Is the UK on track for a Scottish Independence Referendum upset?

Or how England learned to stop worrying and love nationalism.

Back in March 2013 when my friends and I heard that the Scottish and UK governments had agreed to hold a Scottish Independence Referendum they entirely dismissed the possibility of a close vote, never mind victory. I conceded that the ‘Yes’ vote were likely to fail but predicted that it would be by a very narrow margin and I added that the movement towards independence was only going to be stymied with a loss, rather than halted. It is with a smidgen of ‘I told you so’ and a dollop of ‘my goodness’ that I watched the events of the past fortnight in Scotland and expectantly await next fortnight and the vote itself. This sense of excitement and anticipation reminds me of the heady days of 2008 when all eyes looked to America and believed that politics might work, that people power mattered and that ‘Yes we can’ meant change, not more of the same.

However, it is wrong to think that this sea-change has only taken place in Scotland over the past fortnight. If Scotland chooses to pilot its own ship rather than remain aboard the HMS Britannia it will be on a boat built by foolish Westminister policy and propelled by neoliberal economic policy. The main figure responsible for Scottish Independence is not Alex Salmond or the many enthusiastic independence supporters, rather it is Margaret Thatcher. It goes without saying the woman was despised in Scotland, but her economic principles and her style of politics, unapologetic, harsh, ruthless, still guide Westminster. Blair and Brown’s New Labour was little more than the Janus face, feigning a soft image of the self-same politics while offering little practical change. Remarkably British politicians believed that devolution would kill the independence movement, although they did nothing to change the very policies that grew the movement, policies and rhetoric Scottish voters had grown to hate. And they did grow up with this hate, The miners strikes may have been unavoidable due to de-industrialization, but it could have happened with a degree of compassion towards the men and who gave their lives to mining. It could have happened with a little more respect for their communities and heritage. They could have tried for compromise instead of supremacy. The next generation witnessed another great political betrayal the War in Iraq, the lies to the populace about weapons of mass destruction were no softer coming from a fellow Scot in Downing Street and Westminster dragged the UK into a horrific mess, the consequences of which we are still feeling today, and will be for some time.

There are many, many other examples that grate against the sensibilities, poverty rates in Scotland, the oft mentioned Bedroom tax. but it is to the credit of the ‘Yes’ campaign that they have argued from a largely positive platform in diametric opposition to the fear-mongering of ‘Better Together’. Well that’s not entirely fair, the BT campaign have recently decided to change from scare tactics towards a more condescending tone (Eat your cereal! Unbelievable). We’re likely to see a large increase in funding and support from England for the ‘No’ campaign now that the risk of losing is a real possibility, but it may be too little too late and a surge from BT may force more people towards the other side in disgust, especially if they fail to raise the tone of their argument. All these efforts will be in vain, even if they win. because without a move towards social equality, where the most pay their fair share of the burden and the powerful are punished for their misdeeds like the rest of the population rather than protected, Scotland will leave, sooner or later.*

Meanwhile England continues to grope forward out of the darkness of its British identity back to a narrower nationalistic one. This confusion was revealed to me in Jeremy Paxman’s book The English, one of many accounts I’ve read that proved even the English aren’t exactly sure what it means to be British or English or both these days. Unfortunately the English arrive late finding their identity was already colonized by right wingers. Their efforts to forge a new identity will be difficult, particularly if Westminster politicians remains shackled to an ideology that celebrates the idea ‘there is no such thing as society.’ It is quite possible that Scottish society in the following weeks will say ‘Aye, there is’ and show the world you always reap what you sow, eventually.

*As a sidenote the BBC’s opposition to losing a piece of its pie is laughable, two words are enough of a justification to me why the BBC should be broken into its constituent parts, Jimmy Saville.

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About Alan Noonan

Alan Noonan is currently a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress. He received his PhD in history from University College Cork, and has experience as a historical consultant and researcher. He has been awarded several fellowships including the Glucksman Government of Ireland Fellowship at New York University, a Mellon Fellowship at the Library Company in Philadelphia, and a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of American History.
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