To those outside the UK, the Scottish independence debate can seem strange. Strange because to many outsiders our country seems at ease with its unity, and although Scottish identity is certainly distinct from that of British or English identity, the distinctions are not so marked as to leave it obvious that Scots might desire to part from the Union.
Whether this shows the essential fallacy of Scottish nationalism or a misapprehension of the Scottish people’s wishes will become clear upon the referendum in 2014. Nonetheless, the non-Scottish perspective can add context to the independence debate.
Sometimes the political culture of Scotland is seen to be out of kilter with much of the UK. While this is true, it is also true for large parts of northern England. Furthermore, the lack of Conservatives north of the border is a relatively recent development. Last century, Scots were voting for Harold Macmillan’s Tories pretty much with the grain of the rest of the country.
The separatism and antagonism that has often characterised the relationship between Scotland and England is not necessarily as unique to our union as we might think. German unification brought together states that had been allied to different sides in war. During the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, Bavaria allied itself to Austria yet joined the German Empire just five years later.
The issue of independence provokes ferocious debate within the UK. For instance, Scottish nationalism is anathema to many Unionists from Northern Ireland. Former Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, argues that Scots have a dual identity which combines their passion for Scotland and their support for the United Kingdom as a whole. According to Trimble, the SNP, in seeking independence, are “doing violence” to the British aspect of Scottish identity. A Scotland outside of the UK is a Scotland with diminished standing on the world stage. As part of Britain, Scotland plays a role in the G8, G20 and European Union. Independence would have international implications far beyond economic or legal concerns domestically.
Culturally, Scotland seems less distinct than, say, Catalonia is to the rest of Spain, where separatists can point to the wide use of a different language. This is not to say that there aren’t times in British life when Scotland feels very different. Just contrast the lack of jubilee celebrations in Scotland with the enthusiasm of those in England where applications for street parties ran into the thousands.
Despite the resentment that many Scots feel towards Westminster, there remains a formidable sense of belonging to the United Kingdom. It is unclear that the appeal of SNP rhetoric will be enough for Scots when the issue is put to the country in 2014.
Words: Joe Lee