Talk of secessions has become more frequent at TOO of late and perhaps the one which is closest to reality at present is that of Scotland’s upcoming Referendum on independence from the UK, a Union which dates from the 17th Century (when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England, thus merging the crowns of the two ancient kingdoms) and in parliamentary terms since 1707, when the ruling classes on both sides agreed to merge. However, despite devolution of power over the last decade and a half (which has seen the UK go from a centralised, London-centric Westminster system, to an arrangement which has seen the formation of regional assemblies in the other constituent states of the UK — namely Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), there have been increasing calls in the north for full independence, with polls showing up to 38% support, with 15–20% undecided, the gap is narrowing and secession is looking like a real possibility. This scenario has culminated in a forthcoming Referendum, which is to take place on 18 September 2014 and which will involve a simple In/Out question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” with a transitional period of 18 months, in which to make the necessary negotiations, before a proposed declaration of independence in March 2016.
The on-going debate will be of interest to many regular TOO readers, for a myriad of reasons. Interesting to note from the outset is that the movement for separation has been entirely democratic and peaceful, despite the overt hostility from the British establishment and smear campaigns against those in favour, with respected public figures even invoking Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies on more than one occasion (here and here. In order to further analyse what lessons, if any, can be learned, it is important to understand the background which has led to this paradigm shift in allegiances and the people who are behind it.
Undeniably, Scotland is a very rich country, which is more than capable of sustaining itself. Its capital city Edinburgh is one of the top cities in Europe for banking and finance and its 3rd city Aberdeen has been the Oil Capital of Europe for decades, with oil reserves still remaining in the North Sea for decades to come and with an infrastructure that will see it remain at the forefront of Europe’s renewable energy production long after. There also remains a strong fishing industry and significant revenue gained through Whisky exports, as well as an esteemed academic base which remains influential in fields as diverse as medical science, law and economics. It has also, despite (and as an original condition of) the Union with England and Wales, retained its own legal and educational systems, both of which have been influential in former colonial territories, not least the USA where Scotsmen comprised a large number of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and where today an estimated 25 million Americans can claim Scottish ancestry.
However, Scotland has struggled in recent years, due to the failure of a succession of London-centric UK governments, not least the austerity measures imposed by the current “Conservative”-led coalition. Despite its riches, the life expectancy in some parts of its largest city of Glasgow (once the second city of the British Empire) is only 69, a decade less than the national average, and food banks have been opened in most cities as a result of the on-going crises faced by the failing UK economy. It is also striking that voting patterns differ from that of its counterparts south of the border, where a Conservative government has been elected for roughly 2/3 of the last century, despite being massively unpopular not only in Wales, but particularly in Scotland (which hasn’t voted Conservative since 1955). Today, despite being the ruling party of the UK, only 1 out of the 59 MP’s representing Scotland are Tories, and in the regional assembly in Edinburgh Conservatives enjoy less than 18% of the vote.
The discredited New Labour party are also in disarray, after a disastrous 13 years in power which ended unceremoniously in 2010.
With the fall of the two main UK parties among voters in Scotland, the Scottish National Party have risen to become chief proponents of the independence debate, having gone from being a fringe movement in the earlier parts of the 20th Century, to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the 1970’s and 80’s during the divisive (and ultimately destructive, for most of the UK north of Watford) reign of Thatcher’s neo-Conservative government. Their popularity only increased during the post-devolution era, due to the ineptitude and hostility of the New Labour governments, much of which has been documented on TOO (e.g., here and here), before they rose to power after the shock election victory in 2007, forming a minority administration. The SNP proved to be so popular that they won a second term four years later, enjoying a landslide victory in the process.
They are not alone in their quest for separation, however. The Green Party in Scotland have thrown their weight behind ending the 306 year alliance, albeit for civic reasons (rejecting outright Nationalism and citing social justice and a fairer, more democratic system) as have the leftist Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), who were initially formed at the end of the last millennium as a working-class, breakaway faction of the old Labour Party.
It is important at this stage to note that the politics of the SNP are that of a Civic Nationalist party, and while they have been dismissed as both “Tartan Tories” by the left and derided as too leftist by the right, their policies are more akin to that of the Nordic countries, whereby they straddle both sides of the spectrum, culminating in a social democratic state, albeit one with still-limited powers granted by London. For instance, they have used their restricted budget to great effect. (Despite being, at 5.3 million, only 8.4% of the UK’s population, Scotland contributes 9.9% of the taxes and only receives spending equal to 9.3% in return.) They provide subsidised care for the elderly and infirm, have a universal healthcare system on par with their Scandinavian counterparts (with free medical prescriptions) and have abolished University fees.
These policies only apply exclusively to Scots who live in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the British establishment. But for ordinary Scots, they have been welcomed as a sign of a government putting its own people first—quite possibly an indication of an implicit if not explicit ethnic/racial nationalism in a country that, as noted below, is still 96% White. They have also introduced anti-sectarian legislation to combat the damaging Protestant-Catholic divisions which have blighted its largest-populated Strathclyde region on its west-coast for centuries.
The campaign for independence, known collectively as Yes Scotland, is made up of activists from the aforementioned parties, as well as defectors from the treacherous New Labour and the Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament Dennis Canavan. Yes Scotland published a White Paper on independence (a massive 670-page roadmap) on 26 November 2013, to great media interest from around the world. While derided by the No campaign, known as Better Together, it is a remarkably detailed body of work, revealing plans such as
- the establishment of a written Constitution guaranteeing the rights of its citizens,
- the establishment of an oil fund (akin to that which was implemented by Norway some years ago which is today worth a staggering $800 billion!),
- tax cuts in the business sector, with a view to rebuilding the manufacturing base that was decimated in the Thatcher era,
- as well as providing subsidised child care for working families, which will benefit the lower middle classes and possibly reverse the declining birth rate.
Of course, one remaining issue is that of how Scotland would react to the impending challenges that Europe faces and which we readers of TOO are all too aware. While modelling itself on the Nordic countries will bring its benefits, it will also make itself more attractive to mass immigration and potentially be at the mercy of the kind of problems we have seen in Norway and Sweden recently (here and here). The latest population Census in 2011 showed that Scotland is one of the most homogeneous countries in the Western world. Its 5.3 million population is roughly the same size as Norway and Denmark and is 96% White European, with a very strong cultural identity and which has retained its Celtic and Nordic heritage throughout the centuries. Immigration is, at present, a power reserved not for the devolved assembly, but in the hands of the London government. And while the White Paper clearly proposes a points system akin to Canada and Australasia, many will argue that this is not sufficient to protect Scotland from future immigration difficulties, even though, in the event of separation, they do intend to opt out of the disastrous Schengen open borders agreement. There will also be concerns that membership of the EU will leave it at the mercy of mass immigration, but on the positive side, the independence advocates have stated their intention to not only opt out of Schengen open borders agreement, but have outright rejected the Euro currency which has proved so disastrous for some small EU countries, not least Scotland’s neighbours (and arguably its closest cultural brethren) in the Republic of Ireland.
Notably, there is a strong leftist political presence in the country (particularly in the largest city, Glasgow). Given the track record of the left in bringing about catastrophic open-doors policies across our European heartlands, the stance of the Green Party and SSP will be cause for concern for those of a Nationalistic persuasion. While both minority parties, with a few per cent of the national vote each, they are reflective of the small, but powerful left in Scotland, which has manifested itself in ways detrimental to the working-class — not least during the recent stand-off between the bosses of the Grangemouth oil refinery and the workers, which was perpetuated by the Unite trade union.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The man who has been instrumental in bringing independence to the forefront, the SNP leader Alex Salmond, has never been afraid to challenge the status quo with regards to foreign and domestic policy. He was ahead in the polls in the run-up to the first devolved parliament election in 1999, when he gave an address to the British people on national TV, denouncing the US- and UK-backed war in the former Yugoslavia as “an act of dubious legality and unpardonable folly.”
He paid the price for it, with a UK media backlash resulting in him losing his chance to become First Minister for Scotland, and it took years for him and his party to recover fully. Despite this, he has consistently and vehemently opposed the continuing wars in the Middle East, supports impeachment of Tony Blair for war crimes and most significantly (and in an act that would be unthinkable for any prominent American politician in power) he has denounced criminal acts committed by Israel and even campaigned for EU sanctions against the rogue state (here and here. Despite the continued loathing heaped upon him by the British establishment, he has proven himself to be a formidable political figure and a fine statesman.
Looking beyond a Yes vote, it is uncertain whether a Scottish secession would lead to calls for Wales and Northern Ireland to consider their constitutional status. In Wales, support to go it alone is at less than 15%, while Northern Ireland is currently experiencing an albeit fragile peace agreement with its neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. It is therefore impossible at this stage to gauge what knock-on effects, if any, would be experienced. Within Scotland itself, it would be far from guaranteed that Salmond (or indeed any sitting senior MSP’s) would be elected the first Prime Minister of the new fledgling state in 2016, given that new candidates and indeed even new parties, could spring up and capture the imagination of the people. Perhaps what differentiates the Edinburgh parliament since its late-90’s inception has been that, unlike the near-impenetrable “first past the post” system of the UK set-up, it is governed by a proportional representation system, so where UKIP have zero MP’s at Westminster, despite being the 3rd most popular party in England, a future Nationalist movement in Scotland could conceivably have half a dozen seats with only 5% of the vote. The difference between the two systems is immeasurable and ensures a fairer, more democratic scenario and one from which any future patriotic movements would certainly benefit.
Ultimately, this whole saga could be pivotal for the West and its peoples, many of whom already envisage a seismic shift in the political landscape. Like so many of its forefathers, the people of Scotland could once more become influential players in shaping the future direction of the Western world, or it could become an Exhibit A in what not to do. Nevertheless, given that the EU seems intent on destroying all sense of national identity with its policies of open borders within Europe and encouraging non-White immigration, the success of any secession movement is to be much desired.
What is certain, however, is that while the civic model has done much to enhance her standing in the world, whatever the decision the people make next September, only with the emergence of a firm advocacy movement on behalf of its people will Scotland’s future be secure and her ancient, rich heritage continue to prosper.
Alba gu brath!