Nationalism and the Referendum on Scottish Independence

Backbencher February 13, 2014 2
Nationalism and the Referendum on Scottish Independence

The countdown clock on www.YesScotland.net has just informed me that there are precisely 218 days, 6 hours and 29 minutes until the referendum on Scottish independence. The most recent polls taken collectively suggest that the “yes” vote on the referendum is at around 39%, indicating a three point increase from the last group of polls taken in the early autumn. Up until now, the general consensus has been that Scotland will not achieve independence this summer; however, few have had the confidence to say that this is a certainty, and these latest polling results will only increase this sense of doubt.

A few days ago, David Cameron gave a speech in East London regarding the referendum, claiming that we have “seven months to save the most extraordinary country in history.” The speech was emotionally centred, partially intended as a reminder of what it is to be British and what we all “stand to lose.” Cameron has been criticised by the opposing “yes” campaigners for choosing to deliver his speech in London rather than Scotland, as well as for his continual refusal to go up against Alex Salmond in live debate. This article is intended as a brief remark on the value of Cameron’s speech and a discussion on whether the arguments of the “yes” campaign are varied and convincing enough to justify Scotland’s potential independence.

David Cameron gave his speech in Stratford’s Olympic stadium, plainly trying to evoke the ethos of 2012’s Olympic Games in order to generate a sense of national pride across the entire United Kingdom. What I previously found appealing about the “no” campaign was that it tended to focus more on the practical side of matters, calling for more credible plans regarding the future of Scotland as an independent state. Granted, the “yes” campaign has provided many answers for how Scotland will prosper when independent, but they are underemphasised and often unconvincing. Cameron may have refused to debate Salmond, but in turn Salmond has not met Alastair Darling’s challenge, which begs the question of whether Salmond is looking for a genuine debate or a simple diversionary tactic.

It is clear that one of the main driving forces behind the campaign for Scottish independence is national pride, an appeal to a demographic that stereotypically dislikes the English and is insulted by the fact that they are ruled by a government based in Westminster. The question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is one that is designed to tug at the heartstrings of Scottish patriots – a Scottish individual who doesn’t necessarily feel that he is being governed badly might still answer yes to this question as a matter of principle. However, such an important socio-political decision should clearly not be made just because it is justified by a strong and irrational emotional feeling; I have always thought this in the past with matters like immigration and foreign policy, and I see no difference here. This is why Cameron’s speech irritated me; I understand the political thinking involved, that if the “yes” campaign has gained votes with emotional rhetoric then they might be taken back in the same manner. But Britain’s sporting success is not practically relevant to this debate, and treating it as a politically viable justification for the union of the UK is a cheap and lazy tactic that undermines the seriousness of the situation.

There is one argument in favour of Scottish independence that I did originally find quite compelling. A few days ago, www.YesScotland.net featured this quotation on their homepage:
“I am a member of the Labour party which is against Scottish Independence, but I will be voting yes on September. My decision is not because I have strong nationalistic feelings, but because I believe in democracy and equality” – Bob Holman, ex-professor and anti-poverty campaigner.

This serves as a summary of what is the most prominent argument in favour of independence on the entire website: Scotland is not being fairly democratically represented, as the majority of the population did not vote for the mainly Conservative government that they are currently controlled by – Scottish independence would mean a Scottish government for Scotland.

However, I have considered this point and I still see it as an argument that is essentially motivated by nationalism. In 2010, very little of the North East of England voted Conservative, yet I doubt many “yes” campaigners would see the North East as worthy of independence also. Even London saw a clear Labour majority, but obviously nobody would suggest that London should be entitled to an independent government. All of these are cases of areas with large populations where the majority of the people are currently represented by a government which they did not vote for. The main distinguishing factor that sets Scotland apart is a strong sense of national pride and identity.

This argument does have its flaws and is perhaps overly pedantic, so I will move on to my final point. The Labour party is ahead at the moment in the polls for the 2015 General Election, and I personally do not want another government with a Conservative majority. If Scotland were to achieve independence this summer, it would mean a huge dent in the number of potential Labour votes in 2015. I deeply resent the fact that I and other left-wing oriented individuals in the UK could potentially be abandoned in this fashion, just because we are not Scottish. I value solidarity between people with similar political views far more than the solidarity of people who reside on one side of an arbitrarily placed national border.

I am aware that there is far more to be said on this topic, but from what I know, I do not think that there is much variety to the arguments in favour of Scottish independence, and I do think that these arguments are mainly founded upon, or based around, Scottish national pride and little else.

Jeremy Coward

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  • Daniel Jackson

    “I doubt many “yes” campaigners would see the North East as worthy of independence also.”

    The North East has never been considered a nation in its own right. Scotland once was.

    “…but obviously nobody would suggest that London should be entitled to an independent government”

    Many people want just that, including Allister Heath, the editor of City A.M.

    • Jeremy

      As I said, that particular argument was flawed; I was just trying to make the point that the desire for Scotland to be represented by its own government seems to be motivated more so by national feeling than by any practical political reasons.

      I wasn’t aware that a lot of people genuinely want London to have its own independent government though, it’s an interesting idea.

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