Independence


I suppose I should have a solid opinion on The Referendum by now. It seems that not a week goes by that I don’t have some American ask me with a grin, “So, how about this referendum, eh, whaddya think?” The vote takes place on September 18th. But still I’m not sure what to say.

It’s not that I’m uninformed. I’ve read the same cascade of polemics as everyone else. I’ve seen the infographics. I’ve trawled the internet and pondered the Wikipedia article and watched the speeches. Most recently, I read an interesting article on First Things about the dangers of secularism if Scotland becomes independent.

In a sense, I’ve been thinking about this question my whole life. It’s impossible to grow up in Scotland and not be aware of the giant weight of history pressing down on you. The vague mood that you’ve been historically “hard done by” is coded in the DNA of every Scot. Anti-English sentiment is just part of the landscape, and everyone knows how they should feel about the F.E.B.s. The English, infuriatingly, largely fail to reciprocate, and in fact, are generally unaware of the feeling. When I moved to London at the age of 15 and attended high school I was perplexed to sense that many teachers considered the Scots to be dull and unintelligent. This was a typical London reaction to anyone with a “regional” accent, but it rankled all the same.

Braveheart, which was released when I was ten years old, caused a wave of increased nationalism. This referendum has raised another one. At the same time, natural Scots pragmatism has caused many — a majority, at last polling — to reject the idea for its uncertainty. I’ve seen very few people arguing strongly against independence because they love the English so much. Most of the NO campaign seems to be founded on practical concerns: economics, security, etc.

If the referendum took place in the USA, I think it would pass resoundingly. But Scotland is a land where dreaming big has become a social crime. Is this a hangover of stern Presbyterianism, the result of past defeats, or failures like the Darien Scheme? Is it the weather?! I can’t place the genesis of the dour Scots attitude of “don’t get above yourself” — but I do know it makes the fight for a YES vote that much more challenging.

Can’t you imagine those past stalwarts who fought for Scotland spinning in their graves as they listen to the beancounters make their case? Independence for £1000 less a year per capita? Is that all? And they shed their blood for the cause. For shame!

On the other hand, a million tonnes of nationalist sentiment won’t put food on the table.

The reason I don’t have an opinion to state isn’t truly because the dilemma is unclear. It’s because I don’t have any real practical stake either way. So it would be gauche to opine. I’m glad expatriots can’t vote, just as I am that the rest of the UK doesn’t get a say either. Who cares what I think? I know what way I’d vote. No one else needs to.

I’ve already made my own push for independence, on a micro scale. Here I am in the United States, which is — I can say without any sarcasm or cynicism — a truly marvellous country and a fantastic place to live. So… I got mine, already. I don’t mean to sound aloof, but the point is that I don’t have much skin in the game.

Depending on who you listen to, a YES vote would mean anything: from the complete extermination of everything north of Hadrian’s Wall in a bleak plague of fire and brimstone all the way to a fabulous era of prosperity and joy sort of like the end of a Skittles ad. The truth is in the middle somewhere.

I wish my friends and countrymen all the best as they make this difficult decision. Could somebody give me a shout when it’s all over to tell me whether I’m still British? Cheers.