I’m Irish and I want to talk about Scotland’s Independence Vote
This feels like a dangerous article to write. As an Irish person living in Scotland, I will have a say in the forthcoming independence referendum on 18 September. British people living in the rest of the UK will not be able vote on whether or not Scotland stays or leaves the United Kingdom. As support for the Yes vote continues to gather pace and a realisation that this might actually happen, there is a sense that some people in the rUK are becoming incensed.
I moved to Scotland to attend university in 1997. I met my husband to be and then, in 2001, emigrated to Australia for five years before returning to the country that me and my children call home – Scotland. I am Irish and refer to myself as such. I will always be Irish. I did not change my name when I got married as I like my difficult-to-pronounce surname. It is part of my identity. My children call themselves Scottish and do not seem to have any sense of what being British is. Maybe this sense of “Britishness” is something that comes with age as they learn about their position in the world. Right now, at the ages of two and four, they love to shout “Come on Scotland” louder than I can shout “Come on Ireland”.
As a non-Scot who has studied, lived and worked in Scotland, I have views on independence and, although I do have a vote, have been a bit reluctant to speak out. After reading Fiona Laird’s comment article in the Guardian recently (‘I’m British and I want to talk about Scotland’s independence vote’), I felt I needed to. I do want Scotland to leave the UK. But I take great offence to the suggestion that supporters of the Yes movement are primarily motivated by the ruling parties in Westminster. The primary motivation of the Yes movement is about Scotland, not England, or even the rest of the UK. What I’m trying to say is – it’s not you, it’s me.
The assertion that the Yes campaign is based on an “anti-posh south-easterners sentiment; anti-Tory; anti-Cameron and Osborne; anti-Eton; and anti-London” and worst of all “not pro-Scottish” demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the real yes movement that is happening in Scotland.
The Yes campaign is absolutely pro Scotland. It is not about anti-English sentiment. The suggestion that the increasing support for the yes vote in Scotland is purely based on anti Tory rhetoric, suggests a bigoted, naive electorate in Scotland. That is simply not the case.
The people of Scotland do not underestimate the magnitude of the referendum ahead of them. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a nation to have a say in how they want their country to be governed. Opportunities like this do not come about peacefully and democratically very often, as us Irish folks know all too well.
The 19th C Irish politician Daniel O’Connell strived for independence “attained not by the effusion of human blood, but by the constitutional combination of good and wise men”. Ireland could not realise O’Connell’s aspirations of a peaceful resolution; Scotland can.
Because of the magnitude of the decision we face, people are asking questions, town hall meetings are popping up all over the country. Artists, academics, business people, hairdressers, friends are all talking about it and searching out qualified information that will help them make their decision. Personally, I have carried out a lot of my own research; looked for answers to questions that are important to me. I have a copy of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence. I would love an equivalent from Better Together, but there is none. The Better Together campaign’s message to people living in Scotland is that things will get worse for us if we go independent. The message from the Yes campaign is that things will be better – regardless of who is in power in Westminster.
Scotland is a wealthy nation. Based on GDP per capita, the Scottish Government estimates that Scotland will be ranked the 14th wealthiest nation in the world after independence. It is worth noting that Ireland, which is smaller than Scotland in area and population and, despite recent difficult times, is currently the 12th wealthiest nation in the world, above Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark (figures obtained from the World Bank). Ireland is positioned well above the UK at 24. I point this out because it supports the belief that Scotland can survive economically as an independent nation. Scotland has a lot more valuable oil and renewable resources than Ireland and is not recovering from the troubles that plagued Ireland for many years in their independence hangover.
While we’re on the subject of money – the insistence by George Osborne that there will be no currency union post independence does not seem to be in the best interests of rUK. On the one hand we are told we are better together – but apparently this does not apply to economics if Scotland votes for political independence. For me it doesn’t add up and the tactics of Better Together don’t help. They have preached from on high and don’t appear to be making any effort to speak to the people that live in Scotland. This is how it will be. No negotiation. No discussion. No respect.
It is a fact that Scottish voters have very little influence on which party controls the Westminster parliament. The UK has a population of 60 million people. With a population of 5 million, Scotland represents just 8% of this. While I have a dislike of the UK strategy of concentrating investment in the South East of England to stoke the flames of a massive financial firehouse, in reality I find it understandable that UK government does little for Scotland. Politics is politics. And when it comes to Westminster, the Scottish vote doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. So why should they waste time trying to appease the Scottish voter? There are nuclear weapons on the Clyde. Near Glasgow. We really do not want them there but we can jump up and down about it as much as we like. As part of the UK our protests are about as useful as a moth trying to break through the glass of an energy-efficient light bulb.
To Fiona Laird I would like to say that I agree that this referendum is too important to be fought on such a narrow prejudice as anti-Englishness. And to suggest that is the case is frankly insulting, but also evidence of a lack of understanding of the real conversations that are happening in Scotland. Maybe you do need to be here to really get a sense of the reality of the issues and the debate. Yes Scotland is not a sound piece for the SNP. It is a collective voice of people across all political parties in Scotland. Yes Scotland are arguably not even the most influential voice in the independence debate either. Independent, non political groups such as Women for Independence, Bella Caledonia, Business for Scotland and the right-wing Wealthy Nation group are providing valuable information to educate the debate. People are engaged in this debate like no political event I have ever experienced. And we are not ignorant or naive. For the past three years my family and I have taken our summer holiday in England rather than travel abroad. My husband frequently travels to London as he works for a global investment bank. This will not change if Scotland becomes independent. I love England, it is a wonderful country with wonderful people. We are important allies and friends and will continue to be if Scotland votes for independence. Our strong ties will not dissolve overnight.
Scottish independence offers opportunities for people across the UK to examine their lot. We are only going to get one shot at this – I for one, do not plan to point the shotgun at my foot. The impact of the Scottish independence movement is already being felt across the UK as it is forcing people to question the way they are governed. If others in the UK feel strongly about their fate, they need to stand up and shout about it. Desperately hanging onto Scotland so that we can collectively have no voice is not working for any of us.
In the eloquent words of Irish President Michael D Higgins on his recent historic address to the UK Houses of Parliament, “We can and must reflect on the ethical importance of respecting different, but deeply interwoven, narratives. Such reflection offers an opportunity to craft a bright future on the extensive common ground we share and, where we differ in matters of interpretation, to have respectful empathy for each other’s perspectives.”
Background information sources:
World Bank 2014 GDP per capita ranking: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.CD?order=wbapi_data_value_2012+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=desc
Michael D Higgins speech: http://www.president.ie/news/address-by-president-higgins-to-the-houses-of-parliament-westminster/