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Scotland Rejects Independence: A Victory for the Rich?

It wasn’t about kilts and bagpipes. It was about economics and political power.

On September 18, 55% of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom. 45% supported the Yes-Scotland initiative, voting in support of a Scottish divorce from England. The division was largely along class lines: the rich voted No to independence, the poor voted Yes.

The voter turnout was about 90% of the population, with many voters weighing in who previously had not taken an interest in electoral politics.

Emotions ran extremely high. After a poll suggested that a slim majority was in favor of the Yes Initiative,  “British politicians, banks and businessmen closed ranks to warn of economic hardship, job losses and investment flight should Scots decide to go it alone.” (Al Jazeera)

The Al Jazeera summary also made the following interesting points:

The independence movement said Scots should be able to choose their own leaders and make their own decisions rather than be ruled from London. Many of those who voted for independence felt that being governed from the Westminster parliament had opened too wide a gap between rich and poor … Defence was also a big question – Britain’s submarine-borne nuclear arsenal, part of NATO’s defences, is based in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde.

After the vote, the Guardian interviewed Scottish ex-patriates in Australia. “I’m devastated,” said Kevin Headley.  “I thought Scotland would reject right-wing politics and the corrupt Westminster system. This is bad for the UK, and it reinforces everything that’s wrong about politics.” However, Professor Gerry Simpson of the Melbourne Law School expressed a less passionate view: “… it would have been such a daring and enormous step, even though they know the sensible thing to do is remain part of the UK. However, independence too is often a disappointment. People expect independence to lead to some sort of solution to deep-seated social, economic and political problems and in reality it is not that simple.”

After the vote, a Guardian editorial opined that promises made by a panicky England must now be kept.

[UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised that] Scotland will now get further taxing and governing powers …. What is crucial, in the Guardian’s view, is that the new plans give greater control to Holyrood in as many areas as practicable while continuing to give the UK government a meaningful role in defending the things that bind the people of these islands together … Too many Conservative politicians are far more interested in the politics of England than in those of Scotland or the UK as a whole. This would be a terrible response to a contest in Scotland which has again exposed the disconnect between the political parties and the people.

In the end, though, we should not kid ourselves. The grievances that animated this campaign were above all material rather than constitutional. The economic model which dominates the lives of Scots is broken. Nationalism offered an escape, but it was one with too many risks. Yet the economic model is still broken and is still at the root of discontents that should unite England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not force them apart.

The referendum was a “once in a generation” opportunity. Whether the movement will continue, remains to be seen. The movement’s website hasn’t yet posted an update.

This independence movement made some other countries nervous, notably Spain, whose Basque and Catalan minorities have been making noises about breaking free. Yes, it’s a can of worms. Quebec. Kurdistan. Eastern Ukraine. The North Caucasus.  How many more minority groups are angry that an established government is giving them short shrift, politically and economically? A recent excellent Joe Shikspack analysis about Iraq on FDL noted that the U.S. and European powers seem intent on retaining current, historic (read colonial) boundaries at all costs (bloodshed included). The current Atlas is sacred. One wonders why.

This post is dedicated to the memory of efbeall. Last year he alerted us to this burgeoning Scottish independence movement, and he and I took a brief break from the Marathon bombing discussions to talk about Scottish culture. He noted his Scottish ancestry and described the Scots as “gadflies.” Gadfly being defined as “a person who annoys others or rouses them from complacency.” Yes! (I too am proud to count Scots among my ancestors.)

 

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