The debate in Scotland over independence has been exhilarating to witness. Over the past two years they have quietly shown the world what participatory democracy looks like.
Well, they’ve shown anyone who has been paying attention. For most people – perhaps especially in England – the prospect of the sapphire in the crown suddenly falling out is a prospect that is only just dawning on them (even Queen Elizabeth is reportedly growing restive).
From an Irish perspective what’s occurring is exhilarating. After 300 years Scotland could secede from the union. If it happens it will be extraordinary. Finally sensing a seismic shift in the offing the English ruling class – caught of guard by their own complacency – are beginning to panic.
Reports are coming in this week of people in the most disadvantaged corners of Scotland signing up to vote (often for the first time) a fact that’s making teeth chatter in Westminster.
Faced with the prospect of becoming the Prime Minister who lost Scotland, a historic coda that would seal his reputation, David Cameron sent one of his Oxbridge proxies to the BBC this week to promise Scotland more autonomy on tax, spending and welfare if they vote against independence in the historic referendum due for September 18.
But as they say in Scotland, aye right. For many people this dangling carrot was an insult – the offer of new powers are not on the ballot.
It may be too late anyway. One of the most powerful narratives driving the move toward Scottish independence is voters’ long-standing revulsion over the excesses of English Toryism and it’s blunt libertarianism – one that denies every obligation to society and to each other.
Scotland apparently believes in social partnership. They’ve been largely disdainful of a Tory party that has turned its back on equality and justice, and which over the course of three decades has turned England into the fourth most unequal nation in the world.
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In the The Guardian this week senior columnist Will Hutton expressed his dread at where the momentum is headed: “Absurdly, there will be two countries on the same small island…” he wrote.
This statement caught the eye of some Irish commentators. It was seen as a measure of how little many within the English establishment think of us, and by extension how little they think of Scotland, that the obvious qualifier didn’t immediately present itself. Who wants to be loved only when they’re needed – and forgotten when they’re not?
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that there is nothing in the world so exquisitely comic as an Englishman’s seriousness. If that’s true Shaw would probably have seen much to amuse him this weekend as alarmist English commentators predicted increasingly earth sundering cataclysms for their northern neighbors in comically earnest tones.
In England the dread of secession has been increasingly noteworthy. First came the sadness at the thought of being rejected (a mistake, since its not really about the English, at least not at first). This has been followed by barely concealed anger at the thought of being rejected, which will probably erupt more pointedly as the referendum day arrives.
I don’t know what Scotland will decide, though I’m thrilled to see the packed public meetings, the intense civic debates that have been held. Whatever they do decide, they will have given it very careful consideration.
One thing is certain, the term British probably won’t survive a secession, since England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a much smaller compact. That has significant implications for my own country, which has barely been discussed yet.
I have a feeling they’re going to be soon. Change is in the air.
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