Independence is a powerful thing, both in practice and as a narrative. It conjures pictures of a bearded man with a painted blue face, of rousing speeches and a sense of destiny and self-determination.
Given these facts, it’s hard to argue against it; it’s hard to say that Scotland should remain in a ‘Union’ that has, in recent decades, ignored, attacked and overruled in favour of the English and more particularly, in favour of London.
What if there was a vision of the UK where Scotland can revive its sense of destiny and self-assurance? What if this could be done while still benefitting from a Union that has historically empowered Scotland and helped to put Scots on the world stage? What I’m advocating is Scottish Interdependence.
Scotland’s history is long and proud, having roots as far back as the 2nd century AD when Roman Emperor Hadrian decided he’d rather build a wall and call it the end of the civilised world than bother trying to deal with the Celts. Over the following two hundred years, the locals of that area would continue to make themselves known with their raiding and between 343 AD and the 360s, Rome had to send two armies to try and maintain order in the Northern reaches of their empire. Fast forward another century and the Romans had left Britain and the Britons to fend for themselves against the Picts and now Scots – something they struggled to do since they had to invite Saxons to fight for them, a mistake they would later regret.
For much of the following centuries, the relationship between what is now Scotland and England is largely defined by conflict and bloodshed, whether this was between the King of Dal Riata Aedan fighting Aethelfrith the King of Northumbria in 603 AD or Katherine of Aragon facing down King James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
Nonetheless, after nearly 1600 years of fighting between the Pictish North of Britain and the Saxon South, it was in 1707 that the Act of Union was signed, merging the Kingdom of Scotland with the Kingdom of England to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows; this is the UK after all so we don’t get much of either. When the news reached Edinburgh that the deal was done and the Act signed into existence, the bells of St Giles’ Cathedral played ‘Why Am I So Sad, On This My Wedding Day’ as a national lament of the Treaty.
Scotland’s history and traditions are tangibly and discernibly different to those of its English neighbours. As you drive along the M6 and cross into Gretna Green, you cannot mistake yourself for being in the same country which is why it rankled when an American friend of mine was shocked to find out that Gordon Ramsey was Scottish.
‘I thought he was from England?’ she said in abject confusion.
‘No, he’s from Scotland, born and raised’ I replied.
‘But isn’t he British?’ she answered, still uncertain
‘Aye, and Scotland is part of Britain’ I answered through gritted teeth.
Comments about the American education system aside, given Scotland’s rich and unique history, it’s easy to see how aggravating it is when Scotland is seen by much of the world as a quirky, strange-accented appendage of England. When the option of self-determination and recognition is but a vote away, why not take it?
In the three centuries since the Act of Union, the landmass of Britain went from being a rainy, muddy island in the North Atlantic known for wool to ruling the largest Empire the world has ever seen. To be sure, its sins were repugnant, but its achievements are nothing short of epic. And it was Scotland that helped to make it possible.
While in the words of one Scottish historian, ‘the British Isles are often made to feel like a place where importance and significance dwindle the further north you travel’, it was Scottish shipbuilders in the Clyde that connected the world with ships like RMS Queen Elizabeth and defended the Allies with HMS Hood. It was Scottish academics like Adam Smith and David Hume that forwarded Science and modern theories of Economics still taught in classrooms and lecture theatres today. It was the Scottish poet Robert Burns that gives people a reason to drink during Dry January in places as far flung as the Caledonia Society in Hawaii and the Abu Dhabi St Andrew’s Society. When I walked the battle fields in France, it was memorials to the Tyneside Scottish regiment that I was looking at.
Plans of Mice and Men
SNP leaders have done a great job in recent years of drawing on this heritage and having their voices heard. It’s important to also point out that Westminster doesn’t have much incentive to listen to Scotland given that it only has 59 MPs compared with 533 in England meaning recent ‘leadership’ has prioritised other issues and areas of the UK over Scotland.
Nonetheless, the SNPs not-so-carefully-laid plans for Scotland do not instil confidence. In 2014, their arguments for a successful Scotland largely came down to oil and fishing yet between a pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a growing importance in renewable technology, it is clear that an Independent Scotland would not be able to rely on what would surely be a major industry. Moreover, claims of re-joining the EU are easier said than done given that in the last decade and a half, the EU has had to deal with the ’08 financial crash, the Eurozone crisis, the Migrant crisis, populist attacks, Brexit, COVID-19 and now Russian aggression. The EU is clearly not ready to take on the challenge of rebuilding Scotland for the foreseeable future.
So, what should be done?
The Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote that ‘If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable’. What Scotland, and indeed Britain, needs first and foremost is a vision for itself. It’s not for me to lay out what that means in so small a place as this but suffice to say that conversations ought to be encouraged on issues like foreign policy, green issues, economic revival, immigration and emigration with all levels of society. Not only should they be encouraged but they should be heeded. There was an article in the Financial Times about the way Finland has structured its politics and society so that there are constant discussions between politicians and the people as well as between businesses and industries. This allows it to be adaptable and responsive to changing times. Given that Scotland has a population only 80,000 smaller than Finland’s, this model gives hope for a country the size of Scotland.
Further devolution could also be a solution. This doesn’t mean giving more powers to Holyrood but instead could mean almost federalising Scotland into the Highlands and Lowlands to ensure that what’s happening in regards to Scotland being relegated doesn’t end up also happening within Scotland between the agricultural and rural North and the more industrialised and commercial South. This shouldn’t mean that lower-income areas of Scotland are left to fend for themselves, simply that that decisions that affect day-to-day life are made by those with skin in the game.
As someone who is half-Scottish and half-English, it would be a painful moment if Scotland were to leave the UK. Yet it would be even more painful were it to stay and see itself reduced to a helpless appendage reliant on Westminster’s goodwill. Scotland has demonstrated time and again that it has a place on the world stage but it’s a place hand-in-hand with England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of a union. With a history of self-determination built on diligent hard-work, Scotland can win back its sense of destiny and self-assurance but it needs the right civic ethos, the right leaders and a more even-footed relationship with London to make it work. Afterall, a union requires both U and I.