By Harry C. Blaney III
Dateline London, September 16th
No matter what the outcome of Thursday’s Scottish referendum, the result is likely to be almost evenly divided, whether it is a disunity “Yes” vote or a continued unity “No” vote. In this case the assumption will be that the outcome may be tentative and the future more uncertain.
The lead up to the vote became more intense and heated each day I have been here. In the past week Prime Minister David Cameron clearly was unprepared for this development. Recent polls that show the “Yes” vote gaining an advantage sent a wave of shock throughout the political establishment and to the average citizen. As a result Cameron conducted an urgent campaign with his MPs visiting Scotland a number of times and making new offers of increased local powers to the Scottish Parliament. The Labour and Liberal Democrats party leaders also came up to Scotland to argue the case for unity. The most persuasive was former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a former MP from Scotland. Business leaders have also argued in support for unity. This may have turned the tide for the “No” vote on independence.
One of the problems in the debate is a strong resentment of the right-wing Tory Thatcherite predations that were aimed against the poor and lower middle class in Britain, especially amongst a vast part of the Scottish population which to this day still feel they have been forgotten. As a result there is only one Conservative Scottish MP in Westminster.
The Scottish National Party under First Minister Alex Salmond has pushed the cause of independence with a zeal and focus that has not been matched by the voices for keeping unity, despite the proposed devolution of many powers to Scotland. Part of the problem must rest with the current Tories with their reductions in health care funding and services, as well as continued privatization of these services which have hit Scotland hard. However, the Labour leaders have promised that these cuts and policies will be reversed. There is also talk of not permitting Scottish MPs from voting on legislation that pertains to England alone.
The result was a rise of a kind of divisive nationalism on both sides. Among many it has a caused a sense of regret of loss of the commonality that started with the Acts of Union in 1707. This sense of a common destiny was reinforced by the common sharing of the tragedy and costs of two world wars. There is also a sense that such disunion will weaken the power and military capability of Britain. The British nuclear force is based in Scotland and there are questions being raised that moving it south might be too expensive and that a separate Scottish military would be too small to be effective in any serious challenge.
This vote also has implications beyond just the UK. EU nations with restive minorities are worried about their own unity. Scotland’s separatists think it would be admitted early to the EU but this is highly unlikely given the need for unanimity of 28 member states. Also the cost and difficulty of a new currency and the problem that 70% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK. The other option would be a currency union with the UK but this too has complications.
The reality is that there is no real decided broad consensus for either unity or against. If it were a “yes” vote the implication for the UK and for the Scottish people will be historical and likely catastrophic given how much the two parts of the UK are now integrated at so many levels. There is talk that the Prime Minister might have to resign, but the more important outcome if the “yes” vote wins by a small margin, is the many harsh, costly, and difficult negotiations that lie ahead that could likely only increase the division between these two long united nations.
But we seem to be facing a global movement towards what I call “particularism,” wherein groups of people in various nations are feeling more affinity to their particular group or locality than they do for a larger national unit that they have belonged to for many years. This has been used to create a feeling by some separatist leaders for hate of those that are the “other.” This often results in conflicts and insecurity and is a serious cause for many of the civil wars and unrest we are seeing throughout the globe.
More on the results of the vote after Thursday, September 18.
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