The Scottish Question: Several takes on the independence referendum

Teacher and schoolgirl run in front of sign indicating date of Scotland's independence referendum. (CNS photo/David Moir, Reuters)

In America's Aug. 18-25 issue, David Stewart, S.J., a native of Scotland, describes the state of the debate over Scottish independence ahead of the Sept. 18 referendum. In "A Country in Question," Father Stewart advances the argument of the pro-independence "Yes camp":

The No camp, quite accurately accused of negativity and scaremongering, talks about the dangers of the break up of what they call the most successful union the world has ever seen, without quite ever explaining what constitutes that success. Many voters feel that success has not been equitably shared across the Union; child poverty and adult life-expectancy rates remain unacceptably worse in Scotland than in the rest of Great Britain. There is resentment, shared in other parts of the current United Kingdom, about the economic dominance of London and the southeast. A massive, multibillion-pound high speed rail project is proposed, linking London to mid-England but with no economic relevance to Scotland other than the proportion of Scottish taxes that will help pay for it. Scots resent being ruled by London governments they did not elect; this goes back at least to the time of Margaret Thatcher, despite a limited devolution of political control since the restored Edinburgh Parliament in 1999.

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Many do not share this view. According an Aug. 13 TNS poll, a plurality of respondents (45 percent) do not want to see an independent Scotland; 32 percent say they would vote Yes in the September referendum, while 23 percent remain undecided. 

Among those in the "No camp" is Helena Kennedy, who writes in the New Statesmen that Scottish progressives provide a needed check on "London orthodoxy." A break-up of the union, she and other Scottish exiles fear, would leave them "marooned in a perpetually Conservative England":

The economic disaster of the past five years should have taught us that a different politics is needed. If we continue on the current path the inevitable destination is greater inequality and even fewer public services. The public debate has to rise above hair-splitting discussions of how to manage a failed orthodoxy. Most people want a fairer society – whether they live in Scotland or in any other part of the UK. They want decent services and they are happy to contribute to them so long as they feel the system is grounded in fairness. Labour should be giving new meaning to the idea that we are all in this together.

In Forbes, David Nicholson, also a Scot living in England, writes that Scottish independence would be an "economic disaster":

For decades, even centuries, Scots have been at the heart of [the UK's global] economic presence, as Chancellors of the Exchequer (Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling under Labour, Norman Lamont under the Tories) or as Prime Minister (Brown again, Tony Blair – even David Cameron has Scottish roots). They also helped to build and maintain the Empire.

So instead of a seat at this high global table, Scotland seeks to become… what? The new Slovakia (population 5.4 million, average income $24,000)? It’s an instructive parallel. Slovakia became independent of the Czech Republic in 1993 because the Czechs wanted rid of their poorer partner under the forced communist marriage of Czechoslovakia. The SNP, by contrast, is under the illusion that Scotland would emerge a wealthier nation than it is today by ditching its richer partner. The logic is perverse.

Pope Francis waded into the debate in June, telling the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper, "All division worries me":

You have to study each case individually. Scotland, La Padania [northern Italy], Catalonia. There will be cases that are just and others that are unjust, but the secession of a nation without a history of forced unity has to be handled with tweezers and analysed case by case.

Both camps seized the pope's word to claim the Catholic leader for its side. Dave Thompson MSP, Convener of Christians for Independence, said "Pope Francis continues in a long line of Roman Pontiffs who have steadfastly supported Scotland's historic right to self-determination." Pro-union politicians also welcomed the pope's warning about "the impact of division." In her response to Francis' statement, Labour MP Anne McGuire said “We live in a large interdependent world and the best way to secure our future is to work together as part of something bigger.”

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