Today, on 18 September, the Scots will vote on a crucial referendum, at their neighbourhood polling stations, from early morning at 7 a.m. to nightly 10 p.m. that could create a separate Scottish State, out of British Control.
Counting of the votes will be done immediately after, and the results are expected to be announced by early Friday morning.
For more than 300 years after the Act of Union combined Scotland and Wales to Britain in 1707, the Scottish people are going to decide, if they want out of the United Kingdom, or even if ‘No’, to remain within the Union under extended powers of Self-Reliance.
The Thursday referendum- in which around 4.3 million Scottish residents will answer the crucial question, will mark a historic turning point in the recent British history, irrespective of whether the vote is “yes” or “no.”
From just a 25 % approval rating in an opinion poll taken just after the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games in 2012, the “Yes” campaign has built its momentum steadily, reaching 39% in August this year.
By early September, the “Yes” vote support has reached to 49%, and at present reportedly it reached 52%!
The latest Guardian/ ICM opinion poll has said that, 42 % will vote “no” and 40% for ‘yes’, but the 17 % undecided yet would be crucial.
A YouGov survey for The Times, conducted on August 18, found that 57 per cent of voters are NO while 43 per cent are “Yes” .But that the gap has been steadily narrowing since then.
The still ‘undecided’ Scottish voters will decide the outcome of the referendum. The poll survey has suggested that the 65-plus population and 16-24 age groups are in favour of the Union. But a majority of the middle and lower income groups are definitely for independence.
‘The Red Paper on Scotland: 2014’ pointed out that Scotland’s manufacturing economy, financial sector, retail trade, the level of research and development, and the large public sector are reducing at a pace which is faster than the recent recession affected, wider British economy.
The findings were the real eye openers. “Most measures for poverty and that for life expectancy have been consistently worse than the British average, probably reflecting the prevalence of long-term unemployment, low pay in work and casualised employment, coupled with a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.”
In this background, the referendum has gained much bigger political importance.
The “Yes” campaign is led by the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Green Party, Labour for Independence, the Scottish Left’s Radical Independence Campaign, and many independent pressure groups like Common Weal, Women for Independence, the Lawyers for Independence and the National Collective.
Its supporters include celebrities like Sir Sean Connery and fellow Hollywood actor Alan Cumming, film director Ken Loach, Scotland’s national poet Liz Lockheed, and comedian Frankie Boyle.
The “No” campaign includes the Conservative Party which has little support base left in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats, the unit of Labour Party-Labour “Better Together” Coalition, the Unionist Groups, and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
It also has the celebrity backing of author J. K. Rowling, football legend David Beckham, the Scottish actor Ewan McGregor ,Scottish singer Susan Boyle, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger and a majority of British centric Financial bodies and the British controlled media.
The Labour Party, which has lost a big section of its support base in Scotland to the pro-Independence Scottish National Party (SNP), for years now.
Alex Mosson, a Labour Party supporter and Lord Provost (i.e. Mayor) of Glasgow from 1999 to 2003, is for Scotland’s Independence.
He has opined for the “yes” vote despite his party thought otherwise. He said, “We are a small country but with the ability and skills to create a fairer and more just society”.
Writing in the Sunday Observer, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has clearly acknowledged that “the thirst for democratic and economic change that has been heard from the people of Scotland,” that will lead to “change throughout Britain after 18 September.”
Despite the two recent British Prime Ministers from the Labour Party, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were of Scottish origin, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has replaced Labour Party in recent years, emerging as the main political force.
In May 2011 the nationalist Scottish National Party(SNP) that had campaigned on its promise to hold an independence referendum surprised many poll observers by winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament.
If the result says “yes,” then the one and half year long process to final Independence will begin, which is scheduled to be in effect in March 2016.
This time space will be taken to legally transfer power to the Scottish Parliament from the British and reach required agreement with the rest of Britain, the European Union and other International associates.
The Independent Scotland is scheduled to hold its first Parliament Election on May 5, 2016.
Last Minute Efforts!
Last week, the leaders of the three main British political parties- the Conservatives, the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats- appealed to Scot citizens not to secede.
British Prime Minister David Cameron himself went to Scotland before this historic independence referendum to find out ways for the Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom, reminding them on last Monday that a separatist vote would be irreversible.
In a last-ditch effort to persuade Scotland’s voters to reject independence, David Cameron, the ruling Conservative party leader, a party has most of its supporter base in England, pleaded with Scot voters not to use the referendum as a protest vote.
He pleaded to the Scots, in Aberdeen, the centre of Scotland’s oil industry: “There’s no going back from this. No re-run. If Scotland votes ‘yes’ the UK will split and we will go our separate ways forever.”
His beseeching was obvious. “If you don’t like me I won’t be here forever. If you don’t like this government it won’t last forever. But if you leave the UK that will be forever.”
But it is not an easy task for PM, David Cameron, whose right-leaning Conservative party is mostly unpopular with the Scots.
This referendum on self-determination is happening at a time of a global economic crisis which has deeply influenced Britain. The loss of incomes and jobs, the reducing health and housing benefits in a market driven economy, are at the base of Scottish disgruntlement.
Scots still have the unpleasant memories of long serving former Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s stint in power from 1979-1990. Scotland’s current problems began with the distressing impact of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policy, which intensified a decline in manufacturing and heavy industry from the late 1970s. The New Labour government principally continued that policy, which was later inherited by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat c alliance.
Scotland is obviously more left-leaning, politically, than the other parts of the UK. Traditionally Scots have voted for the left-leaning main British opposition Labour party.
The Conservative Party has only one Parliament representation, out of 59 British Parliamentary seats in Scotland.
Scotland has its own Regional Parliament but it can just decide policies for health care, education, cultural matters, and environmental protection.
Due to its left leaning, Scotland is always in favour of a more interventionist, social-welfare State, whereas Britain wants to continue primarily a free market economy and the policies.
An independent, Scotland would have total control over the finance, taxation and expenditure, allowing it to encourage a strong social-welfare State, and it now seems that many Scottish voters are ready to support.
But many Scots siding the independence issue, are seen emotionally prone and serious, given that opinion polls an edge.
The closest parallel to the Scottish vote in recent history, may be the way the Czech and Slovak people parted company.
Thus, David Cameron has spent the entire last week campaigning to keep the Union together. He has even promised that if Scotland votes against independence, he’d bring out an immediate fast-track process to upgrade the authority and Autonomy of the Scottish Parliament.
Bone of Contention
If statistics can be relied upon, Scotland is richer, per capita, than the UK. A fact the independence campaigners are saying repeatedly .
Scotland’s access to its big oil resource pushes its GDP per person to 115% of the UK’s, according to the Scottish Government. Making it the world’s 14th richest country. The UK ranks at number 18!
Scotland’s total GDP was US $240 billion in the year to first quarter of 2014, around 8% of UK’s total GDP. Scotland’s economic output per head is also the highest in the UK outside London and the South East of England, according to national statistics.
Apart from huge reserve of oil in the North sea, the global popularity for Scottish Whiskey also highlights its economy, with food and drink making up nearly a fifth of its US $40 billion exports internationally.
The Government figures show that Scotland itself transfers a further US $75 billion worth of goods and services into the UK for export .
The pro-independence campaigners are already saying that, an independent Scotland can easily claim to be a major global exporter.
But it’s also a fact that the Scots have been hit by the recession very badly. During its most painful year, the year 2009, Scotland’s economy shrank by 6%, lagging behind the UK, where it was 4%. Productivity and average household incomes also gone below the overall UK levels.
And as Scotland has no control on it’s economic, industrial and business planning, it could not been able to recover since then.
The pro-indepence campaigners are in the strong opinion, that the country would have been more resilient and would have survived the recession better, had it not been in Westminster’s shadow!
Majority of Scottish oil workers want Scotland to become independent. 70% says that they’re set to vote in favour of independence.
The public minded Scottish Government is now promoting the idea of an Oil Fund, like in Norway, which indirectly goes in social spending. And the UK Government is not ready.
On the other hand, people like Scottish Oil billionaire Ian Wood has anti-independence stand. He is supported by the powerful lobby, the oil giant British Petroleum(BP)!
So, the division is obvious.
The Defence Issue
Like finance, Defence is an area where Scotland and Britain has unproclaimed rivalry.
Scottish people are always sceptical about these promises of autonomy. Defence is one major contentious issue, over all these years.
In January this year, Phillip Hammond, the UK Defence Secretary, labelled the Scottish National party’s ideas to base a new Scottish Defence Force on the existing Scottish regiments, with one Air Base and a Naval Base in Scotland, as “laughable”!
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and the First Minister of Scotland. Came with an immediate rebuttal.
He said that the idea of having a Scottish Defence Force (SDF) is two-fold – one, UK wouldn’t be the biggest concentration of nuclear weapons in western Europe amassed in Scotland, and the Scottish people have always demanded its removal.
Secondly, Scotland would have the right to decide whether or not to participate in international engagements like the ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Scotland played a major role in the British struggle in the First World War. It provided manpower, ships, machinery, food staff and money. With a population of 4.8 million in 1911, Scotland sent over half a million of its men to the war, of whom over a quarter died in combat, and 150,000 were seriously wounded. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was the Britain’s Commander on the Western Front.
Second World War repeated the story. Scotland provided with the invaluable invention of radar by Robert Watson-Watt, and the able leadership at RAF Fighter Command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.
Scotland is long asking for their say in British Defence policy and planning. Apart from civilian defence, its landmass having big nuclear installation and coastal waters with Scotland’s substantial fishing grounds are in need of unremitting defence. There is the North Sea oil and gas platforms which currently provide the UK up to £12bn a year in revenues, and future oil fields west of Shetland on the Atlantic frontier need further reinforcing.
If in future, if Scotland intend to join NATO or take part in a larger regional Defence of the North East Atlantic and European Arctic waters, it would need to offer more than just a territorial Defence force. It would require more advanced expeditionary forces, air power and navy.
Scotland has long ceased geographically on the Cold War front line in British Defence planning.
The scrapping of the UK’s Nimrod Maritime Patrol Fleet and a widely- speculated step to move the Royal Marines Commando from Arbroath to England, left Scotland unable to adequately protect North Sea oil rigs.
Scotland no longer has any helicopter base right there. The British military sources have told that the five battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland is likely to lose at least one more battalion, and probably two, in the next round of massive British Defence cuts.
Also, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Tank Regiment – a vital part of the 7th Armoured Brigade – is also facing uncertain future. It is already in the news that UK Defence Units are expected to cut one of the UK’s two surviving Tank Regiments. They are saying that, in modern day, highly mobile expeditionary warfare based on force projection, the Tanks are no longer required!
A Divorce After 300 Years
“Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce,” British Prime Minister said in Scotland, standing in front of a massive Union Jack and a poster saying “Let’s stick together”.
“Head and heart and soul, we want you to stay.” He reassured.
Scotland is one of the four constituents of the United Kingdom (UK), along with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The pro-independence SNP leader Alex Salmond, was also in the same time campaigning in Edinburgh , meeting people, lawmakers and business heads who backed the independence campaign.
He wryly remarked that Scotland would vote for independence and that the next time David Cameron would visit Edinburgh to discuss the details of the five million strong Scottish population’s ‘Divorce Settlement’ from the United Kingdom.
“The next time he comes to Scotland it will not be to love-bomb or engage in desperate last-minute scaremongering,” Alex Salmond said. “It will be to engage in serious post-referendum talks.”
The “United Kingdom of Great Britain” was created by the 1706 treaty of Union, and the 1707 Act of Union the following year, as England and Scotland were merged.
A swaggering colonial power Britain, then very much on the rise, was too confident about its brand name: when Ireland was roped in, in 1800, “and Ireland” was ‘crudely appended’ as an afterthought, just as “and Wales” had sometimes been appended on to the name of the English Kingdom of old!
The constituent States in UK have some limited powers of their own, even States like Scotland field its own World Cup Soccer Team, but they are not independent, sovereign entities.
Most power still resides with the British Parliament. Its Budget is decided by the Parliament. The UK signs all the international treaties, represents in the UN and the UN Security Council. It’s UK that belongs to NATO and the EU and holds its own currency.
One of the main issues will be immediate for a newly independent Scotland, whether to develop its own currency, continue on the British Pound, or join the Euro bandwagon!
Loss of Pride
Three decades back, Britain sailed 20,000 kilometres, with its warships to save its tiny remote colony, the Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic ocean and got trenched there for long 72 days!
It lost Hong Kong to China, in 1997.
But having already lost a large part of its Empire in Asia and Africa, over last 60 years, if the Britain of today were to lose a third of its area adjacent to its landmass, there would be considerably far more contemplative.
The Residual UK – the rUK, has gained some recent currency as a potential name for the country, an overwhelming internal malady that makes the former biggest colonialist, the Unite Kingdom, even worse.
The English, the Scots, the Welsh and the (Northern) Irish are all very different people. You can tell it by their accents. One can also mark those differences in their landscapes. Journeying by train from London to Glasgow one can’t ignore the sudden change in geography as the train crosses the border. As it seems, England is too small and hugely crowded, whereas Scotland is large and unoccupied.
Not just natural landscapes, the nature of the people and their temperament also differ!
For 307 years, it a political alliance between nations with distinct cultures that has produced one of the world’s most successful experiments in getting along. It’s a relationship of convenience, begun with the co-sharing of imperial ambitions.
But the times have changed. The worldwide empire has vanished and industry lost its leadership. The economic bond and interests of Scotland and England has long begun to deviate. A major turning point was the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – a right-leaned Conservative leader whose guiding faith in free markets became increasingly at conflict with the Scottish preference for a well-maintained Public Sector and Public Welfare policies.
Scottish people rallied behind the left-leaned Labour Party for quite some time , but Labour, too, moved to the right and left many of its working-class constituents behind. Followed the Conservative agenda unabatedly. This ultimately challenged the idea that the Union was impermeable to economic setbacks and ultimately weakened the political dominance of London.
And the reason is not just economy, it’s also emotional to the core.
Every New Year, the British sing “Auld Lang Syne” – written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788.
“And there’s a hand my trusty friend!/ And give me a hand o’ thine!/ And we’ll take a right good-will draught,/ For auld lang syne.”
It’s a song about the remembering age old friendship.
But, “For auld lang syne“, also translates to “days gone by!”
Incidentally, this is the song which is also sung at the time of the last lowering of the Union Jack, when a British colony achieves independence!
Is Scotland heading for its independence!
By: Deep Basu
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