I have been following the Scottish referendum polls, the press releases of both sides and the various related press articles. I felt a bit sad today at the now-looming prospect of a very close referendum result, leaving sharply polarised views in Scotland on its constitutional future. What is saddest to me are expressions of genuine disbelief from supporters in both camps as to how people could vote the other way. It’s not even an English / Scottish division. There are plenty of English residents of Scotland voting “Yes” and plenty of “ethnic” Scots voting “No”.
I am English and without a vote but lean heavily towards “Yes”. I can understand why English people (in England or Scotland), and Scots living in England, mostly oppose Scottish independence. But I struggle quite a lot to understand why so many Scots in Scotland are quite clear that they don’t want independence. I am interested in people’s deeper motivations for their actions and I have a few thoughts on why Scots in Scotland would want to stay within the UK. (These are just thoughts and not set in stone. I am interested only in stimulating debate, rather than expressing dogmas.)
1. For some Scots, the emotional attachment to Britishness may still be quite strong. They may have served in the armed forces or be close to someone who has. They may have lived in England for some time and have retained strong links. They may have wide international experience, which they contrast to the perceived parochialism of Scottish “Yes” voters.
2. Some may have a strong personal focus on relationships (more than principles) and so worry about the impact on their relationships with English friends, family and business colleagues.
3. Some may be focused very predominantly on money or financial risk. The “no campaign material is almost exclusively skewed in this direction which I find quite disappointing. The impetus for independence in many other countries was much stronger because the average person was a lot poorer than the average modern Scottish consumer. If you have a good job, are able to support your family, have a house, enough money to eat, buy clothes, go on holiday and pursue some hobbies, then why would you want the political upheaval that independence will necessarily bring? If you’re not that interested in politics, then its a “big ask” to make enough head-space to get up to speed with the new political agenda (though impressively, many Scots have done so).
4. In a similar vein to 3. above, some Scots may have jobs which are very directly linked to UK government funding or business with English customers. Such people may understandably feel that their livelihoods are directly threatened.
Perhaps part of the problem with the debate is the timing of the referendum. Scotland has been part of the UK for so long that no-one has even the remotest fourth-hand personal experience of the time before union. It’s just a chapter in a history book. Still, every human being has a national identity and an in-built desire for freedom for their nation. Getting used to the idea of independence is not just an intellectual exercise, but also an emotional journey – and for some Scots, this could naturally be a long one. The referendum is a decision in a point in time and many Scots may not have had time to make that journey – though at the same time, many other Scots have made that journey much faster than otherwise.
I suspect that, with hindsight, it may have been better to have had the referendum a few years down the line, in order for a stronger national consensus for independence to be built. But politics is messy. The SNP were elected with a clear mandate for a referendum and couldn’t betray their voters. Who knows if the UK government would have seen fit to agree to one in a few years’ time anyway?
So if the referendum produces a narrow victory for “Yes”, where will that leave relations between “Yes” and “No” voters? It’s hard to predict but perhaps we can hope that independence will be such a success story that “No” voters will be won over in time, and that their children will grow up accepting a new normality of independence.