Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

The end of the United Kingdom

As you’re reading this, Scotland may be voting to secede from the United Kingdom. May 3, 2007 is the date of elections for the Scottish Parliament.

For the first time since its inception, the Scottish National Party is giving Labour a run for its money. According to the YouGov poll on last Friday, April 27, the SNP was in the lead, followed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives (Tories). One of the SNP’s main platforms is Scottish independence from the U.K.

I asked some of my friends at the University of Edinburgh, living right in the middle of the action, what they hoped to see from the results today. Chris Silver, a Scot from Shetland, wrote, “I would be much happier to see the SNP form a government than any other potential party … it would provide a significant impetus for progressive change in the (Dis)united Kingdom.”

Silver does not campaign for the SNP, but supports their anti-nuclear stance and also believes that the formation of the Union created “a nation that was forced to accept an artificial national culture precisely to prevent the desire for self-determination to arise. The hallmarks of this cultural crisis can be seen in much of the ‘kitsch’ that compels Scotland to continually infantilize its own culture.”

James Shewan, an Englishman from Bolton, wrote, “I don’t want Scotland to break away from Great Britain; it just seems sad and not fundamentally essential. I also think there’s a huge amount of risk and uncertainty, particularly economically in such a break.” This economic concern is a commonly recognized one; some Scots hold that if Scotland seceded and took back the oil revenues that the government in Westminster gets from its North Sea reserves, it would stand to gain. Others point out that Scotland receives more money per person from Westminster than England does, and those benefits would be lost.

Shewan pointed out that “many Scottish electorates in the past have used the SNP vote as a means to draw attention to perceived problems within the Anglo-Scottish Union.” These problems have certainly come to the forefront of Scotland’s consciousness now. As Shewan put it, “The Iraq War and the chaos and carnage that subsequently prevailed is blamed on Tony Blair and the Labour government. Blair’s blatant attempt to deceive us into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction angered many Scots.”

Silver agrees that political change in the U.K. would be welcome. He wrote, “The Labour party relies, much like the Republicans in the Midwest, on bloc votes from a vast number of safe parliamentary seats in Scotland. In other words, if Scotland were to become independent it would shake up the relationship between Britain’s two main political parties and force them to reconsider what are blatantly right-wing and imperialist political agendas.”

But independence is not the only option on the table for Scotland. Even if the SNP wins and the referendum is held, YouGov’s results show that 53 percent of respondents would not vote to secede. Thirty-eight percent would vote to retain the Scottish Parliament but give it greater powers, and 25 percent would keep matters as they are. Furthermore, when asked what they thought should be the Parliament’s priority after the elections, 43 percent said prison reforms, whereas only 20 percent chose a referendum on independence.

Currently, Scottish Parliament has power over matters like education, prisons and health, as well as some others. Decisions about international affairs like defense, foreign policy and immigration are reserved for the Parliament at Westminster. Currently, Southeast England is having problems with absorbing large numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers, whereas Scotland had the fastest falling population in Europe in 2004. Its population has risen slightly since then, largely due to resettlement of many EU immigrants to Glasgow.

If Scotland were to regain independence, its immigration policies would almost certainly diverge at least somewhat from their current state under the control of Westminster, mostly likely towards more open borders. It is because of this possibility that I wouldn’t mind Scotland becoming independent, for my own purely selfish reasons of wanting to live and work there.

The election will be a close one. Shewan summed up the possibilities of today’s decision and the excitement behind it: “If the SNP win a majority in the Parliament it’ll be a revelation of new Scottish feelings, it could be a great watershed, a new transition in Scottish identity and the beginning of the end for the historic Union of 1707, with Scotland stepping on a irreversible road to independence.” So if you are reading this and you are near a computer, go find out what’s happening in Scotland.

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