A Scotswoman And Her Girlfriend Explain Scottish Politics -The Toast

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scotlandIn 1603, Elizabeth I died heirless and James VI of Scotland became James I of England (the Union of the Crowns). Then in 1707, in a meeting on Edinburgh’s North Bridge (apocryphally now a Bella Italia restroom), with protesters thronging the Royal Mile, the Acts of Union were signed, uniting the Scottish and English Parliaments in Westminster, London.Oh, also, Wales and Northern Ireland are a thing. But honestly, we don’t have the time for that now. So!

After a bit of foot-stamping and refusing to eat our greens, Scotland got its own parliament again in 1998, at Holyrood, Edinburgh. We now balance our own budget for local government expenditure independently and a bunch of other stuff, but for some this was only ever a stepping stone to the ultimate goal: Scottish independence.

The main political proponents of Scottish independence are the Scottish National Party (SNP henceforth). Their aim: a Scotland-wide, legally binding vote on the future of the country’s governance. To get that referendum, they needed a mandate — a majority government — and since the Scottish Parliament was set up with a Proportionally Representative electoral system, which tends to produce coalitions and minority governments, that seemed like a pretty distant dream.

The plot twist

Then the 2008 credit crunch happened, followed by the 2010 General Election.

The bulk of Scotland’s citizens are lefties (Labour = Democrats, very roughly) or centrists (Liberal Democrat) with a side helping of SNP (who aside from being pro-independence are pretty flexible on their political leaning week-by-week). Very few Scots are Conservatives.

Labour was in power when the 2008 credit crunch happened and were largely blamed for it. Then the 2010 UK General Election produced no overall majority, resulting in the Liberal Democrats, as the biggest ‘third party,’ going into coalition with the Conservatives, who got the most seats (but not enough for a majority). The Lib Dems promptly forgot every promise they ever made (note: may contain lefty bias and pith) and so when the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary Election rolled around, pissed-off Scots everywhere voted SNP (mainly to give Labour and the Lib Dems a kicking), leading to an historic event which honestly I have real trouble convincing most people was as exciting as it was: an SNP majority under a PR system (for real, guys, this was super exciting).

Basically the SNP’s first announcement: a Referendum on Independence. Were you surprised? I was so surprised.

So three hundred years after our parliaments united, in autumn 2014, Scotland will vote on whether to break away from Westminster altogether.

So what would independence mean?

That’s the question gripping the nation at present, and the short answer is: We’re not sure. Will we get oil revenues from the North Sea oil in Scottish waters? Will we keep the pound, adopt the Euro or mint our own currency? Will we be able to join the EU? Will we hang onto the Queen?

A few things we’re pretty agreed on: nobody in Scotland likes nukes (problematic since the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, lives here). Most agree that an independent Scotland would likely be fairly socialist because we’re all rabid, ginger lefties. There’s also a perception (I have no idea how accurate that is) that we’re less xenophobic than the rest of the UK and would favour looser immigration policy (we have so much space, you guys, castles for everybody).

Public sentiment is that there’s a lot of speculation and not many facts. Smug types (me) would make the observation that the Yes/No campaigns aren’t actually equipped to predict what would happen in the event of independence, what with us being a parliamentary democracy and getting to vote on who gets to lead us into our brave new world and what shape that world might take.

But nobody ever listens to me.

So how is Scotland leaning?

A lot of voters are ‘undecided’, and that’s unlikely to shift much until well into next year, but among decided voters there’s a strong lead for the Nays. Unsurprising: the status quo is a lot less scary than an earth-shattering change like this, particularly in economically tough times.

True to the national stereotype, Scots are motivated more by their bank balance than anything else, and most would apparently swing ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ based on being about £500 a year better or worse off either way.

Mostly folk are griping about the lack of a concise ‘what to expect when you’re expecting (independence)’ cheatsheet, simultaneously complaining about the various campaigns shoving propaganda and rhetoric down their throats. Why yes, I do loathe humanity sometimes, why d’you ask?

No, tell us what you really think, Morag

The urge to look to one’s own prosperity and security is understandable, but I find this angle short-sighted, blinkered and selfish in the extreme.

At the end of the day, the question of Scottish independence is, for me, one of self-determination and fair representation. It’s the opportunity to decide not WHAT we want the country to be in years or generations to come but WHERE we want that decision to come from: Holyrood or Westminster. I think that’s a decision worth making without concern for my own wealth or financial situation, and if I am convinced in the next year that a ‘Yes’ for independence would truly make for a better, more progressive (and yes, lefter) Scotland for my children (who am I kidding, my nieces and nephews), then I’d like to think I’d be prepared to risk an income hit and some hard times to make that happen.

Erin Hardee and Morag Hannah live in Scotland.

Morag Hannah is a sometime writer, artist and musician, a full-time loudmouth nuisance, and makes websites to pay the bills.

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