Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Scottish Independence Referendum: An American Expatriate Perspective

--> Entry for 21 Sept 2014:

People have been asking me about the current mood of people in Scotland in the wake of the Scottish Referendum vote last Thursday.  Many people in Scotland have been surprised to learn that American citizens living in Scotland could not vote, but nevertheless that was the case. As a result, Diane and I were bystanders to this process, caught in the middle of an historic event but able to do little except share our views and encourage people who could vote to do so.

I think that for most people this was a very personal choice:  It was interesting to see how the different people in our circle made up their minds. People from England living in Scotland voted predominantly No, because of their sense of vulnerability as an often-resented minority; some English people we know were so afraid of independence that they had vowed to move back to England if the Referendum had succeeded.  You voted No if you thought that independence was going to threaten your livelihood (eg if you worked in the finance industry), your pension, or your research grants; if you didn’t trust Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party; or if you were just generally risk-averse.

In the same way, you voted Yes if you felt adventurous; longed for or idealized the rational social democracies of Scandinavia and imagined that an independent Scotland would follow their example; felt overlooked, short-changed, alienated by the Westminster government in London; if you didn’t like having nuclear weapons parked down the Clyde from where you live; or if you just didn’t trust the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (or the Labour Party for that matter) to act in the best interests of Scotland.  This appears to have been more the case for young people than people our age.  In the end, it is easy to imagine that most people who voted Yes did so from a genuine sense of doubt and fear that the three main parties in Westminster have either the will or the means to come to an agreement any time soon about further devolution for Scotland. 

And for us, as foreign nationals living in the UK, it was difficult not to be strongly swayed by the increasing xenophobia of the ruling coalition, as evident in their anti-immigrant policies and Eurosceptic views.  We were (and still are) afraid that the Westminster government is going take the UK out of the European Union while making foreigners like us feel even more unwelcome.  So we too were strongly influenced by our sense of vulnerability but saw an independent Scotland as a potentially friendlier place for us to live.

Yes and No supporters in Glasgow found themselves in the particularly puzzling place of being in a city that had voted Yes while because the rest of Scotland went for No.  Perhaps that sense of dissonance explains why violence broke out in George Square on Friday night (it was quickly contained).

So what is the current mood of the people of Scotland?  I think that most of us are relieved that the whole long, loud messy business is done with (for now anyway).  Beyond that, it depends which side of the Referendum you ended up on:  Folks who had voted No were greatly relieved that the Independence Referendum didn’t pass, thus sparing them from the negative outcomes or uncertainties they had envisioned.  On the other hand, many folks who voted Yes are feeling pretty let down.  Other Yes supporters, however, are vowing to fight on for greater devolution and autonomy for Scotland.

But in any event now we know that in spite of the many real uncertainties about what independence might bring, fed by the scare tactics of the No campaign, and the last-minute three-party promise of significant further devolution, 45% of the 85% of eligible Scottish voters were still willing to leave the UK.  Moreover, some very large but as yet unmeasured proportion of those voting No were in favour of further devolution, seeing that as a safer path to increased Scottish autonomy than a precipitous leap into independence.  In other words, it’s pretty clear that a large majority of the people of Scotland want to see change from the status quo of under-representation and dominance by the overly-centralised British Government; the main disagreement is over how much and how fast. 

For now, everyone, Yes- and No-supporters alike, is watching Westminster to see if the powers that be will allow themselves to be dragged into further devolution by Gordon Brown (the former UK Labour Prime Minister who has taken this on).  The day after the Referendum, Alex Salmond announced he will step down as head of the SNP and thus as First Minister of Scotland (from a US perspective, think State Governor but in a parliamentary system). This appears to be intended to allow his successor (probably Nicola Sturgeon) a free hand in continuing to push for devolution, or failing that, to begin planning another independence referendum. What all this means is that this is not over, for either Scotland or the UK.  Is anybody ready for English Devolution?