No to All That? Scotland Votes on Independence

I was born in Scotland in 1960 to an Irish mother and Scottish father; all four of my grandparents were Irish. Growing up in Scotland I never felt uncomfortable having "dual nationality." Indeed I am now the proud owner of two passports, one British and one Irish. Both of these documents mean a lot to me, they signify who I am, i.e., a Celt and a Brit. It is the latter part that is the part of my identity that is now under threat. I write this on the eve of the most momentous decision that the Scottish people will take. Having lived most of my life in Scotland I find myself, as an obedient member of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, living and working in London and as such I am deprived of a vote tomorrow.

As I grew up I never dreamt that one day I would be (a) a Jesuit and (b) a "unionist"! The former I believe is through God’s call; the latter is because I consider that together is truly better in terms of Scotland’s future. That future is determined by a seemingly simple question, and this is how it will appear on the ballot paper tomorrow: Should Scotland be an independent country? A question surely more philosophical than political. I think that question may have crossed the minds of those Scotsmen who signed the Act of Union back in 1707 and, maybe like me they thought yes, it should be but it would be best for now that we are not.


I believe passionately that politics and faith cannot be separated, and I am passionate about both. Our faith compels us to look out for and support the vulnerable and the marginalized, that is the poor. Thus social justice must be part of how we live out of the Gospel of Joy, for all. If I thought, for a moment that breaking away from the United Kingdom, in which currently the people of Scotland, per head of population, receive more than any other part of that Kingdom, if I thought independence would secure even more benefits for the poor and vulnerable, I’d be right there with the "positive voice" shouting, "Yes!"—but it does not! And I will not gamble with the benefits of those who need them in the cause of patriotism. Those who depend on social benefits do so in the confidence that the state can provide for them, the name of the government department with responsibility for social welfare was called the Department for Health and Social Security. With a "yes" vote that security is gone. When someone dares to question the super-confident "yes" campaigners about what might be the risks entailed in breaking away the constant and incessant response is that any questioning is scare-mongering. Well I am scared—not for me but for those poor people in Scotland who rely on social security, those who have they least but may lose the most. A prominent Scottish writer who went from "don’t know" to "yes," writes about his experience in the "yes camp":

The factions within the Yes camp are all dreaming that they will have more power in the new Scotland "after the referendum." Bigger fish in the smaller pond. The Greens will have more power than they ever could in the UK. Business leaders will have more influence over Scottish government. The hard left will finally realise its dream of seizing power and creating a perfect socialist nation. Each group is dreaming of this fresh new country (as clean as a white sheet, as unsullied as a newborn) in which they themselves dominate and hold control. Clearly these groups can’t all have more power and the banner they share is a fantasy of a unity that is not actually there. It’s a Freudian slip when converts claim that the first thing that will happen "after independence" is that the SNP will be voted out—it betrays the fantasy that each interest group has of its own coming dominance. Many people are voting Yes just to express their frustration at not being able to engage with politics as it is. They’re voting Yes because they want their voice to be heard for the first time. That’s understandable and admirable, but Yes is not a debate or a democratic dream, it’s an empty word and an empty political process which means dream of what you want and express it with all the passion in your heart. The dream will die as soon as the singular Yes gets voted and Scotland then turns into a battleground of repressed and competing Yesses. Once the recruitment machine has served it purpose it will collapse and the repressed questions will return with a vengeance.—Ewan Morris

My only hope and prayer is that, whatever the outcome of this, most momentous democratic decision in the history of Great Britain, those unfortunate enough to depend on the state for their welfare and security will not suffer.

Gerry Gallen, S.J., a British Jesuit, is the chaplain to St. Joseph’s Hospice, in Hackney, London.

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