Scottish Referendum: A Contemporary Culloden?

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Imagine if you can for a moment, a place where the tennis player Andy Murray is called “Scottish” when he wins a tournament, not just when he loses. A place where shopkeepers turn away English bank notes purely on the basis that they “look a bit funny“. Imagine a place where the mere mention of the year “1966” during televised football coverage is punishable by death.

Is this the new utopia that awaits the people of Scotland if they embrace independence? Probably not, but what can be expected if Scotland decides to break from the United Kingdom? This is a question that will be at the forefront of the minds of Scotland’s electorate over the next two years after “The Edinburgh Agreement” was signed at the Scottish Parliament in October.

The agreement between the Scottish National Party and the British coalition government ensures that a referendum on Scottish independence will take place towards the end of 2014. I have been slightly disingenuous and more than a little mischievous by taking the title for this piece from a 18th century battle between the English and the Scots. This is not a battle. It’s sensible, inevitable political discourse. If Scotland does eventually become independent from the UK, I, as an Englishman living in Scotland am not going to have to become an overweight Snake Plissken and re-enact “Escape From New York” in North East Fife. Hadrian’s Wall is not going to become the 21st century’s Berlin Wall and David Hasselhoff is not going to have play a benefit gig there.

A future Union Jack post Scottish independence? (Image Wikimedia)

The arguments for and against independence are wide ranging in scope, taking in everything from cultural renaissance to nuclear warheads. However, as with most things, the main focus during the campaign will be money. Unfortunately as we have learnt to our detriment, financial forecasting is similar to panning for gold in treacle while wearing a straight jacket.

Will Scotland claim the lion’s share of the North Sea oil reserves? What happens when these reserves run out? Scotland will most likely keep pounds sterling as its currency. Will this devalue the currency for the remaining members of Great Britain? If another meltdown happened as in 2008 would Scotland be able to bail out its banks? Or would they just go down the route of Iceland and let them collapse? Show me someone with definite guarantees regarding the above, and I’ll show you a liar. While we should never allow the fear of uncertainty to impede political and cultural change, we should also treat those who use speculation as fact with an immense degree of scepticism.

As I write this, an independent Scottish membership to the E.U is still not officially guaranteed, while concerns have been raised that the Scottish people will be asked to vote on independence without knowing how much of UK’s debt they will be saddled with – the risk being that rather than entertaining uncertainty we are indulging in willful ignorance.

While Scotland’s population may not possess all the relevant information when casting their vote, those who will be allowed to vote for the first time could have a bigger impact on the UK electoral system than simply voting yes or no to independence. In order for the agreement to take place, concessions from both sides had to be made. The SNP had to agree to one simple Yes/No to independence question, while the coalition government agreed to the SNP’s request to allow the voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16 for the referendum.

The stipulation that people from the age of 16 should be allowed to cast their vote in the referendum could well prove to be a political masterstroke. When I was 16, I was rather preoccupied. Preoccupied mainly with trying to sneak into pubs and being excruciatingly inept with members of the opposite sex. These two hobbies kept me so busy in fact that my political savvy was limited to the knowledge that Margaret Thatcher was not very popular in the north of England, and Dennis Healey had crazy eyebrows. Because of this, I wouldn’t have trusted my 16-year-old self to make a political decision that wasn’t based on my latest infatuation’s favourite colour or whether one of the candidates had a strange voice or bizarre facial hair.

Image by Martiann via Flickr

This is going to sound like a sweeping generalisation (mainly because it is) but I would hazard a guess that the majority of 16-year-olds nowadays aren’t losing too much sleep over a particular political party’s manifesto. My views on allowing 16-year-olds to vote are clouded by personal experience and there are plenty of people of that age group who are politically active and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to social issues. My main problem with allowing 16 year olds to vote is how can we trust people to make a decision on our collective future while not trusting them (with regard to alcohol, nicotine, and their sex life) to make measured decisions on their own future and lifestyle?

If political know-how isn’t necessarily prevalent in 16-year-olds, there are a few things that are perhaps more common. In the awkward approach to adulthood one thing myself and my peers shared was a need for belonging, and a rebellious streak towards figures of authority. If the SNP paints itself as the plucky underdog up against the stuffed shirts from London, it could tick both those boxes, which might turn out to be an extremely shrewd move . While the ‘thrill of the new’ should initially counter voter apathy among that age group, there will be plenty of time for apathy towards the political hegemony to develop.

Whereas 16- and 17-year-olds may be inclined to vote for independence, what about the rest of the population? The SNP may hold a majority in the Scottish parliament but it is worth noting that they are not a one issue party. To their credit they have become a credible alternative to people who feel let down by the Labour party after their time in power and have a serious dislike for the Conservative Party. So just because they were voted into power this does not mean that Scotland are all set to give independence the go-ahead. In fact, the most recent polls show the majority of Scots to be against independence.

I am English. I live in Scotland. My wife is Scottish. My first child was born in England, my second in Scotland. The Union has provided me with the greatest gifts in life, and as I have Scottish heritage I can thank the Union of Scotland and England for my existence. Despite all this, if the pro independence lobbies could prove to me that by voting for independence I could ensure a safer, brighter future for my children rather than it just being elaborate patriotic posturing I would vote yes. They have 2 years to change my mind.