Imagine Hadrian’s Wall rebuilt, standing 50 foot high like the fixture in Game of Thrones, with a single gateway guarded by stern-looking, kilt-wearing security. Imagine it is June, the strawberries and cream are being enjoyed on grass fields while the UK watches Wimbledon with absolutely no national interest. Imagine it is Oscar time and the UK cannot take credit for Gerard Butler, Ewan McGregor, John Hannah, Robbie Coltrane, James McAvoy, David Tennant, Sylvester MyCoy and many other (Doctor Who certainly likes his Scottish accents). Imagine an independent Scotland, because it may become a reality.
The day this reality could be decided is September 18 so put it in the diary. For people who live in Scotland it is the day they will venture to the polling stations to vote on the referendum, for the rest of the United Kingdom it is the day that they will hear about their country’s future, and for those who hate repetitive news stories the 18th is the day to turn off the television, tablet and phone.
The relationship between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster currently works like this: the Scottish parliament can make and change laws upon certain issues, these are called Developed Matters. This was agreed in 1998 under the Scottish Act and was extended in 2012. The Developed Matters include education, environment and housing. The Reserved Matters, which the UK parliament votes upon, are the more important policies such as immigration, foreign policy, benefits and trade and industry. The people pushing and supporting Scottish Independence, like Alex Salmond, want control over the big issues and feel that Westminster does not represent Scotland when it comes to important matters.
Scottish independence has not been a silent issue with many political, celebrity and local voices raised in approval or disagreement. It certainly will make September 18, whether you are interested or not, a tense and exciting day.
The ‘Yes’ supporters focus their campaign upon the future and youth of Scotland. They call for a “fairer” and “more prosperous” Scotland and in the promotional advertisement highlight the negatives of the United Kingdom’s past and present. The ‘Yes’ campaign show their disapproval of Tony Blair, Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. It appears as if an independent Scotland has no desire for international conflict. Additionally, David Cameron is criticised but it is hard to defend an upper class conservative David Cameron to the working class population of Scotland. However, for the ‘Yes’ side, it appears as if their main reason for criticising Cameron is the fact he is not Scottish and yet he speaks, acts and represents Scotland as leader of the United Kingdom. As the Scottish National Party argue, independence for them is “is the ability to take our own decisions, in the same way other countries do.” It does not seem that unreasonable but it could be the impracticalities of independence which keep Scotland and the rest of the UK divided upon the issue.
The ‘Yes’ campaign does appear to have an answer for every bullet point, including higher education. An independent Scotland is promising free higher education and training opportunities to its citizens, which it delivers now as part of the UK, although recent research completed by the University of Edinburgh claims that this may not be achievable. As part of the UK, Scotland can charge students from England and Wales tuition fees in Scottish universities, but if it became an independent country in Europe the university warns that it may not be able to discriminate against different countries. If Scottish students do not have to pay tuition fees other European countries would not have to pay. For prospective undergraduate students Scottish universities could become a whole lot more appealing. However, an independent Scotland might not be able to guarantee free higher education, and with voting on the referendum open to those aged 16 it seems this could be another Liberal Democrat-esque false promise.
Many famous personalities have been involved in the debate. One supporter of independence is actor David Hayman, who is starring in the new cinematic adaptation of Macbeth, a Scottish hero immortalised by an English playwright. Yet Hayman’s recent professional career has not found a balance between Scotland and the UK. He has created a one man show about Scottish independence but according to him has been banned from some council run theatres in Scotland: “I’m touring Scotland with it right up until the seventeenth, the night before the referendum, hopefully to change minds in favour of ‘yes’. Several councils who run their theatres have not allowed my play to be performed there.
So, just because I exercise my right to speech, I’m denied my right to employment.”
The arts have always been a historical stage to voice political issues, but the banning of this production by some councils raises troubling questions as to what could potentially happen if Scotland does become independent.
In opposition to the ‘Yes’ campaign is ‘Better Together’, which has gained support from David Cameron and Ed Miliband, as well as celebrities including Eddie Izzard, Richard Wilson and John Barrowman. One of the more striking public personas who have added their opinion to this debate is J.K Rowling. The Harry Potter author donated a massive £1,000,000 to the cause. In a public statement, which later promoted internet trolls to insult her, Rowling detailed her personal reasons for supporting ‘Better Together’. One of her statements is about the nationalist opinion on Scottish independence. She argues to have been judged as “insufficiently Scottish to have a valid view” on the issue, despite living there for twenty-one years, and that
“when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”
Susan Boyle, the Britain’s Got Talent contestant, also draws on similar issues to Rowling when she was asked her opinion on Scottish independence: “I am a proud, patriotic Scot, passionate about my heritage and my country. But I am not a nationalist.” Not every ‘Yes’ voter or supporter will be an extreme nationalist but it must be a worry for some if with independence you get extremism. However, the major concern for the ‘Better Together’ opinion, as with many other undecided voters, is whether Scotland can be economically independent.
‘Better Together’ feature both the armed services and Paralympians in their unofficial advertisements with the slogans ‘We fought together side by side’ and ‘We are Team GB’. The UK has achieved a lot together and even if Scotland become independent it would be beneficial if both the UK and Scotland could continue to work together. Yet the Commonwealth games in Scotland could not have come at a better time for the ‘Yes’ campaign. Nicola Sturgeon, senior member of the SNP and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, believes the games will “leave a feel-good factor” for voters and that “confidence not only in Glasgow but across the country is high.” The ‘Yes’ campaign has not attempted to politicise the Commonwealth games but it has become a side-line to news coverage. It may only be speculation whether or not the record breaking games will have an effect upon the referendum, but there is certainly a wave of enthusiasm surging through Scotland.
Despite all the publicity and famous endorsements for both sides of the argument the vote will come down to the personal choice of the ordinary people in Scotland. It is their country’s future at stake and it certainly has not planted seeds of independence in Wales or Northern Ireland. It is a vote that is too close to call and September 18 will be much awaited for those involved. It is a very personal vote with emotions running high, and even after the decision for Scottish independence has been made it can be expected that the debates will be ongoing.
Celebrities and their opinions:
- Sean Connery, unofficially acclaimed the best Bond:
“As a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss. Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation.”
- Brian Cox, heavy-weight actor:
“It’s my cultural heritage which is important to me, as much as anything else. So on the one hand I feel I have got something to offer about Scotland, but at the same time, as I don’t live in the country I accept the fact that I don’t have a vote.”
- Kevin Bridges, Glaswegian comedian:
“If the referendum was tomorrow, I’d probably vote yes. We’ve had New Labour, never worked. The coalition’s clearly not working. There’s one Tory seat in Scotland. The Tory government, they’re good for comedy, but Scotland’s clearly a different country politically, and culturally as well. It’s the third option.”
- Andrew Murray, UK’s only tennis player:
“You need to figure out what’s best for the country and then come to an opinion. I don’t think you should judge the thing on emotion, but on what is best economically for Scotland.”
- Sir Alex Ferguson, football legend:
“Eight-hundred-thousand Scots, like me, live and work in other parts of the United Kingdom. We don’t live in a foreign country; we are just in another part of the family of the UK. Scots living outside Scotland but inside the UK might not get a vote in the referendum, but we have a voice and we care deeply about our country.”
- David Bowie, pop royalty:
“Scotland, stay with us.”