Scottish Independence: Change is in the Wind
by Eliza Scharfstein on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
On September 18, Scotland voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom after a referendum, with 55% of Scottish citizens voting against independence. As a September 9th Upshot article states, many Scots wanted independence mainly because they lacked a sense of cultural belonging. The article states, “Many Scots feel as if they have more to gain from governing alongside people who look like them and talk like them than they have to lose from no longer being part of a bigger, more powerful nation.” Apparently, however, the economic drawbacks of seceding outweighed cultural comfort, as the majority of Scotland decided to remain a part of the 64-million-person United Kingdom.
Shortly after the vote, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, promised to grant the Scottish Parliament more power. But many Scots worry whether Cameron will follow through on his promise and whether this pledge will be enough of a concession to the Scottish people. In the short term, none of the political leaders suggest they will be voting again anytime soon. Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, who supported independence himself, even said that this issue has been discussed “perhaps for a lifetime,” according to a September 19th BBC article. The process leading up to the vote was also held in a fair and democratic fashion with cooperation on both sides. The people of Scotland voiced an issue, a referendum took place, and they made their choice. As a September 19th, New York Times Op-Ed by Roger Cohen, titled “We the People of Scotland” articulated, “This vote, in which free people expressed their will over the potential breakup of Britain, amounted to a powerful reminder of democracy’s virtues.” The people voted—and they voted against independence.
A 55% majority, however, isn’t significantly more than the 45% of Scots who wanted to split from their country, in order to create—what they thought would be—a better nation. While this divide likely will not cause another referendum anytime soon, a large part of voters were left unsatisfied. This deep divide will surely cause tension within the entire United Kingdom; it is now up to David Cameron and Parliament to decide how easily they want to breach the gap between England and Scotland.
Kenan Malik, in a September 26th New York Times Op-Ed cleverly titled “United Kingdom, Divided People”, argues that a sense of political frustration is not unique to this situation. He writes, “Not just in Scotland, nor even just in Britain, but throughout Europe, there is a crisis of political representation, a growing sense of political institutions as remote and corrupt, of voters’ concerns being ignored.” This isn’t just a Scottish issue—and this universal sense of mistrust will reflect on the future proceedings of the United Kingdom in its entirety. Independence may be a “no”, but change is a definite “yes”. The Scots who are pro-independence aren’t just going to throw the entire issue away; they will still fight for what they want, whether or not secession remains a possibility. Some serious change—for all of the United Kingdom—is guaranteed to come forth.
Meanwhile, across a vast body of water and in an entirely different country and region, Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain, is also fighting for its independence. The path so far, however, has been far rockier, considering that Catalans are slated to vote on November 9th, though the Spanish government in Madrid has not approved their decision. In the midst of a slightly more textured struggle, Catalonia obviously sees the Scottish ultimate vote as a disappointment, as reported by a September 19th BBC article. On the other hand, according to a September 19th piece in the Wall Street Journal, the region’s president reportedly says, “Whoever thinks this a hurdle for our own process is fooling himself.” The fact that the referendum actually occurred will most likely influence Catalan voters much more than the outcome; Scotland is part of a different country with different issues, something Catalonia will definitely take into account come November. The bigger issue lies within the Spanish government: the refusal to allow Catalonia to vote will likely spur this topic into a deeper, more pressing concern.
Scotland has sounded the cry for change, and similar bells are being struck across the world. Whether or not the United Kingdom, and all the other countries facing this dilemma, will listen to the warning is a worry for a different day.
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