Home Features Columnists Things you should probably have an opinion on: Scotland

Things you should probably have an opinion on: Scotland

Image credits: Rev Stan
Image credits: Rev Stan

With 2013 coming to a close and 2014 potentially bringing Scottish independence from the United Kingdom upon us, Online Columnist Fran Lowe says that this is the next thing she thinks we should have an opinion on…

Personally, I don’t really know anything about the upcoming referendum for Scottish independence. While wasting time online, I stumbled across information to teach me otherwise.

At that moment, my only opinion on Scotland is formed on how terrible the Union Jack would look without the Scottish flag. I decided the time was ripe to research further.

The Scottish referendum of independence is set for 18 September 2014. Now that it’s less than a year away, things are really starting to heat up. I suppose the first obvious question is this: why do some Scottish people want to leave the United Kingdom?

According to the website of the Scottish National Party, “independence means that Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands”. A lot of their grief is about how unfair it is that what happens in Scotland is decided hundreds of miles away in Westminster, by people who don’t really understand what Scotland is all about.

However, some powers have already been devolved to Scottish Parliament: in 1998, a certain number of matters were handed over to the newly created parliament so that they could be dealt with a little closer to home. These include things like education (Scottish students don’t pay tuition fees), environmental policies, sport, the arts and culture (remember the ‘Brilliant Moments’ advertisements for visiting Scotland in 2014). Meanwhile, things that have a UK-wide affect are still decided in London – such as the benefits system, immigration, and foreign policy and defence. What the Scottish National Party wants is to take all of these issues, break free from the UK government, and deal with everything themselves. That is, to become their own country in their own right.

So why shouldn’t they? It does all seem a little imperial and old fashioned of the UK to try and have control over Scotland, when it is partially part of the same country, and partially not. Scotland going independent could just be considered to be one of the last bits of the breaking up of the British Empire.

Well, Scotland does also have a lot to gain if it votes “No” next September and stays in the UK. The Better Together campaign argues that there is a brighter, safer and stronger future for Scotland if it remains part of the UK, rather than going it alone as a vulnerable new nation. They claim on their website that Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, is ‘putting his obsession with independence ahead of Scotland’s interests’, implying perhaps that Salmond is really just power-hungry, and wants to rule a country in his own right instead of always being answerable to the UK government.

Holyrood - the new rival for Westminster?  Image credits: ajnabeee
Holyrood – the new rival for Westminster?
Image credits: ajnabeee

They go on to say that it is perfectly possible to be a patriotic Scot while still being a part of the UK as a whole. This is certainly true to see in daily life: it’s very rare to come across a Scot who isn’t proud of their heritage, and likes to distinguish themselves from the English. As this has been working well for the last 300 years, with Scotland being a separate nation but still coming under UK control, Better Together see no reason to change that, especially with devolution at its current stage.

At present, Scottish Parliament have some powers, but still the ability to pool resources with the rest of the UK, share risks, and reap rewards together. The Better Together website states that “being part of the United Kingdom helps sustain the things that make us special in Scotland”. It’s very easy to read between the lines here, and pick up on the suggestion that the No campaign don’t want Scotland to leave the UK because it would lose out on all the great benefits of being attached to other countries. It could be argued that Scotland is something of a drain on the resources of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

With that in mind, we have to ask whether or not the UK would be better off without having to support Scotland. It does seem that life for the Scottish is pretty peachy compared to life down here in the south of England: I’ve already mentioned that they don’t pay university tuition fees; they also get away without that most irritating of charges, the prescription fee (that said, they do have longer waiting lists for treatment of illnesses like cancer, so personally I’d rather pay my £7 when I need some penicillin and know that I’m more likely to get help when I need it should the worst happen). Is the rest of the UK paying for Scottish people to have an easy life?

Indeed, according to a British Social Attitudes Survey, slightly more English people back Scottish independence than actual Scottish people (25 per cent as opposed to 23). Apparently, England as a nation is decreasingly ‘sympathetic’ to Scotland’s ‘demands’, and 44 per cent of English people believe that Scotland gets more than its fair share of spending money. That’s probably the impression we all get down here from watching Scotland apparently getting all the benefits, while the rest of the UK is roughing it with prescription charges and ever more job cuts. Perhaps it would just be simpler if we could get rid of them, and make them start paying their own way in the world. Scotland could be compared to a 30-year-old that still lives with his mother: maybe it’s time it went its own way and started funding its own decadent lifestyle.

However, Scotland isn’t all bad. Scotland provides the rest of the UK with things that we just don’t have: Andy Murray, Irn Bru, and, most importantly economically, oil. This is probably what Better Together meant when they used the term “pooling our resources”. North Sea oil is hugely important to the British economy, and if we suddenly had to start paying import duties on it, or shipping more and more from oil fields in the Middle East, the price of fuel would rise even further than it already has done. It’s very easy for the rest of the UK, while moaning about how easy Scotland apparently has it, to forget about everything they bring to the party.

But in reality, the views of the rest of us don’t matter. It’s only Scottish people that get to vote in this referendum next year, and if the current polls are anything to go by, Alex Salmond has a lot more people to convince yet that an independent Scotland is a good idea. It’s certainly nice and patriotic, but the truth is, everyone involved would probably just come out weaker.

All this worrying about independence made me start thinking: what if the Welsh were to turn around next week and demand their own?

Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister Image credits: communitylandscotland
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister
Image credits: communitylandscotland

Welsh independence is, however, very unlikely. Welsh supporters of independence have remained at around 10 per cent of the population for a while now, and there is no real reason for that to change. What’s more, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has revealed his support for the Scottish No campaign, stating that “a strong Scotland in a strong UK is a positive choice”. It seems then that he thinks devolution in its current state is working nicely, and there’s no need for Scotland to play the revolutionary and jump from the big UK family. There’s also no sign of him being about to do a Salmond and start demanding more and more power from Westminster.

Although it is highly likely that Scotland will remain part of the UK, the simple fact that this referendum is happening at all has been enough to really get people talking about the powers of Westminster over the rest of the UK. It’s great to see this being discussed and reconsidered: there was already a revision made in 2012 to the Scotland Act of 1998, which gave Scottish Parliament a few more powers. It wouldn’t be right if Scotland were to continue being ruled by MPs from over the UK without the matter coming up for debate every now and then.

Personally, I’d love for Scotland to stay a part of the UK. Apart from how truly awful the Union Jack would look without the blue bits, and that I don’t want to have to take my passport when I go to the Edinburgh Festival, it does seem that we really are all better together. The UK is already somewhat struggling in the global markets; breaking us up would surely just make all involved parties so much weaker. Scotland would be like a child on its first day at school, being bullied by the big boys like the United States and China. It’s great that these things are being argued, but it seems that the only people who really want Scottish independence are the Scottish National Party, perhaps because of the burst of power that would come with it. Perhaps right now just isn’t Scotland’s moment.

Fran Lowe, Online Features Columnist

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