Monday, September 1, 2014
Scottish Independence: A Foreigner's View
"I'll drink a toast to Scotland yet, whatever yet may be."
On September 18th Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. Scottish nationalists have longed for this day since their 18th century Jacobite ancestors tried and failed repeatedly to overthrow the German king on the British throne and bring back the Scottish Stewart dynasty.
As a foreigner, I cannot vote on in the independence referendum, and I prefer it that way. People I love are spread across both sides of this debate and I can understand all their arguments. The “Better Together” campaign stresses the economic stability of the United Kingdom and warns this may be threatened if Scotland breaks away. We don’t know what currency would be used in an independent Scotland, and people are understandably concerned about their pensions and homes being devalued by a change in currency. My husband and I have our own savings and pensions and don’t want to lose them. And while I’m certainly no economist, I do know that uncertainty over currency and trade can cause instability in the market. No one wants that.
In today’s Britain many people move around and don’t remain in the region of their birth. According to the 2011 census, 8% of Brits living in Scotland identify as “British only,” and 18% feel both British and Scottish. That means 1 in 4 Brits in Scotland (my husband included) have cross-border identities. It’s understandable that people from this group might lean more towards British unity than Scottish independence. That’s not to say that people identifying primarily as Scottish speak with one voice about independence. Scottish people speak multiple languages, practice multiple religions and these diverse people with diverse interests have never marched to the same tune.
It seems to me that those arguing for and against independence are speaking two completely different languages. Those arguing against independence are talking about economics and trade. But those in the “Yes” campaign are singing an impassioned love song of devotion about their mother country that is much broader than any single issue. Scotland has a certain magic that takes root in her children and acts as a siren-call to enamoured foreigners like me. This wild, wind-blown, painfully beautiful land and its people have endured centuries of sorrow. Clan warfare, English and Viking conquests, pillaging and forced migration have not succeeded in breaking the spirit of the Scottish people. For the nationalists, they feel that they have an opportunity to take their country back after it was stolen against their will in 1707 when Scotland and England became one nation practically overnight through a parliamentary handshake. Many are still angry about this. No one ever asked the people of Scotland if they wanted to be part of the United Kingdom . . . until now.
The politicians on both sides have been slinging plenty of mud. The campaign leaflets that have come in the mail have included more photos than factual argument and as a former political science student I'd say both sides could use a truckload of think-tank research and public relations experts. But as an American who grew up being taught to cherish my right to vote, it’s the Scottish people and not the politicians who have my support and attention. They have a chance to speak for themselves and decide their own future for the first time in centuries. I want the people of Scotland to be given the respect and space to make up their own minds about what’s best for them. I love Scotland and consider it a privilege to be here walking in the footsteps of my ancestors and enjoying prosperity in modern Scotland that my impoverished fore-bearers could never have imagined. I support the Scottish people and their right to choose the future they want for their country and I will embrace whatever decision they make.
To close, I’ll share a beautiful song by late Scottish songwriter Davy Stelle called “Scotland Yet.” I’ve included a translation below for those of us who don’t understand Scots so well. Click on the youtube video to have a listen. It’s one of my favorites.
‘Gie noo a thocht to what we hae, in this land o’ the leal
The Highland glen, the Doric stream, the fertile Lowland field
They seem tae offer different views when looked at from within
Can strangers be the only eyes to see us a’ as yin?‘
‘The choice will be upon us soon, tae set oor destiny
I’ll drink a toast tae Scotland yet, whatever yet may be.‘
‘Oor mither tongue spoke different weys, that past tae present ties
Each seperate and yet entwined, that’s where oor real strength lies
For should one strand unwind itself the others tae forsake
Than a’ would be forever lost, fur a’ the strands would break.’
‘While we still seek to blame oor woes and pains on someone else
We’ll never have the strength tae solve oor problems for oorselves
In truth we fought each other mair, learn this from oor past
Then together we can choose fur oorsells at last.’
Give now a thought to what we have, in this land of the leal (paradise)
The Highland glen, the Doric stream, the fertile lowland field
They seem to offer different views when looked at from within
Can strangers be the only eyes to see us all as one?
The choice will be upon us soon to set our destiny
I’ll drink a toast to Scotland yet, whatever yet may be.
Our mother tongue spoke different ways, that past to present ties
Each separate and yet entwined, that’s where our real strength lies
For should one strand unwind itself the others to forsake
Then all would be forever lost for all the strands would break.
While we still seek to blame our woes and pains on someone else
We’ll never have the strength to solve our problems for ourselves
In truth we fought each other more, learn this from our past
Then together we can choose for ourselves at last.