Current Affairs

On Scottish independence

I’ve kept a low profile when it comes to the upcoming Scots independence referendum. It’s a topic that has inflamed passions (positively and negatively) over the past six months especially.

From my perspective – an Irish person, living in London, with family living in Scotland – I can see how complex and messy this challenge is. The ties that bind the nations in the UK (and remember it’s not just England and Scotland – but that’s a blog post for another time!) are many and varied. From the health service, the armed forces, to popular entertainment and sport.

Unpicking the union between Scotland and England won’t be a straightforward operation. But that shouldn’t mean it can’t be considered, if the plusses outweigh the minuses and ensuing hard work.

Regardless of the outcome later this week, I don’t think the UK will remain unchanged. In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, we’ll begin a long and difficult process of negotiations to provide Scotland her independence. In the event of a ‘No’ vote, the party leaders in Westminster have pledged to devolve even more power to the Parliament in Edinburgh.

Commentary from people elsewhere in the UK indicates that the changes shouldn’t stop there.

Why not be bold and revisit the structure of how the UK governs itself? If Scotland votes to remain in the UK, why not create a similar devolved model for Wales, Northern Ireland and England? England doesn’t have a parliament, it just hosts the parliament for the entire UK, at Westminster.

Why not question the structure of Westminster while we’re at it? Replace the outdated and frankly useless House of Lords with a modern Senate, representing all of the UK’s constituent parts. Remove hereditary peers, only there because of their bloodline. Remove bishops from the Church of England, whose very presence is an affront to a modern state.

While we’re being bold, why assume an English parliament needs to be in London? It can just as easily be created and housed in any other major English city. Why not Manchester? Leeds? Birmingham?

For too long, the focus of successive UK governments has been on London and the South-East – and I say this as someone who has lived in London for the past 15 years. Investment in infrastructure and government focus are overwhelmingly London-centric. And there’s no doubt that this frustrates and upsets taxpayers who live elsewhere in the UK.

In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, resulting in Scottish independence, I’ll really have mixed feelings. Coming from a country that started its messy and protracted exit from the Union almost 100 years ago, I know it’s possible to build the infrastructure required to be independent. Scotland has so many advantages compared to Ireland in this regard – as this recent Irish Times piece eloquently points out.

I know that independence isn’t always a rational choice and can be based on the desire to make local decisions, with a local ‘hat’ on. It involves pride, identity and self-sufficiency.

On the other hand, I’ll feel sad that a great part of the UK has decided to exit. We in the rUK will be left with a dysfunctional government that doesn’t seem to have any interest in mirroring the social democracy that is successfully growing in Scotland. On the contrary, the gap between rich and poor is increasing in the UK at an alarming rate.

I sincerely hope a ‘Yes’ vote is a vote for Scotland and not against Cameron et al. That would be shockingly short-sighted. As he himself said, he’ll be gone, his government will be gone in time. But the end of the Union is final.

I’ve commented a few times in the last month that  can’t understand why polls have highlighted such a large ‘undecided’ group in the Scottish electorate. But if I’m honest, I think I’d be in that camp too right now. It’s a very big decision and there are a lot of factors to weigh up.

Finally, putting all the rancour and bitterness to one side, regardless of the referendum’s final outcome: isn’t it wonderful that we can have this debate at all? Without the use of tanks or threats of violence.

As our neighbours to the East are busy blowing each other up over where their relative borders lie on the map, the population of the UK can safely discuss the dismantling of our state and put it to a vote.

That’s something we should be very, very proud of.

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