I don’t write this to sway anyone. I don’t write this to justify my opinion over anyone else’s. Newspaper articles, Facebook feeds, and face-to-face discussions have whipped up a storm of conflicting ideas for weeks and months now and, before I get swept under, I need to write this for myself. So that, in years to come, I can recall exactly why I was against Scottish independence. Feel free to share this. Or feel free to give me dogs’ abuse below.
It’s important to state that I can’t vote on September 18th. I haven’t lived in Scotland for nearly six years. I don’t know if I ever will move back. My accent, I’ve been informed more than once, is fading. Here in Hong Kong, the referendum is a minor news item, boxed away in the ‘World’ section of the paper. But I head to British press websites every day. I also spent August back in the United Kingdom (for how much longer will I be able to say that?) The arguments that I will contest below are the three main reasons I’ve heard, or read, people giving for a ‘Yes’ vote.
Scotland is a democracy. We are not ruled by a government we didn’t elect… Now, I have never voted Conservative. I doubt I ever will. And yet, neither have I voted SNP. I would never, though, claim that the voting process is undemocratic. “My chosen party got fewer votes than the others.” Well, that’s the game. Is it a 21st Century symptom, this toys-out-the-pram “I didn’t get what I want” attitude? Maybe. Is it grounds to once and for all, irrevocably, alter the political landscape of your country? No. Of course not. I am staggered by the number of people I see citing this as their primary reason for a ‘Yes’ vote. This is not an election. This is not something you can undo in five years time if it doesn’t work. I could not vote for the uncertainty of independence based simply on the failure of one government. Humour me, here: at the other end of the scale, had this referendum come along barely ten years ago, at the peak of the New Labour boom, is there any way it would have succeeded?
I’ve heard even more extreme versions of this argument: those that suggest Scotland is ‘oppressed’ by Westminster (England… Westminster… One and the same to ‘Yes’ campaigners…) Nationalism is rife with terms like ‘shackles’ and ‘chains’. But Scotland has never been occupied; never been conquered. Of course, the occupation/oppression theme suits us Scots’ idea of the scrapping underdog, and it perpetuates the huge chip on our shoulder. But it’s not true. Yes, many UK-wide government policies in the ‘70s and ‘80s adversely affected Scotland. They also affected huge swathes of England (I lived in Durham for three years, where the aftershocks are still being felt and much more keenly). But that’s not oppression. That’s an unpopular policy. If I want to experience real ‘oppression’, a really unpleasant totalitarian government, I can hop on a train thirty miles north. To China. The regime in place there (complete with big restrictions on media and the internet, rampant corruption and no democratic process whatsoever) defines ‘oppression’ a little more sharply. It angers me to see how often this term has been misused in this debate.
An independent Scotland might be a richer country. Or it might not… If I’m honest, I don’t feel confident entering the ins and outs of the economic argument: oil, trade and the pound… Statistics can be twisted both ways. It’s unlikely that a post-independence Scotland would be the ‘richest country in the world’, and yet equally unlikely that independence would bring about an economic disaster. To leave huge questions hanging over the pound and EU membership seems, to me, very remiss but I don’t want to focus on this. Again, to me, a referendum of this magnitude is about far more than just money (and I’m referring to the Better Together economic scare stories here too). It’s about looking beyond a few years, or decades, of prosperity. It’s about looking back too, through the three centuries of union and the shared history.
Maybe it’s because I studied history for four years – though I don’t at all want to sound more knowledgeable than any other potential voter – that I am inclined to look back. Maybe it’s because, through this study, I’m aware of the role that Scots have played in shaping the modern UK: be it in politics, the economy, religion, literature, science, overseas influence (Hong Kong has a plethora of streets named after places in or people from Scotland)… A role far surpassing our relative size and population. In the same way, the briefest of skims through world history (never mind a degree in the subject) will prove that times of economic hardship, such as the world (not just Scotland!) has suffered this past decade, often equate to a rise in nationalist sentiment. While I don’t in any way want to associate the SNP with fascism, parallels can inevitably be drawn.
Staying with the historical angle for one moment longer, another argument that I’ve seen doing the rounds is that the 1707 Union (the one that specifically gets the SNP’s ire up) was dictated by one man, the Duke of Queensbury, on behalf of the entire Scottish nation. Undemocratic and unfair, the argument goes. And it was. But to apply 21st Century values to an early 18th Century political deal is preposterous. Nobody, anywhere, had the vote in 1707. Would you use an anatomy textbook published in 1707 to operate on somebody today? And to use this as a reason for voting ‘Yes’ in 2014, as some sort of freezing cold revenge, is outrageous.
Voting ‘No’ is anti-Scottish… The big one. Anyone reading with any shred of sense (even those of a ‘Yes’ persuasion) will, surely, see this as drivel. Yet this is the argument, once all the economic fantasies are set aside, that I have seen more than most. “Can you bring yourself” one post crowed “to ever sing ‘Flower of Scotland’ again if you’ve voted no?” The ugly side of nationalism (“the belief in the superiority of one country over another” OED) rearing its head.
Just yesterday, Salmond called ‘Yes’ voters “Team Scotland.” The insinuation is mild but it’s there all the same: ‘No’ voters are against Scotland. What more do I need to add?
Strip away all the history, all the economic arguments and the supposed romance of self-determinism, and this one reason is enough to ensure I could never vote ‘Yes’ in the independence referendum. Could never vote for the Scottish National Party given what, in their small way, they represent and what nationalism has contributed to human history.
Sweeping? Maybe. Misguided? I don’t know. This post is not designed to influence anybody. This is my view, from afar, of the referendum.
Yesterday I watched the news as David Cameron swept north to ‘save the union’. Understandably, predictably, it drew a lot of venom. Yes, he’s a Tory. No, I’ve never voted for him. But I’m so glad that he didn’t start pedalling the same economic scare stories that have seen the Better Together campaign branded as negative. He went straight to the history, and to the fact that so many seem to have forgotten: that this is not like any election in living memory. It means so much more.
If I wake up next Friday to find that I am no longer British, I’ll be heartbroken.