Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Is About Independence

I was keenly aware last month that it might well be the last time I ever visted the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not that I had foreknowledge of my death--though I hope that's a long way off yet--but because in the not-too-distant future, there may not be a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland anymore. Not if the YES vote in Scotland gets its way. Back in August, things were still at a slow boil: the NO side was consistently polling double-digit leads, and I was one of the few on my side of the Atlantic who even knew the referendum was going ahead. The only evidence I found for it was on my last day in the country, when I found a pro-independence sticker someone had left in Victoria Station.

The red symbolizes the blood that the newborn Scottish Empire will drown its English oppressors in, no doubt.

Today, everyone's blood is hot. It's less than a week to the vote and anticipation is running high--and on the NO side, so visions of near-apocalyptic problems should Scotland go its own way. From complaints of BBC reporting bias to rumors of MI5 agents in Scotland and whistlestop tours by Westminster's premier talking heads, the English political establishment is throwing all its weight into the "Better Together" camp. No doubt the government will sponsor a last-minute love-in for the Unionist side on Tuesday or Wednesday, much like the Canadian government did in Montreal's Place du Canada just before Quebec voted in 1995.

I've seen a lot of speculation that the reason Westminster is throwing so much weight into this is down to North Sea oil, oil that would become Scottish--and that's a pretty damn good motivation for a government to be committed to the unionist side. If Montreal was afloat on a sea of petroleum, I doubt Quebec's referendum would have taken the same trajectory.

But I don't think that's the whole story. It's not just about wealth, or power, I think--it's about fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of the idea that Scotland's independence would mean that the United Kingdom, which stood for three centuries against Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Margaret Thatcher's poll taxes, has failed.

Recently, Rachael Acks wrote a piece about divorce that you should read in any event, because it's rad. As I chewed on it, I realized that with just a few word replacements, it resonates with what's going on in Scotland today. Change "divorce" to "separation" and "screaming arguments" with "civil wars," but the idea that separation means that a country has failed is a strong one. Look at the United States, for instance: in the Hotel America you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave. On the face of it, it's ridiculous--no country lasts forever, but what this policy does ensure is that when the United States does fall apart, it will be with screaming and gunfire and the throwing of dishes. I'm confident the States would never see a referendum as peaceful as Scotland's, because there is no place for it in the laws as they currently stand.

It echoes with a problem prevalent in our culture, I think; the notion that your life can be cheapened by other's choices. I'll admit there are risks inherent in Scotland going its own way, but there are risks in everything. A lot of the commentary I see from NO supporters, especially English NO supporters, revolves around how they would feel to have the United Kingdom separate--it's such a deep-seated notion that the first phrase I wrote there was "to have the United Kingdom break apart," as if the Scottish referendum is the equivalent of throwing fine china at the floor, and afterward everyone will have to sweep up and make do with what shards are left.

"We're not a failure," Rachael wrote. "Our relationship is not a failure. Because we made each other stronger, better people. We loved and supported each other through thick and thin until we reached a place in our lives where we couldn't support each other in that same way any more. It's time to continue loving and supporting each other in a different way."

Scotland and England made each other stronger, too. But just because a relationship has existed, that inertia alone shouldn't justify why it continues to exist if there's enough reason to reconsider--and with the way the polls have turned toward YES in the past months, a lot of reconsidering has been done up past Hadrian's Wall.

If Scotland chooses independence, it's not a failure of the United Kingdom. It's just a new day.


  1. Randy wrote over at his blog that you've come out in favor of independence. I came over here to talk you down, but I think that he's severely misrepresented you. You might wanna go over to his place and correct the record ...


  2. Seeing as how I've only ever been to Scotland once in my life, and don't exactly have my ear on the ground in terms of the fine details, I wouldn't be informed enough to cast an informed ballot.

    But Scotland going independent would sure as hell be _interesting_.