On Thursday, September 18th 2014, the nation of Scotland will vote in a referendum and answer yes or no to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” While the issue has remained relatively quiet on the European continent, those of us from the island nations have taken a keen interest in the fate of the Scots.
One must first examine the historical reasons for such a referendum. Scotland was an independent country from its founding in the Early Middle Ages until 1707, when the Treaty of Union was passed and it became part of the modern-day United Kingdom. Scottish desire for independence in the 19th and 20th century garnered strong support, but a proposed Home Rule Bill was interrupted and scuppered by the outbreak of World War I, as well as the Irish War of Independence.
Repeated attempts for Scottish home rule were ignored until 1960, when British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan acknowledged the rapid decline of the British Empire. The imperial weakening presented an opportunity for Scottish nationalists to insist upon devolution. It was officially achieved with the Scotland Act of 1998, creating a Scottish parliament with legislative authority. The Scottish National Party (SNP) have been the main political proponents of independence and began a fierce campaign upon winning the Scottish Parliament Election in 2007.
Legally, the referendum has a sound basis both internationally and domestically. As per the Edinburgh Agreement, the British parliament can temporarily transfer legal authority to the Scottish Parliament, and it has done so in this instance, allowing for a binding referendum to be carried out. As well as that, the United Nations Charter (of which the UK is a signatory) guarantees the right to self-determination.
Economically and politically, one of the major questions being asked regarding the possible consequences of a ‘Yes’ vote is the impact on Scotland and the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. There has been a general consensus within the EU that Scotland would have to apply anew for membership upon receiving independence, but the UK’s wavering support for the EU has cast doubt on the economic future of Scotland.
Scottish independence proponents have expressed desire to continue using the Pound Sterling, but a British break from the European Union could present serious complications for Scotland as a member state. But realistically, we are in the 21st century – maintaining good diplomatic relations is a necessity between European countries, especially those as closely linked as the British Isles. There will not be a Braveheart-style stand-off if Scotland achieves independence.
There have been parallels drawn between Ireland and Scotland in the realm of achieving independence and breaking free from the oppressive shadow of the Crown. Historically, the two countries have borne strong similarities both culturally and ethnically, with the interesting point that the Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic languages are almost identical and mutually intelligible for speakers of either. And like Ireland, Scotland possesses a strong sense of nationalist pride, an emphasis of traditional customs and culture and the desire to keep them alive and vibrant.
Ireland’s path to independence was long, bloody and resulted in a horrifically violent war, followed by a civil war. Its path to economic success and stability took most of the 20th century to achieve. The country was hit particularly badly during the worldwide recession of the 1980s, and after fifteen years of unprecedented economic success from the early ’90s onwards, it crashed dramatically during the 2008 worldwide recession. We also have a long history of mass emigration. But for Scotland, this should not be a cautionary tale. Irish people struggled for centuries against the rule of the Crown, the desire for independence and national pride fuelled repeated attempts for freedom until it possessed our blood and bones and was finally achieved.
Breaking free from London might not be the wisest move economically for Scotland, at least not in the short-term, and the struggles of establishing stability as an independent country will be rampant and difficult, but when the question of national identity is at stake, and the opportunity to achieve complete control of oneself and pride in doing so is tantalisingly close – perhaps it is my nationalist Irish heart speaking, but I say go for it, Scotland, go for it.
“Scotland should be nothing less than equal with all the other nations of the world.”
- Sean Connery
Georgia Knapp is a Newswire Guest Writer from Ireland, she studies in Berlin.