Scottish Independence, Like Quebec, An Emotional Slippery Slope

My UK Visit andScottish Referendum
By Dr. A.K Enamul Haque Ph.D

With Philip Shaw M.Sc

I started thinking about writing this piece while I was in UK in the last week (May 1-6).  All on a sudden the Scottish Independence movement came to the forefront of public discussion in England.  Even though we (Bangladesh) were part of British India, I had little idea about this demand.  The only thing occurred to me was why Scotland plays separately in the World Cup Football or why it participates separately in the European football games!  To me it was a simple historical fact.  It had been like this and so it is now. Nobody ever bothered to change it! Like that.

This time, I became a little bit curious.  I asked my cousins who are British citizens to explain this to me.  They, like many British people are not fully happy with this movement. They were more worried about the future of England than that of Scotland. This was a puzzle.  But I also realized that the history of Britain is much more complicated than what I thought it is.   According to what I gathered the Union happened in the beginning of the 18th century through primarily invasion of Scotland and then reconciled through a matrimonial relationship.  At the time, through a treaty Scotland agreed to join the United Kingdom and agreed to accept London as its capital.  However, the relationship never became easy.  The movement for independence continued and several nationalist parties became dominant in Scottish politics that demanded from devolution to full independence over the past few centuries.

The most prominent call for independence of Scotland came in the 60s but it is in this week the final call is being made.  The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) has called for a referendum on May 12, 2012 to decide on its independence.  According to what I understood while in London, that people are really at unease over this event. Some are worried about the future of England if Scotland quits and particularly due to the fact that there is a huge accumulative debt and the burden will be on England to repay this.   Scotland, as yet, has remained silent on this.  As expected, England has also hatched a plan against this move of the Scottish government.  According to them there is a broad coalition among ‘public, businesses and academics’ who are not in favor of full independence of Scotland.  This is not surprising to me because it had happened in the past even here in Bangladesh.

During our war of independence the Pakistan government who opposed the movement created a broad coalition.  Some of them are now on trial after 40 years of independence.  They are not on trial because of their opposition but because of their act during the independence movement, which was not acceptable to any human standard.

I do understand that this will not be the case in Scotland where such broad coalition exists only to help the UK government to show the Scottish people the benefit of having a union.  The benefit of being part of a power house (called UK), the benefit of being part of NATO (which I believe will be the same whether or not Scotland is part of UK or not), the benefit of have a say on the ‘veto’ power of UK in the UN Security Council, the benefit of being integrated with the global world through London, the Capital.

Scottish argument for independence has been more historical and that they have now more wealth than England. Per capita income of Scotland is higher than that of England except in London city. Scottish owns the huge North Sea oil resources and so independence would mean losing grip on North Sea oil by UK and so on.

Independence movements are part of the rights of any group of people in the world and even the UN charter recognizes it.  It is through this charter, Kurdish has been fighting for their independence for many years, many small Russian republics are also demanding their freedom, and so Scottish demand is no surprise to me.  The surprise is the fact that all territorial government responses in the same way when call for independence movement arises.  People who oppose freedom of territories hardly try to understand why others are calling for such a movement. The concern against freedom is more to do with losing rights on territories and resources than understanding the cause of such movement.

UK has been a super power in the last century.  It lost its status partially in the 60s after its colonial grip was gone.  It was exactly at that time Scottish people considered leaving the Kingdom but it did not happen then.  It was contained and I believe that a smart, intelligent central government in London would start rebuilding the social and economic backbone of UK in order to ensure that dissenting voices do not reappear.

Today, in the 21st century the world is more integrated than before and yet Scottish people are considering a split from UK. There must be something wrong somewhere.  As I told you UK economy has so far been able to hide its scars of recession unlike that of Greece, Italy and Iceland.  The debt problem is rising and the UK government is also counting its days.  Given this, the grip on North Sea oil seems to be more important.  As the discussion on independence is now at the peak, some have been arguing that Scotland must also take the share of British debt.  This is a scare-mongering technique and it is not very productive.  It did not happen during past independence movements – Bangladesh did not take the burden of debt from Pakistan, India and Pakistan did not receive their share of wealth from UK when India and Pakistan became independent in 1947.

Considering all these, I wish that both people would try to understand each other in terms of their social, political and economic architecture. Else I see an inevitable end and this might not be very good for the global world.

In Canada We Know What Political Separation Means, in 2012, it Makes No Sense

By Philip Shaw M.Sc.

When I 1st read in Enamul’s take on Scottish separation I was shaking my head.  In Canada, we have dealt with separation of our country for almost 150 years.  Enamul took part in that discussion many times when he lived in Canada from 1986 to 1991.  In fact, at the time you could not be living in Canada without talking about Québec separating from the rest of the country.  So when I hear that Scotland may want to separate from the United Kingdom, it brings back vivid memories.

Let’s make one thing clear when we are talking about Scotland or Québec or any other region within Western democracies that may feel jilted emotionally.  In 2012, none of these 19th-century sentiments need much space.  This is the age of instant information, the digital age where education is available to all within these Western democracies.  Basing things on ethnic or historical wrongs made 300 or 400 years ago makes no sense.  It is far different than Kosovo declaring independence or South Sudan.  However, it is an emotional argument and when emotions run wild, almost anything can happen.

Enamul and I have a mutual friend who is British, born in Scotland but has lived in Canada for most of his life.  I used to tease him back in the day when Enamul was in Canada when he talked about his Scottish heritage.  I would tell him that Scotland was a region within the United Kingdom and not a country.  He would always look at me, at 1st, aghast, how dare I challenge Scotland’s nationhood!  However, it was true, Scotland was not a country but a region of the United Kingdom made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Needless to say, he became very emotional when talking about his country, Scotland.

And in my opinion give me one good reason why the breakup of the United Kingdom is a good thing?  It makes no sense especially in 2012 with our open trading system, information being exchanged at lightning speed and especially in a political environment, which is a democracy.  The reasoning except for the fact that it’s emotional and that’s where it makes no sense flummoxes me.

We have seen that before in Canada.  In fact the argument for Québec separation is all emotional.  In 1759, the French General Montcalm slept in and the British overran Québec.  Since that day many Québec separatists have turned back time wishing they could’ve woke General Montcalm up, defeat the British and still have a French Québec today.  However, he did sleep in and today Québec is a prosperous place, mostly French an integral part of the prosperous country called Canada.  Needless to say, that does not make any sense to hard-core separatists who want their own country.

This all came to a climax in October of 1995 when the Québec government held a referendum on Québec sovereignty and came within 1% of winning it.  If the separatists had won that referendum, it would’ve thrown a prosperous country into economic and political turmoil, surely causing much angst to our American neighbors.  And for what?  It made no sense.

The Prime Minister of Canada at the time, Jean Chretien put together the “Clarity Act” after that, setting out the terms for any provinces to separate from Canada based on a Supreme Court decision.  Essentially, that act of Parliament laid out ground rules out for separation and essentially laid bare the insanity of such a move.  British politicians are closely scrutinizing the move by Scottish Nationalists in the UK with the Canadian “Clarity Act” as a model.

It is so different than Kosovo, South Sudan, former Soviet states, Bangladesh and other nations who have been through internal tyranny and even genocide.  You might make the argument that the former Czechoslovakia was a model for such political movements.  Needless to say, in Western democracies, which are rich, open and inclusive, political breakup and separation makes little sense.  Scotland is surely in that category.

Despite that, the political winds of separation in the United Kingdom blow over Scotland.  Emotions are running wild and when this happens, anything can happen.  It makes little sense.  However, in Canada we know that doesn’t matter.  For those in the UK, good luck.  It’s a slippery slope.  I hope it works out for you.