The Scottish dimension

It is still too early to say whether the people of Scotland will, in the referendum promised for the term of the current Holyrood parliament, vote for independence. It will of course depend on exactly what question they will be asked. But right now the signs are that the vote will be in favour: the news today is that, for the first time, an opinion poll has found a decisive shift in favour of an independent Scotland, and moreover there is now a slim majority in the UK as a whole for this proposition.

As a newer resident of Scotland, I am still learning about the country and its history and its ethos and its traditions. But I believe I have come to understand what for me are some important considerations. First, the noises from some sources south of the Border are missing the point. There is a lot of chatter from some political and media voices in England about the economics of separation, and the ability or otherwise of Scotland to manage its own affairs. This is annoying many in Scotland not least because of its patronising nature, but also because the key driver of Scotland’s search for a new status is not really about economics, but about values. The Scottish sense of community, whether it is better or worse than that in England, is at any rate different. This has become particularly clear to me in the debate about tuition fees, which is actually a debate here about a higher education ethos at least as much as it is one about funding.

Secondly, Scotland has a very different cultural and social identity from England, and there is a growing sense of confidence that the time is right to express this constitutionally.

But thirdly – and maybe crucially – I detect a sense that Scottish independence can be achieved without any hostility towards England. People I knew who lived in Scotland a couple of decades ago found little taste for independence but often quite visible antagonism towards English people. That has mostly gone, and has been replaced by a sense that the two nations can co-exist in a friendly manner but with each controlling their own destiny, to the extent that this is possible in today’s globalised world. The fear of independence has gone, and with it the sense of insecurity that may have accompanied it.

Of course independence should not be assessed sentimentally, it has to be evaluated in a sober way. But the backdrop to this assessment has changed. And that makes it a very interesting time to be in Scotland.


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4 Comments on “The Scottish dimension”

  1. anna notaro Says:

    The current state of the Union could be compared to that of a mature couple who after years of marriage, with its ups and downs, are considering the unthinkable, divorce, at least one of two is, and in a manner that has never been more serious before. Individual and national histories are always difficult to summarise, the risk is losing the nuances, the narrative subleties that make sense of the whole story. The famous Scottish Divided Self, which as Al Kennedy put it ‘involves a swing between riotously emphatic tartan cliches and real self-doubt.’ (, not to speak of the religious Protestand/Cathoiic divide, has always been a hindrance to any realistic plans of independence and, I would add, has been shrewdly exploited by the English political establishment in the classic ‘divide et impera’ tradition. As a relatively new resident of Scoland as well (the outsider perspective is, I believe, of some value in this context) I also detect a change in what you define ‘the backdrop’ for assessing the independence question. As an expat I might be particularly sensitive to this issue, however what I found distinctive about the Scottish independence discourse, is its (almost complete) lack of chauvinism, this is especially noticeable in comparison to the many independentist aspirations which currently characterize the global political scene. The other aspect which I would emphasize is the issue of education (and related policies)which, in my mind, is bound to become the real catalyst to confirm and consolidate the sense of Scottish social/cultural identity. One could even argue that the changes in tuition fees brought about in England have, inadvertently, helped the Scottish independence cause by highlighting the difference in core ‘values’ berween the two countries.
    The Union has been for too long a ‘marriange of convenience’, however no matter how relevant economic factors might be, they cannot be the only reason for the status quo to persist. Sentimentalism aside, for a marriage to last all aspects have to meet reasonable levels of mutual satisfaction.

    • Can I ask why you think that the Catholic/Protestant divide would be a barrier to independence?

      A very interesting post though – well done.

      • anna notaro Says:

        Gregor, the question is not that such a divide constitutes a barrier to independence per se, but it can certainly constitute a further challenge on the path towards it if it causes continuous frictions within the nation’s public debate, managing religious frictions is difficult for any nation, let alone for one like Scotland.

  2. Eddie Says:

    The SNP politicians will be very pleased with this article!

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