Sunday 9 March 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

On thinking about the events in Ukraine recently, Scotland and its independence referendum came to my head. They might be two unrelated subjects prima facie but dig a bit deeper and both nations have commonalities. The two countries have their own language (although English is the official language in Scotland, Gaelic is also spoken), their own flag, traditions and identity. In the case of Ukraine they have the painful reminder of having been part of the former Soviet Union. Scotland is still joined to the United Kingdom by the hip. Or the head, if you look at a map of Britain.

I guess that what’s surprised me about the referendum that will take place in Scotland in the autumn of the current year is how strong opinions on this issue have been. It is not that I have not come across nationalist sentiments before in relation to this territory that lies north of the border with England. It is just that I never took them 100% seriously. Sure, there has always been animosity towards the English which usually comes out when both countries battle it out in the football or rugby theatre of war. But, unlike the northern Irish and their IRA campaign, Scots did not look as if they were about to take their bid for independence up to the next level.

What if the rest of the UK follows?
So, will it be the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland minus Scotland from September 2014 onwards? Some people do not think so. They reckon that Scotland will remain in the union because what the country stands to lose far outweighs whatever gains they might make as an independent nation. My opinion on the matter, after reading and listening to all parties involved, is that a lot of Scots will adopt a “better the devil you know” attitude on referendum day. Namely, they will choose the comfort of the UK rather the uncertainty of a future on their own. I can’t blame them, especially in these straitened economic times, but I cannot say that I would make the same decision. I am one of those people who value independence and self-reliance greatly.

Besides Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics, the only other example that comes to mind of a nation or nations seeking autonomous status is the regions of Galicia, the Basque Country and Cataluña in Spain. Every time I travel to the Iberian nation I never cease to be amazed at how self-assertive and proud of their cultural heritage gallegos, Basques and catalanes are. The Spanish situation, however, is different to the Scottish one. For starters, the UK has never had to endure a dictatorship as harsh as Franco’s. The fascist despot clamped down on autochthonous languages such as Euskera, the Basque language. As far as I know Gaelic has never been banned. There is a different type of dilemma in Britain, however: that of the Southeast versus the rest of the country. Britons might not have had their own version of Franco; yet, those regions that lie beyond the M25 are sometimes seen through the prism of condescension and ignorance. It is no secret that most of the wealth in the UK is concentrated in the Southeast, mainly in London, but what is lesser known is that a lot of that wealth is produced outside London.

That could be the main reason for the referendum on Scottish independence and eventually total autonomy: to relocate the economic centre to Holyrood, away from Westminster. Scotland has access to vast reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea, enough to last for the next two decades with the right attitude. Factor in a Tory-led coalition in Britain and suddenly the “yes” vote looks no longer like a crazy option.

That’s all on the Scottish side. What about the English one? By that I do not mean politicians, broadcasters and Sunday columnists. I mean the average Joe and Joanna Public. Based on my totally unofficial, mini-survey of half a dozen (English) people to whom I have spoken on the subject, I have found that they don’t give a damn about what happens in September in Scotland. Most shrugged the shoulders, whilst others just said: ”It’s up to them, isn’t it? If they want out, it’s their problem." Hardly water-cooler stuff.

There is a problem with that theory, though. As I mentioned before I never thought that Scottish nationalism might one day lead (probably) to independence. If that is possible in a country that is so far away, albeit with its own flag and identity, what could happen closer to home in England? Suddenly Cornwall doesn’t look safe anymore. After all they have their own Cornish flag and have their own language. They would still have to sort out the number of townies (especially from the Southeast, ironically!) coming in, buying property and either using it as holiday accommodation or letting it out and using it as a second source of income. What about Tyneside? Would we perhaps be looking at a future Geordie Republic of the Northeast? Cumbria, too, has much more in common with Scotland than with England and it is closer to the former. How about Cumbria coming under the aegis of Scotland?

Ultimately, the whole Scottish independence issue is a gamble. The “no” camp is relying on a familiar, but uninspiring choice (especially with Cameron still at No. 10), whilst Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and first minister of Scotland offers a leap of faith into the future for those who want to vote "yes" in September. The only problem is that that future is uncertain. Which way would you go?

© 2014

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Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 12th March at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. As someone from the north of Englsnd living in Scotland I can see that the north of England would have the most to lose if Scotland were to become independent. So I'm voting no. Though of course being a creative person in Scotland one is brow beaten by other creative people with loud voices who say that the only way for a creative to vote is Yes. Ironically I would be more likely to vote yes if what was on offer were more radical. Wny bother becoming independent only to join a Sterling currency union with the UK (which would be economically worse for us than the current situation); to keep the Queen as Head of State and to try to make everything just like it currently is, except better and with fewer Tories? I think on the day we'll opt to stay with the devil we know, I would be surprised and saddened if we get independence.

    Cornwall actually not only has a dialect but its own language, extinct now but people are trying to revive it, it's related to Welsh and Breton.

  2. Personally, I would vote no.
    I really wouldn't like to see the UK become more fragmented than it already is.
    As you say, the Welsh and Cornish have their own languages and individual identities...and the Irish have been at loggerheads with the rest of the UK for well over a century.
    I think the more divided we become, the less chance we would have of warding off any possible future invasion attempts.
    So come on guys...we all need to pull together, to respect and accept each other's heritage, and to live and let live.
    We NEED each other!

  3. Lastima lo que vive el mundo en la politica, Ucrania y Venezuela son los casos que he seguido. saludos.

  4. It is already stretched to the brink, so yeah seems kinda pointless to do it at this point in time. Devil you know is better than the one you don't

  5. It seems to me you are entering the realm of apples and oranges to discuss circumstances in Great Britain and the Ukraine in the same breath, CiL. Even if there is a ballot measure in the Crimea, I do not believe it could be labeled legal and legitimate when preceded by an invasion from another country. And, I am not in a position to offer knowledgeable thoughts about independence movements in specific political entities making up British affiliates.

    But (the almighty "but") .... I generally am for separatism and the least amount of centralized government possible. In terms of the U.S., I am a states' rights advocate and, some years ago, actually was active in a political and legal attempt to have a portion of one state break away from the state of which it was a part and become a new state. The effort failed. Movements such as this are not unusual in the U.S., but really do not have much of a chance.

    There is a cliché in the U.S.: "All politics is local." I think that says it best and says it all.

  6. Such a difficult decision. And I don't know the ins and outs about either of them well enough to have an informed view point.
    Just the same, I am almost always in favour of independence. And would like to see Australia stand on its own two feet too. Not rejecting, but moving forward...

  7. Many thanks for your comments.

    I was in Scotland more than ten years ago for about a week, in Oban, the western coast. Its landscape was beautiful and breath-taking and as far as I could see the locals were very friendly to my wife and our family, my brother-in-law (born in England and a recent addition to that area) and his girlfriend( also born south of the border). I saw fierce nationalism but no urge to become independent. Hence my surprise.

    By the way I meant language in the case of Cornwall, not a dialect. I will amend that in the post.

    Have a great week.

    Greetings from London.

  8. I have to say that I think the British government has mishandled this whole thing most spectacularly. After all, if you want to persuade people to do what you want, is it really the best idea to threaten them with so many things that probably aren't entirely true? And I can't believe how so much of the time they haven't even bothered to come to Scotland itself but yell all their thoughts at the Scots from England.

    It can't help that they are such true blue tories about everything when the Scots hate Tories. If I were Scottish I might find myself thinking, "I can't stand any more of this lot" and vote "Yes" just so I didn't have to think about them any more.

    But, actually, I think it probably would be a bad thing them to opt out, however tempting. Not a disaster, just a gradual struggling slide, and I suppose they'd survive somehow.

    If they go, I think England will suffer politically. Scotland provides a useful left wing counterbalance and stops the right wingers being able to hunker down for the long term. I have this nightmare that we will never be able to get rid of Iain Duncan Smith and his chums if the Scots devolve.

  9. oh i dunno...if i knew both sides completely i could make an educated decision....texas has threatened to secede from the states several times...even had petitions on the white house site....there are def losses on both sides...

  10. And California wants to split into five states. I don't know either.

  11. I would vote No. Current climate isn't good for change at this time. In any case, I don't want the UK split up.

  12. I find its sad but true that “better the devil you know” attitude prevails quite often.

  13. Politically, I think it would be sad to see Scotland go - as an Englishwoman we need their Labour voters to balance the pervading conservatism in the south.

    I also wish we could find a way to celebrate cultural differences while still maintaining political togetherness - whether that is here in the UK, in Spain, in the Ukraine ... we all need each other, not just for trade but to cement our general humanity. Within that togetherness, surely there is plenty of space for dancing to our own tunes?

  14. As usual, you present a thoughtful analysis with a balanced point of view.

  15. Autonomy almost always sounds like the best and most glorious, honorable option, but in reality, it isn't always a wise choice financially. It takes more than a noble sense of patriotism to run a country.

  16. Hmmmm, food for thought for sure. It will be interesting to see how the vote goes. I don't think Ukraine will have that luxury tho.

  17. A good analysis. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  18. i learned a bit about the spanish catalan history when i was in barcelona... i def. support independence...otherwise a united country is stronger and has bigger impact...

  19. Love the new header photo! This is a very interesting topic. I'm also all for independence and retaining a strong cultural legacy. We have a similar situation here in the U.S. with Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory but doesn't have any of the rights of official states. There is a very strong Puerto Rican independence movement,with many activists here in Chicago. Of course, it always comes down to economic and political power and it is hard to give those up in favor of independence and an uncertain future.

  20. This is a level of politics that is beyond me--I've not followed it closely enough--I think the Scots would have a great deal of trouble with a currency-it seems difficult to think of them losing the pound, but I don't think it works very well to share a currency without some political union--a lot of the trouble with the EU it seems to me. (Texas--which Brian mentioned--seems to me to be just idiotic.) We have many states that complain about federalism but that get much more money from the Feds than they contribute in tax revenue--it kind of drives you crazy. (I think they get upset because they do not like environmental conservation laws. They are very short sighted.) Thanks. k.

  21. You draw an interesting parallel between Scotland and the Ukraine. I love the way the UK flag incorporates the flags of its entities and hope that bodes well for the union staying intact. I'm less than impressed with how Russia is dealing with the Ukraine.

  22. Such wide range of opinions here. Thanks a lot for that. I'm following the referendum in Scotland a bit closer now and like some of you I am torn. I can see the Scots' point about freeing themselves from Whitehall and making their own decisions. For instance an independent Scotland would not renew Trident, the nuclear arms programme. On the other hand, an independent Scotland will face a tough situation with so much opposition.

    Thank you very much.

    Greetings from London.



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