The Referendum

Well, one of the issues that has been at the back of everyone’s minds for the last two years is the Scottish Independence Referendum. Well, I thought so, anyway, but I’ve spoken to a few people in the last week or so who had no idea. Go figure!

Anyway, I’ve been watching the coverage live on the BBC website. It’s great! I never watch the election coverage normally, and I think part of that is due to the fact that it happens overnight. Now, usually the 8-and-a-half-hour time difference (or 10-and-a-half-hour, depending on the time of year) is the bane of my existance, resulting in lessons at awkward times and so forth, but it’s worked to my advantage today. Referendum coverage happened between 10pm and 6am Scottish-time, which is roughly 7am-3pm Australian time. It was slow-going at first, so I didn’t watch much, but by 11am (my time – about 2:30 Scottish time) it was quite riveting. And also right over REM-sleep time for people in Scotland.

What is the Referendum?

The Referendum 2014 is Scotland voting on the question “Should Scotland be an independant nation?”. There are two options: Yes or No. “Yes” results in Scotland becoming an independant nation, while “No” results in them staying with the United Kingdom.

Key issues

Obviously, there are a lot of key issues associated with independence of that sort, but my main concerns would fall in the areas of infrastructure and of political ties.

European Union and Common Travel Area

As far as the EU is concerned, there is no precendent for a member state dividing into two sovereign countries after joining. So no-one knows whether Scotland would automatically become a member state, or whether it would have to re-apply, and whether any of the UK’s current opt-outs of EU policy would apply to Scotland in either situation, or whether it would have to re-negotiate for them, too.

Currently, Scotland, as part of the UK, isn’t part of the Schengen Area – the area that enables people to travel within mainland Europe/EU without passport control. It is, however, part of a Common Travel Area with Ireland, which means that there aren’t any passport controls within the British Isles. (This does lead to the rather interesting point that it’s possible to get from mainland Europe to the UK without border controls if you go through Ireland, which is part of the Schengen Area.

The plan for an independant Scotland was do remain outside the Schengen Area but join the CTA with the UK, which basically means it would be in exactly the same situation as before.

Commonwealth of Nations

This is one thing which I don’t believe has been discussed at all. It’s such a non-issue that it’s barely worth mentioning, but since I talked about the EU, I thought I’d talk about the Commonwealth, as well.

If you don’t know what the Commonwealth of Nations is, it’s basically an association of about 50 countries, mostly former British Empire nations (although not all), with a common history, common philosophy and goals, and a major sports competition. Also, an interest in cricket not shared by most of the rest of the world.

As far as I know, the only former British Empire nation which isn’t part of the Commonwealth is Ireland, because they became a republic before the Commonwealth rules were re-written to allow for republics (this happened when India and Pakistan became republics). On the other hand, the Commonwealth now has member nations with no history with the British Empire, like Rwanda. So even if Scotland had never been part of the UK, it would still be able to join the Commonwealth. And really, after holding the Games this year, of course they would join the Commonwealth. In fact, I think Scotland’s already considered an independent nation within the Commonwealth. They certainly compete independendently, unlike, say, Cornwall, but like Wales.

Currency

This is more of a complex issue than it first seems. I can see a lot of Australians going, “Well, the English have the pound. Scotland should get the euro.” Well, it’s not that simple. You see, Scotland’s national bank has been producing Scottish pounds since before England started producing English pounds. The pound is just as much the Scottish currency as it is the English one. And, in fact, Scotland has three banks currently producing currency, while England has only one.

The way I see it, an independent Scotland has the following three options:

1 – Create a new currency, the Scottish Pound. Not very viable in the current world situation, where countries are uniting to create economic zones with each other.

2 – Keep the Pound Stirling, and create a “Great Britain Economic Zone” with the UK.

3 – Join the Eurozone and adopt the Euro.

Health Care

This was one of the ones I was more concerned about. I knew that Scotland had its own parliament and its own curriculum and education system. Governance, education and health are the three things most commonly discussed coming up to elections, and as far as I knew, Scotland was part of the NHS and thus didn’t have its own healthcare system.

However, I found out recently, NHS Scotland has actually been operationally independent of the NHS in the rest of the UK since 1948, and in fact has a number of different policies in place to those in England, particularly since control of healthcare was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Another interesting thought is that there’s talk of budget cuts to the NHS in England, which would effect funding to NHS Scotland as part of the UK, but not as an independant nation.

Monarchy

This is another of those tricky ones, where people associate the Queen with England. This is, in fact, not true. The monarchy is just as much Scotland’s monarchy as it is England’s. James IV was King of Scotland before he was King of England, and he’s the one which united the two monarchies.

No real answer was given on the topic of the monarchy in an independant Scotland, but the general concensus was that it would be kept… Just like Australia.

(I also had the thought that the title of King of Scotland should be given to one of the younger children: Edward or Andrew, or even Harry. Historically, this would be considered a perfectly reasonable thing to do when faced with multiple kingdoms and multiple children.)

Flags

Obviously Scotland finding a flag isn’t an issue. They have a flag. No, the question is, “What will happen to the Union Flag?” That’s the one you might know as the Union Jack, the one in the corner of the Australian flag. The one you probably associate with England. That one. You see, all the blue on that flag is actually Scotland’s.

The Union Flag is what happens when you superimpose the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland onto each other. You have red spokes on white in eight directions due to the flags of England and Northern Ireland, and a blue background from Scotland. You could take out the blue and just have eight red spokes on a white background, but it’s a chance to let some other nations be seen. Wales, for example, and Cornwall.

The Cornish flag, actually, offers an option. The Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background, so it would make perfect sense just to swap the blue for black and call it the Union Flag, reflecting the flags of England, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland (still no Wales). However, there’s a slight problem in that a “black Union Jack” is associated somehow with fascism and the devil.

Another question would be, “So what happens to all those Commonwealth nations and territories which use the Union Flag in the corner?” Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, parts of Canada, and many other nations have flags based on the Naval Ensign, or a Union Flag on the top left-hand corner with a blue field. The answer to that is: these flags belong to those nations to do what they like. They’re under no compulsion to change the flag just because the UK changes theirs. And, in fact, for some of us, it’s better to reflect Scotland in our flags because Scotland (and Scottish people) had such influence on our countries.

Citizenship

Okay, this is a bit of a selfish one. I’m a dual-national, with both British and Australian citizenship by birth. If Scotland were independant, what would I be? Given that such things are usually dependant on birth, it would probably come down to the fact that my father was born in England. However, weirdly, I’d rather be Scottish than English. If I had to choose, and had the choice, I’d pick Scotland. It’s not that I’m particularly anti-England (and for quite a bit of my childhood, I identified as “English”), it’s just that these days, with fiddle-playing and learning Gaelic, I feel more of a connection to Scotland than to England. (One thing in favour of the UK: ambiguity in the term “British”).

This, however, is one of the few issues relating to independence which was actually given a decent answer. Basically, the same sort of things apply to Scottish citizenship as to British citizenship currently: being born there, or having a parent or grandparent born there, or living there legally, or who has lived there for ten years and has an ongoing connection, etc. (British citizenship is contingent upon “father or grandfather” rather than “parent or grandparent”, though).

Why I wanted a ‘Yes’ vote

I have two reasons, really, and they both come down to a comparison to Australia. Of course, not actually living in Scotland means I’m not entirely familiar with the status quo and thus have no particular desire to keep it. No doubt, if I actually lived there, my perspective would be a little different. On the other hand, I’ve grown up around people who talk about Scotland like it’s its own country, I’ve heard about the Clearances almost us much as about convicts, and I spent at least a term in Year 4 learning all about Scottish immigrants in Australia (thankyou, Lochend House Refurbishment).

Firstly, I’ve got to think about how I’d vote if Australia had another referendum. My answer there is firm: No. So why is my first instinct ‘Yes’ on the Scotland front? I’m not the only one: I’ve spoken to a number of Scottish expats and a lot of them are with me: Yes Scotland, No Australia. In my case, I think it comes back to familiarity with the status quo, but surely this isn’t true of the others.

To me, the difference here is that Australia has never been a unified and independent nation. Before European settlement, Australia was hundreds of separated nations and countries. It’s only since European settlement we’ve been unified, and we have no unified and independent history to fall back on. Scotland, on the other hand, spent almost a thousand years both unified and independent, and, if we’re being honest, have suffered a lot since joining with England in the late 17th century.

The other major difference is that Australia was voting to become a republic, like the US, rather than remaining an independent nation with a constitutional monarchy. The problem with that proposition is that, being as far away from where the Queen lives as we are, we are to all practical intents and purposes already basically a republic. But I think we like the idea of being part of something bigger, and as such a young nation with no history of our own to speak of, it’s nice to have the Queen there to make us feel like we’ve got a history.

Scotland, on the other hand, is not as independant as Australia. Australia is its own nation, who just happens to share a monarchy with England. Scotland was its own nation who happened to share a monarchy with England for 104 years, from when James IV became James I in 1603 to the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Since then, it’s existed in an awkward state of being a nation but not a kingdom… or something.

Basically, I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think a nation with as much history and as much independence of Scotland should be, on paper, less of an independant nation than somewhere like Australia. If nothing else, I think the two nations should be equal.

Why I think we got a ‘No’ vote

Aside from the fact that people don’t like change, generally-speaking, I think a lot of it is due to uncertaintly. There are a lot of issues which would need to be addressed in the event of Scottish independance, and very few of them were addressed properly in the lead-up to the referendum. Some were discussed, but no firm plan or outcome was given. So, in addition to a “Yes”-vote resulting in change, voters didn’t even know exactly what those changes would be! If I were living there and had to live with these unknown changes, I’d definately consider changing my vote over, too.

So does this change anything?

Well, if nothing else, the threat of Scotland leaving lead the UK government to offer to extend more privilages and autonomy to Scotland – which, Alex Salmond was quite firm in his acceptance speech, should be realised as quickly as possible.

It has been said in the run-up to the Referendum that, whatever the results, things won’t be the same. I think this is true. 45% of Scotland voted for independence, with four council areas at a “Yes”-majority and at least three very nearly 50-50 (as I type this, the results are not yet in for the Highland council area due to a crash on the major freeway into Inverness, I think I heard). Even if Scotland weren’t getting more privilages from the UK government, that’s still something quite significant. More than 84% voted, which, for a country without mandatory voting, is quite an achievement. This referendum has broken records.

It’s also influenced other countries. The President of the Basque Government said yesterday that it had seen that Scotland could freely decide its own future and sees it as the responisbility of the Basque government to “follow Scotland’s footsteps”.

Closer to home, this Referendum has prompted republicists to start calling for another Australian referendum, and, I think, had it been a “Yes”-vote in Scotland, such a Referendum (or discussions, at least) may well have been held. I think the “No”-vote will put a bit of a dampener on that, though.

This sort of thing doesn’t go away. In Australia, we still have people who want a republic and people who want a monarchy. (We also have people who want Waltzing Matilda for the national anthem). After a “No” result in a referendum, that doesn’t settle the matter. It comes back in fifteen or twenty years – Quebec, for example, has had several independence referenda. I don’t expect this is the last we’ll hear of Scottish independence.

In 2010, the Australian government promised not to think about having a vote for an Australian republic within the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. (After that, it’s anyone’s game). I imagine Scotland might be the same. People like the status quo, and she’s been around for such a long time that people can’t imagine or remember anything different. (Also, we don’t want to hurt her feelings). It all comes back to change, and with a change of monarch, people may be open to change of other things, such as independence and republics.

This Referendum in Scotland has put the matter to rest for now, but hasn’t got rid of it completely. It will subside for a decade or two, and it will come back. Unofficial polling in Australia suggests that a Referendum, held now, might pass – perhaps in fifteen or twenty years, a Referendum in Scotland would pass, too. We simply don’t know.

The ripple effect

I mentioned that Scotland has been promised further devolution and greater autonomy, which is great news for Scotland but has caused uproar in England. Politics in the UK is already a little unfair to England, since they’re the only one of the member states that doesn’t have its own parliament. It has the UK parliament, but there’s no English parliament, like there’s a Scottish parliament and a Welsh (something that is basically to all in intents and purposes a) parliament. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can all vote for their own parliament and about policies which effect just them, without people from the other nations interfering. England doesn’t have that – policies which effect England, and often just England, are voted on by the entire UK.

So there has now been support in England for the establishment of their own parliament, or at least further autonomy and rights – and a lot of members have said that they’re not going to allow further devolution for Scotland to pass until they’ve been given their own devolution of some sort. And Wales has chipped in, too, saying that it wants the same rights and autonomy as Scotland as a nation. It’s only a matter of time before Northern Ireland wakes up for the day and says something of the sort, as well. (It is, after all only just after 7am there).

This Referendum may have been a “No”, but it has changed opinions, it has changed policies, it has broken records, and it has set in motion a whole chain of changes throughout the UK – and even, as the Basque president point out, around the world. For all the outcome of such referenda is often subject to a resistance to change, we cannot deny that change is constantly happening. The UK has been changing since it began, and I think that over the next few years, we will see some of these changes happening a bit more rapidly.

And, as everyone is pointing out, we should just be thankful that this whole thing happened (largely) peacefully, with polling and voting, and without the outbreak of war as so many other nations wanting independence have experienced.

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