Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A 'Free' Scotland?

Sitting down to Burns Night dinner this week marked a sort of turning point for me; it seemed as if all the things swirling around at the moment about Scottish independence came to a head, as if the relevance finally hit. You could blame this on my languid attitude towards keeping current affairs current – I frequently bring up ‘breaking news’ in conversations with my friends three days after it actually ‘broke’ – or you could see it as a realistic representation of the way a lot of people my age view the importance of current affairs. As a general rule, unless it is forced in our faces, there’s a good chance a lot of us will have no clue whatsoever (but don’t condemn all young people – plenty do keep up to date, I’m just generalising a large portion of us). So it should make sense that it would come as such a surprise to me that the topic of Scottish independence would surface three times in one day, and at least twice more over the succeeding week. This is topical; relevant. And a lot of people seem to have opinions about it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion over what it’s all really about.

Putting it simply, the Scottish National Party (SNP) are aiming for a referendum to vote for independence in late 2014. They want Scotland to be a separate sovereign state, splitting from the United Kingdom. The SNP first rose to prominence in the late 1960s when the decolonisation of the British Empire gave cause to growing assent that imperialism, one of the key attributes to a ‘united kingdom’, was being undermined. Now the issue is at hand again, and since 2007 the SNP have made several attempts to submit a referendum but with resistance from many other parties. Now there are two sides looking at what to do – and I think it’s important that we devise some opinions pretty quickly.

In support of independence, SNP leader Alexander Salmond calls it the most important decision for Scotland in 300 years. He says, “Our nation is blessed with national resources, bright people and a strong society... I believe that if we connect the wealth of our land to the wellbeing of our people, we can create a better country... We shouldn’t have a constitution that restrains us, but one which frees us to build a better society.” Many people are supporting this idea, the basic ideology for the SNP, believing it will help the country to grow, benefiting all citizens.

On the other hand, there’s also a lot of opposition to the independence movement. Some people are writing it off as a brief flair of nationalism; but with the referendum now as a concrete idea, it is clearly no longer a trivial desire for a lot of people. The Calman Commission, established back in 2007 between the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties to ‘review the devolution’ is an example of previous political opposition. Presently however, opposition from the public seems to come predominantly in the form of worries about the effect independence would have on the economy and the amount of debt assumed in the split. Not to mention the referendum also costing £10 million. With the recent recessions causing the economy to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, regardless of their level of knowledge for economics, people are worried about what the economy would be like after a split – for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

There are also a lot of issues yet to resolve. For example, what would the decision about the EU be? Would the Euro be adopted? Would a separate military be established? There is a lot to decide. It probably doesn’t help that a lot of rumours and ill-informed guesses are also cropping up and causing much confusion. Just last week I heard someone earnestly declare that if Scotland did gain independence then I would, in fact, be deported and have to immigrate in order to continue studying here. Hmm. Thankfully, this was a sentiment based on nothing but ignorance and there are no plans for a closed border.

Either way, recent polls show that 70-75% of people are calling for a referendum, whether in support of independence or the union. Whilst this may cause worry on both sides about the outcome, at least we can agree that people are getting involved – something that modern politics has been calling for. With Salmon suggesting that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote on Scottish independence, it certainly seems like this is a topic that young people should be getting engrossed in. I am a firm believer in getting the younger generations interested – after all, we are the future – so I wholeheartedly believe that this is something worth getting fired up for. But I am still just one vote amongst many; we all ought to have an opinion, whether for change or for constancy. Whichever outcome we reach, we will all feel the impact. So why not get involved?

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