Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
Speaking as someone who lives south of the border, it has been interesting watching the debates rage on in Scotland about whether they should become an independent country. In exactly one year’s time, the vote of 5 million Scots will make a decision that will directly affect the future of 63 million people and indirectly affect the future of millions more people across the world. It is a massive decision that is receiving surprisingly little media coverage in the rest of the UK.
Fortunately for those who support the union though, independence probably won’t happen. If there were one word to describe the pro-independence campaign, it would probably be “farcical”, which is surprising considering that the SNP have had 80 years to prepare their argument. In case you’re not aware of what the strongest advocates for independence have in mind for Scotland, they want to keep the monarchy, keep the Pound, keep an open border with England, keep the EU, keep NATO, keep MI6, keep the British benefits system, keep British embassies, keep the BBC and keep many other things that bind Scotland to the remainder of the UK. Hardly sounds like independence to me. The funny thing as well is that the nationalists came to these conclusions largely after constantly changing their minds on everything. On the issue of currency for example, the SNP had always said they would want to use the Euro, then that changed to being some new Scottish currency, and then it changed again to being the Pound. It all just seems that the nationalists are a bit clueless on the whole thing.
There have been some funny moments during the course of the debate on independence: next year’s referendum will be the first vote in the UK in which 16 and 17 year olds will have the right to vote. Many suspect that the pro-independence government in Edinburgh chose to allow this because polls had shown that that age group is where support for independence is strongest. But now, 16 and 17 year olds are the group of people who are most strongly opposed to independence. One teenager summed up his thoughts during a special edition of BBC’s Question Time by saying when asked whether he supported independence, “I believe if we become independent, then we’ll be one step closer to finding aliens”. Not exactly a vote of confidence.
Another thing that really hasn’t helped the “Yes” campaign is that they have been caught out on so many issues, exposing them as people who haven’t really thought the whole thing through. Take the EU for example: “Yes” campaigners assert that when Scotland becomes independent, Scotland will automatically become a member of the European Union simply because it is already part of it. However, Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission and Herman Van Rompuy of the European Council have both said that Scotland will become a new country and will therefore need to reapply to the EU. At first glance, the whole issue on whether Scotland re-joins the EU automatically might seem trivial, but if Scotland doesn’t get automatic membership, then Scotland would have to join the Euro and potentially establish border controls with England, things that pro-independence campaigners say won’t happen but will happen.
And this raises issues about the “Yes” campaign itself – they are very quick to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as “scaremongers” (whether they are other Scots, the Spanish, the French, the Americans, the EU, NATO, UN, the UK government and so on) and blindly believe anything Alex Salmond says. In fact, there was a quote on another political blog, which, despite being pretty crude, sums up the nationalists’ mentality pretty well: “If Alex Salmond crapped on a plate and called it mince, not only would his sycophantic supporters believe it without question, they’d eat it.” The thing is, if so many people both inside and outside of Scotland are raising issues with the nationalists’ plans, then surely there are things they are overlooking and that they shouldn’t so readily dismiss their criticism?
If there is one issue that the pro-independence campaign does have traction on however, it’s probably the issue of Britain’s nuclear deterrence system, Trident. Trident, operated at the Faslane naval base just 25 miles away from Glasgow, is deeply unpopular among many Scots and pro-independence campaigners have said they would not allow nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland, forcing what’s left of the UK to find somewhere else to keep it. Assuming pro-independence politicians keep their word if Scotland votes to go it alone, independence is a sure-fire way of getting rid of nuclear weapons in Scotland. However, not allowing nuclear weapons in Scotland would mean Scotland couldn’t join NATO, leaving Scotland without a credible defence policy and at the mercy of potential aggressors. Besides, using independence to get rid of nuclear weapons is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut; it is very possible that a future British government may decide to decommission Trident.
If the “Yes” campaign is to be successful, it really needs to get facts to back up its assertions. Support for Scottish independence has historically hovered around the 33% mark and this has not really changed in spite of the fact that Scotland has had a nationalist government for 6 years now. Support has been known to peak as high as 40% and fall as low as 18%, but it has never had the support of more than half of Scots. More worryingly for the “Yes” campaign, the number of undecided voters was pretty big but their numbers are now falling and the number of people intending to vote against independence is rising, with the latest polls saying that 60% intend to vote against independence and 25% intending to vote in favour of it.
The outcome of the referendum will have implications for the SNP and its leader, Alex Salmond. If Scotland votes for independence, then the SNP’s job is done and may result in the party splintering off in different directions in an independent Scotland. If independence is defeated by a large margin however (which will probably happen), then Alex Salmond’s political career will be over and the SNP itself may be thrown into turmoil as it tears itself apart on how they squandered their only chance for independence in 306 years. In fact, the pro-union campaign “Better Together” has started to dub the independence referendum as “Salmond’s referendum”. The stakes couldn’t really be much higher for the SNP.