appears against the Union” Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, who was an enthusiastic pro-unionist and negotiator, said that the treaty was 2contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom”. There were riots in Edinburgh and the bell ringer of St Giles Cathedral rang out the tune ‘Why should I be so sad on my wedding day?’ The army was called into control angry mobs and threats of further civil unrest caused Parliament to impose martial law.
The Jacobite risings were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great Britain and Ireland that occurred between 1688 and 1746. Their aim was to return the Catholic James VII of Scotland and II of England, thus his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne after they had been deposed by Parliament during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In Scotland risings continued, and intensified after George I of the House of Hanover succeeded to the British throne in 1714. In 1715 James Stuart, the Old Pretender, led an uprising that was only one of several throughout Britain, all of them ultimately defeated with James fleeing to France in 1716. Then there were other uprisings in 1719 and subsequently until the best known of all in 1745. Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender) landed in Scotland on 2 August and led the rising. An army of less than 6000 men had set out and a larger army under General Wade assembled in Newcastle to confront them, so they made for Carlisle and successfully bypassed the English army. In Manchester about 250 Episcopalians formed a regiment and a number of other Englishmen from rural Lancashire had joined it. An eye witness wrote that 60 English recruits joined in one day at Preston, thus the myth that no Englishmen joined is simply a myth. At the end of November French ships arrived in Scotland with 800 men from the Écossais Royeaux and the Irish Regiments of the French army. They entered Derby on 4 December, less than 200 km from London. Then things fell apart and we probably all know the story of the Charles leaving Scotland in 1746 disguised as a lady’s maid to Flora MacDonald. There was another attempted rising in 1759 supported by France that was short lived.
In the aftermath, Scotland suffered enormous oppression under strong martial control. The Gaelic and Scots languages were suppressed, many people forced to leave their land and massively overcrowded cities suffered the most immense poverty and deprivation. Many Scots were put on ships to the colonies for their labour in the new countries, whilst some went of their own accord more were forced to go. It has not been a happy history. It has become deeply ingrained in the memory of many Scots. This is a potted history that I have truly skimmed over. It has been omitted from the background of referendum by all but Scots historians and a few politicians trying to explain that it is a vote for nationality and identity but not an economic one as powers that be try to make people believe.
So, history lesson almost over. In 1934 the Scottish National Party (SNP) was founded. Note well it is the ‘national’ not ‘nationalist’ party which mainstream media (MSM) has repeatedly got wrong and perhaps exploited to misrepresent them. It has always campaigned for independence. They are not the only political group responsible since factions of the main parties also support the motion and a number of other smaller parties however they are the majority party in the Scottish Parliament who have negotiated it. The aims and objectives are: Democracy and national self-determination, whereby the population will possess full decision making powers in the political affairs of its nation. In 2012 the UK Government offered to provide the Scottish Parliament with the specific powers to hold a referendum on the provision that it was ‘fair, legal and decisive’. Negotiations continued until October 2012 when the Edinburgh Agreement was reached. The referendum date was set, the options agreed were a yes or no vote for full independence. The option of full fiscal and political autonomy (referred to as devolution max or devo-max) was excluded by the UK parliament. In the last few days this appears to have been put back on the table.
Part of the agreement was that campaigning be allowed from both perspectives thus the Better Together campaign as opposed to the Scots’ voice through the SNP. There was also an agreement that in the last 28 days until the referendum no new proposals, offers or other propagandist moves be allowed. At present this is no longer being observed. Anyway, the real campaign started about two years ago. Better Together was to represent the parties, organisations and individuals campaigning against independence under the leadership of the unpopular Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer under the even more unpopular Gordon Brown’s premiership, officially launched the campaign on 25 June 2012 as director and chairman. Darling, like Brown, is a Scot but since Labour’s defeat in 2010 is simply an opposition backbencher. Since he was unloved and mistrusted in Scotland, a member of the opposition who would appear to be speaking for the coalition in office and also not the best tempered politician in the world he was never welcomed in that post. He led a campaign that concentrated on telling the Scots what is wrong with independence rather than telling them what is right about the union as the name would imply. Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland went rhetorically for the throat and a war of words began that far too often lost the real issue. I am neither a great fan or Salmond nor his deputy Nicola Sturgeon and have never been keen on the SNP, I am less keen on Johann Lamont and Labour in Scotland though. Labour has been vehemently against independence although around one third of the membership say they will vote yes. Last November ‘Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland’ was launched by the Scottish Parliament. It clearly outlines the manifesto and plans. Salmond, I feel, has deviated too far from that manifesto. The arguments have become acrimonious. They have also become very much weighted toward economic arguments. The whole emotional and social dimension, which is why I went through the history, has been overshadowed by acrimony over who does and who controls what, usually with a price attached.
The Better Together campaign picked up a few ‘passengers’ on the way. Personalities began to chip in. That came to a point where it became absurd and people simply began to laugh when David Bowie spoke out against from his New York penthouse having no Scots connection and only having played a very dates there. So stars became irrelevant. Darling and Salmond faced each other for two televised debates which probably come out as a draw although Salmond clearly came out of the second far ahead. What has not gone down well has been David Cameron refusing to do the same with Salmond and basically keeping away from Scotland. So, the pro-unionist campaign that started out with a strong lead began to flag and become all the more bad tempered. Gordon Brown waded in and added salt to the wounds. The yes campaign was benefitting from just about everything pro-unionist were saying. Last week George Osborne broke the ‘purdah’ rule and made some vague promises, Gordon Brown elaborated on them to little effect, then this week Cameron, Clegg and Miliband went off to Scotland on a joint mission to persuade people to vote no. Although David Cameron had explicitly ruled devo-max out originally, they are now offering more or less that if the people stay in the union. Whether that is working or not remains to be seen.
So, here we are with the referendum drawing closer. However it comes out the UK will never be the same. It will have profound effects, call the repercussions even. If there is a yes then independence will have to be negotiated for a year to eighteen months with actual independence around March 2016. With a no vote, and if the promises are kept, a deal with be negotiated on the basis of the new promises. Those promises bring a risk with them. Being inside the 28 days of ‘silence’ lawyers could go to the High Court to have the referendum annulled because of the terms being broken. That would mean starting all over again.
So, to the consequences. There would be a constitutional crisis. The next general election would probably need to be suspended until after independence day and Cameron, despite what he is saying, would almost certainly need to step down. Scotland would be temporarily out of the EU, but whatever is being said in a few years they would join since the policy is rather to have countries in than out. If the UK is so short-sighted that it leaves the EU. The currency issue is unresolved but actually given that Scotland could shadow Sterling as Ireland did from independence until adopting the Euro that is a mountain being made out of a molehill at present. They could issue their own version of sterling that is valued against the existing one. What is being said about political issues is rather propagandistic. Of course Scots MPs would have to resign, there is no constitutional question there but as for there only ever being a Conservative government for the rest of time in the rump UK is an absurd view to hold of the electorate who decide on the basis of how parties have performed generally. Passport? Silly one, Scotland would remain in the EEA so under the present agreement that Ireland has had since long before they joined the EU the answer is no it would not be required. The Trident and oil revenue questions are quite clear. The one would be out, the other would see the revenues staying in. The 1603 Act would not be affected without another referendum to ask if the Scots would want to become a republic, otherwise the queen would remain as is. The UK would have a problem with its P5 seat at the UN Security Council, but probably have to change its status and that would be that. Would big companies leave? Perhaps some would, others have said they would go there. The saltire would need to be taken out of the union flag, so all of those things on sale with it in worldwide would become obscure or mementos.
On the other hand, with a no vote then the tax payers of the rest of the UK are eventually going to be fuming. The taxpayers will have to pay for the changes that will give Scots privileges that other parts of the UK will not have. Calls for devolution and a federal structure would be demanded from the regions without doubt. That would mean a written constitution, one of the very things the right wing political forces are set against. The question I have seen today asking whether in the event of an EU membership referendum Scotland would be allowed a separate one is interesting. The rest of the union votes to leave but Scotland wishes to stay in. Only granting independence would resolve that, so how will that question be dealt with? It would be another constitutional crisis.
As I have said, I am pro-independence. The UK is not one country but a union of three countries plus a province of Ireland that remained under UK control. Things will change either way. Whereas once Northern Ireland was very divided with the IRA wishing union with the Republic. Now a strain of mutuality is emerging with things being said about full autonomy or independence. Wales is quiet at present but no doubt Plaid Cymru will resurge with new demands. The Kernow movements in Cornwall are gradually coming together. The north-south divide in England is growing with increasing resentment of London and the south east. If Scotland becomes independent the shock might just make the government and their successors take a good hard look at the state of the ‘nation’ and find their way back to the people to see what to do and where to go. I believe, therefore, that not only would Scotland benefit from independence, be allowed to make its own mistakes and all else, but also the rest of the people in the UK would benefit in the long term. So, YES for me.