Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Scottish Referendum: the potential divorce.


 Willie Drennan for Issue 14 of The Ulster Folk


On May 2nd, I attended a presentation on the upcoming Scottish Referendum at Queens University Belfast. It was delivered by Dr Michael Rosie of University of Edinburgh.

 [Dr Rosie is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the University’s Institute of Governance. Dr Rosie specialises in studying the political sociology of Scotland.  The event was facilitated by Professor John Brewer of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queens].

  Dr Rosie is a man well-versed on the subject matter of anything Scottish. His presentation was delivered with great ease, comprehensive and quite entertaining. No pretentions with this academic: excellent lunchtime entertainment.

I didn’t really learn an awful lot as I have been following the referendum debate but there certainly were a lot of issues confirmed with much meat added to the bones. In a nut shell the situation is that the polls still give the NO voters a slight edge and there are complex reasons as to why the Scots are taking their various stances. What was not clarified for me were issues relating to the following: membership of the EU, membership of the British Commonwealth, currency, defence, and fees for students.

Dr Rosie straight away denounced the extremist elements in the debate in Scotland and presented an image of mature civilised debate among the majority of Scots. It would of course be virtually impossible for an academic Scot not to have a personal opinion and while he did his best to present both sides of the argument he was clearly a YES supporter. You couldn’t help get the feeling that the desire for independence was primarily for the enlightened progressives and those against were from the old school.


Reasons for variations in findings of opinion polls were attributed very much to age: Dr Rosie suggesting that the NO voters were older and the younger folk were opting for the big political change. While this may well be somewhat accurate I think this generalisation is an over simplification. He also used this assessment to reinforce his contention that while there may well be a small victory for the NO side it will be short lived as the older pro-British NO voters will soon die off to be replaced by the young progressive independence seekers (not his words but my interpretation of his words).The flaw in this theory is that the young also get older and wiser.


The conclusion to Dr Rosie’s presentation was the most interesting for me. I agree with his analysis that this debate is simply going to intensify after September 18th: that a great opportunity has been missed to consider more radical changes for the good of all in the United Kingdom. However he seemed to put the blame for this solely on the unionists when surely there is a need for all of us to be thinking creatively for the future greater good of all the inhabitants of the British Isles?


 I was disappointed that time, or perhaps priority, didn’t allow for discussion on the possible realignment of the British Isles along federal lines.  I was also a bit disappointed that there was not more debate on the significance, for a potential independent Scotland, of the inevitable debate on the European Union that will very soon engulf the United Kingdom.


 If I had had the opportunity I would have asked Dr Rosie to confirm that many Scottish Nationalists are big supporters of the EU. I would then have asked if that was being seen by some as selling the soul of Scotland: as setting up the thran independently-minded Scots to be subservient to the power-mongering of the Eurocrats; as further enabling that rapidly expanding empire for the benefit of super-rich absentee land-lairds?


Given the chance, I would also have pointed out that while I agree that a NO vote in September would not be the end: I think for balance his presentation should have pointed out that a narrow YES vote would not be the end either.


 I do not live in Scotland but it is just over on the other side of the sheugh and the people of Ulster and Scotland have historically been seen as virtually the same people.  I seem to have a different understanding of these people from an academia and media that appears to not fully grasp what the common folk, the people most effected by the manoeuvrings of the ruling classes, think and feel emotionally.


This presentation was quite typical of the usual message sent out by the Scottish media that the debate is all very civilised, mature and respectful: in relative terms, say for instance to how we might debate things in Northern Ireland. In actual fact, so far, that is true and the people of Scotland need to be commended for it. But, Scottish academics and the media seem to be in a state of denial of the hurt that will be caused to many should there be a narrow vote for independence.


 It is most unlikely that there would be any widespread violent reaction but the passionate opposition to the “divorce”, as Dr Rosie quite aptly put it, would result in much social turmoil and obstruction to the new regime in Scotland. This would not only be from within Scotland but from the working class remaining in the rest of the UK who have emotional attachment to remaining in solidarity with each other. There can be no doubt that there is currently a common bond among the working class: an understanding that the current establishment has failed them and that there needs to be a transformation of government. Should the Scots abandon ship the rest of the working crew will not be too pleased.   


It is all very well to say that the mature people of the UK will be able to handle the divorce with dignity: agreeing to share the debts and divide up the profits. In reality it would be a disturbing long drawn-out painful process. Government accounting is abysmal: the books are cooked to maintain the trough for whoever is in charge. The supposed ‘independence’ of government auditors is misleading to say the least.  This apparently extends to governance of the EU as well. It wouldn’t be so bad if the divorcees were all in mutual agreement and both sought a clean efficient process to facilitate the finding of new partners/new lovers.


I could imagine that a truly independent Scotland: independent of London and Brussels that had the confidence and support of a clear majority of Scots and the remainder of the UK; could develop a sound sustainable economic future. It is most unlikely that there could ever be that level of enthusiastic support: nor indeed that lack of opposition.


It is certainly legitimate for independence seekers to highlight the lack of innovative alternatives being presented by unionist politicians but equally it is disturbing that the want-to-be divorcees think it will all be harmonious and wonderful: with Scotland and the Republic of Ireland being controlled from Brussels while the rest of the UK seeks more independence from Brussels.


No, while I very much enjoyed Dr Rosie’s excellent delivery I left feeling a greater sense of urgency for the common folk of the British Isles, including those in the Republic of Ireland: an urgent need to get together to analyse what road  those who jockey for power and control of government  are trying to send us down. We have to ask ourselves what do they hope to gain from an obviously divided Scotland and a divided UK: or indeed, to gain from maintaining the status quo?

On the bright side, perhaps it's not too late to have more far-reaching debates on the future alternatives for all the people of the British Isles.



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