April 5, 2020

Scotland and secession

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11 September 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Much is on the line when voters in Scotland cast their ballots next Thursday on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. For months, polls showed the “Yes” movement lagging far behind, but it began to change, slowly at first, then with a burst of momentum for independence that brought British leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all rushing to Scotland to shore up support for unity. Their collective efforts may have had some impact as the latest poll shows unity back in the lead, but emotions are volatile on both sides, and the numbers are too close to give either side comfort. And, by all accounts, these leaders are late to the party.

Most of the analysis centers on what independence would mean for Scottish currency. Would Scots still be able to use the British pound? And what if they joined the European Union as an independent state, would they have to give up the pound? The EU has a rule that all new member nations must adopt the Euro.

These are important and relevant questions, but they don’t go to the heart of the matter, which stems from 300 years of history, and is more cultural than economic. Beginning in 1603 Scottish monarchs ruled in London, but that ended in 1710 when Queen Anne died childless and the crown was offered to George of Hanover. True, he was the great grandson of James I, the first Scottish king of England, but he spoke only German, and his son, George II, defeated the Scots at Culloden in 1746 and imposed a harsh peace. So, needless to say, not all Scots today feel the same affinity for the Queen that the English do, despite the fact that the royals don the kilt and vacation at Balmoral Castle and despite the fact that both Prince William, heir to the throne, and his wife, Kate, graduated from the University of St. Andrews near Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

Memories of Bonnie Prince Charles and the Rising of ’46 still resonate and are as searing in Scotland today as memories of the Civil War are in the American South. Like the South, Scotland suffered a devastating loss, and it wasn’t just on the battlefield. The English tried to dismantle Scottish culture as well. The Act of Proscription banned clan tartans and kilts, and distinctive powerful Scottish symbols. And the Clearances – forced evictions that led to a diaspora when substantial numbers of Scots emigrated to America and elsewhere – continued.

The border between England and Scotland is a small mountain range known as the Cheviot Hills, and it is a metaphor for both how close these two peoples are, and yet how different they are. The Scots are far more liberal than their British counterparts on both economic and social issues, which is why the British Labour Party fears losing a substantial constituency in the event of separation. The Scottish Courts are known throughout the world for their fairness, and the late Senator Arlen Specter made headlines when he introduced and tried to apply a Scottish ruling in the Clinton impeachment trial in the 1990’s.The country has a long and proud history of nurturing the arts, and its educational system is top-rate. Scotland has given the world inventors such as James Watt, renowned actors such as Sean Connery – a staunch advocate of separation – and philosophers such as Adam Smith, whose “The Wealth of Nations” laid the foundation for modern capitalism.

This is a proud, highly educated, and cultured country where the notion of independence has taken hold in some people’s imagination as a way to soar to the next level. Economically, politically and culturally, the Scots are not only different from the English, they are immensely proud of those differences. And even if independence fails, the British government has already promised greater autonomy. So, the Scottish independence movement has the upper hand, win or lose.

What is of note is that the concept of secession that spawned the American Civil War is now viewed in more peaceful political terms as when Czechoslovakia split in two. On the other hand the breakup of Yugoslavia was only achieved through war, a fact that causes consternation among the Walloons and Flemish in Belgium and among Basque separatists in Spain. It is this larger question of self-determination and secession that needs to be addressed lest the bloody American solution of 1861-65 is repeated because not all nations are likely to follow the Czech or British example.

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© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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