Note: This post was written in part before (Part 1.) and in part after (Part 2.) polls opened on the morning of September 18, 2014 (GMT) for the referendum on Scottish independence.
Part 1. THE EVE OF A NEW NATION-STATE?
As Scotland votes on the seemingly simple yes-or-no question of “Should Scotland be an independent country?” this Thursday, September 18, a slew of other sociopolitical issues come to the fore. For one, what will become of other similar stateless nations that are currently debating opening or reopening the issue – whether formally or informally – to break away from their current governments? Wales, Catalonia, the Basque country, and even Bavaria come to mind as a few prominent examples in Europe. And what of Kurdistan or Western Sahara, in the Middle East and North Africa, respectively? Or the predominantly Francophone Canadian province of Quebec, which, as recently as 1995, with only a slim margin (50.6%: Drolet, 1995) voted to remain a part of the Canadian Federation? If the Scottish “domino” falls, will these and other stateless nations reconsider their status on an official level with a referendum – or perhaps other more drastic measures – at some point in the not-too-distant future?
The Kingdom of Scotland became integrated into the United Kingdom in 1707 with the Act of Union, solidifying as a political unit what had hitherto been united by the ascendancy of the monarchy of King James of the House Stuart over a century earlier. In large part, Scotland was pressured by economic forces into agreeing to the Union as a result of its disastrous attempts to colonize Panama in the 1690s, which depleted much of the state’s capital and left its elite bankrupt and desperate for aid from London.
The Celtic character of Scotland has been one of variable but important nature ever since the Anglo-Saxons and their language and culture have made inroads into the country from the south since medieval times. In most regions of Scotland, this led to the supplanting of the Scottish Gaelic (also known as Erse) language and culture that had existed there since prehistory. Obviously certain artifacts survive from the pre-Anglo era, such as kilts, bagpipes, and the distinctly Celtic tones and peculiarities of Scottish English – not to mention the Scots language, which by many linguists is seen as a separate descendant of Middle English along with Modern British English (Aitken, 1992). And many Scottish highlanders and the islanders of the Hebrides, Shetlands, and Orkneys still hang on to many ancient folkways, including the Gaelic language. But is Scotland so very different that it should finally achieve full sovereignty after over 300 years of tightly-knit integration in almost all aspects of the UK’s – not to mention the British empire’s – affairs?
With straw polls coming in almost neck-and-neck during the days leading up to the referendum, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Alex Salmond and his “Yes” campaign hope that cultural and historical solidarity among Scots will supersede more practical concerns. These include major doubts over the lengthy process of reapplying to the European Union as an independent nation, systemic central banking reorganization, and off-shore drilling rights. But even if the “No’s” have it on September 18, at the very least Salmond has assured doubters that the achievement of a referendum – regardless of its result – will be a sure sign to Parliament in London that Scotland demands more autonomy. According to the Economist, “Even if Scottish voters reject independence on September 18th, then, Britain will not continue as before. The state will become looser and more untidy” (13 September 2014).
Part 2. THE MORNING AFTER
Around 6:30 AM GMT (12:30 AM CST), the announcement was made of the result of the referendum for independence: 2,001,926 for “No” to 1,617,989 for “Yes,” a ratio of approximately 55 to 45, with a turnout of 85% of the electorate (BBC, 2014). The Scottish people spoke, and the United Kingdom will remain united.
In the immediate aftermath, Alex Salmond has stepped down as First Minister as well as leader of the SNP. According to the BBC, Mr Salmond said, “For me as leader my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die” (19 September 2014). How this “dream” will manifest itself in the future is yet to be determined.
In the meantime, it is understood that much work has yet to be done in order for the United Kingdom to press forward as a nation comprised of four “home countries” while simultaneously allowing three of those – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – a certain real level of autonomy in the midst of England’s historical and economic preponderance.
As for the other stateless nations around the globe that had been waiting with bated breath for the result of the referendum, a sense of disappointment certainly prevails. Nevertheless, in one prominent case, semi-autonomous Catalonia is pressing forward with its own campaign to allow a referendum on November 9th, despite Madrid’s claims of the illegality of any such measure that does not allow for the participation of all Spaniards.
Aitken, A.J. in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1992. p.894.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), “Scotland Decides”, on bbc.com (http://www.bbc.com/news/events/scotland-decides/results). September 19, 2014.
Drolet, Daniel. “By the numbers”, in The Ottawa Citizen. November 1, 1995.