Last week, Scotland made international headlines when First Minister Alex Salmond announced plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, potentially dissolving Great Britain FOREVER. As a Scot living abroad, I am often asked questions about my homeland and its relationship with England. So for those perplexed by all this independence malarkey, this week I decided to answer all the most important questions on the topic in one E-Z cut out n’keep guide. Let’s go!
1) Is Scotland a country, or what?
I’ve been asked this many times in Russia and the United States, even though both countries have a federal system and the idea of a large entity made up of smaller entities should be easy to grasp. Maybe that’s the problem: Scotland is not a state, or a province- it’s a country, only it’s a country that joined with another three countries to make a kind of mega-country with (until recently) one parliament. Kind of like The Beatles, where England is John, Scotland is Paul and… I’ll let the Welsh and Northern Irish decide who gets to be Ringo.
2) So why did Scotland unite with England?
When Queen Elizabeth I died, her nearest Protestant relative was King James VI of Scotland, so he was invited south to make sure Catholics didn’t take over. Scotland retained its own parliament until a century or so later when the country went bankrupt following a disastrous attempt to colonize a wet jungle full of mosquitoes. The English bailed us out and we have never forgiven them.
3) So have the English really oppressed the Scots, then?
Actually they invited us to join them in subjugating other less technologically advanced peoples around the world. We Scots were over-represented in the colonies, as well as in the parliament in London. Glasgow was the empire’s second city. Nine of the last thirty prime ministers were Scottish, and much of the hierarchy of the last Labour government was Scottish.
4) Hm. So if the union worked out OK, why the demands for independence now?
There was much skullduggery involved in 1707 to make sure the Act of Union passed, and some folk are still annoyed about it. Many of the arguments for independence are rather abstract, and involve waffle about our “dignity” and “self-respect.” It is also fueled by romantic/nostalgic blather about Highlanders. Some members of what passes for Scotland’s intelligentsia like independence because it would mean more power and influence for them. Then there is the economic argument that since what remains of the UK’s oil and gas is mostly in Scottish waters, we would end up being like Norway, where the government gives you lots of free stuff. My own suspicion is that Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” is involved: “…the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.”
The English and Scots are very alike, and nationalists can’t stand the fact.
5) What would change?
Who knows? We’d still live on a wet rock and rival Belarus for lowest life expectancy in Europe. Little things to distinguish us from the English would be exaggerated. There would be more bilingual signs in Gaelic and English, even though nearly all the Gaelic speakers live off the mainland and speak English anyway. Kids in school would be forced to read rubbish novels purely because their authors were Scottish, and some loons might try to force the Scots language on them as a subject.
6) What’s that then?
A synthetic fusion of regional dialects that was pioneered by the unreadable Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. Nobody speaks Scots, nobody ever has, but I once heard a major academic compare its “revival” to that of Hebrew, which was resurrected by the Jews arriving in Palestine in the 19th century and made the official language of Israel in 1948. But the Israelis had no common tongue, so that was necessary. In Scotland we speak the language everyone else in the world wants to speak. There is no comparison.
7) Sounds like you’re not too impressed then?
The date proposed by Salmond tells you a lot about his mentality: 2014 marks the 700th anniversary of the last time the Scots beat the English in a fight. He also wants 16-year-olds to be allowed to vote because apparently schoolchildren are disproportionately fond of independence. Meanwhile as soon as Scotland became completely autonomous he would seek to surrender our newly won sovereignty to the EU, where we would be about as influential as Slovenia, maybe. We would also be obliged to use the euro, which is very possibly doomed. However we would get some free money.
The English have been excellent neighbors. We make a good team. Scottish philosophy and science flourished after the union, as we produced the likes of Adam Smith, David Hume, James Watt et al. I identify with that heritage, and couldn’t care less about hairy dudes painted blue. I am both British and Scottish, and I would still think of myself that way even if Britain disappeared.