Whichever side wins, the referendum means things are going to change.
It’s a couple of centuries late, but by next Friday Scotland may have followed the United States in shaking off the yoke of English oppression.
The choice facing voters is blunt: “Should Scotland be an independent nation?” Yes or No. Or as the Scots say, Aye or Naw.
Until September 6, the whole exercise had seemed academic. Nobody in the rather lackadaisical No campaign had seriously expected Scotland to revolt. But then a poll came out showing the Yesses marginally ahead. Suddenly all hell broke loose.
The UK’s ruling coalition realized it could be about to preside over the break-up of the country – not something any Prime Minister wants on his resume. Likewise the opposition Labour Party realized that, shorn of the sizeable Scottish vote, it would be unelectable. And so everyone descended on Scotland to persuade the dumb, headstrong Scots to do the right thing.
The campaign is verging on hysteria. Across most of the media, all pretense of balanced reporting has been abandoned. Newspapers warn the Scots on a daily basis of the risks independence will bring – higher prices, job losses, currency crisis, national insolvency, even (How could they do it?) emotional distress for the Queen. Big names in business have been lined up to plead for the Union. Being British doesn’t seem to matter. Today (13 September) it’s the chief economist of Germany’s Deutsch Bank opining that a Yes vote could trigger a new Great Depression.
For the Noes, the financial case is just good sense. For the Yesses, it’s the English emerging in their true colors – condescending, high-handed and manipulative.
Marriages have crumbled for less.
Remember that 2014 is the 700th anniversary of Scotland’s landmark victory over the English, led by Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. Add to that the ample serving of feel-good injected into the Scots by a successful Commonwealth Games. And add to that the weather.
Normally dreary and damp, Scotland has been seized this year by an almost tropical heat wave. The sky is blue enough, and the air balmy enough, to make you believe that even central Glasgow might be a desirable place to live. Independence, if it happens, could be an unforeseen consequence of global warming.
If anyone’s still interested in reasoned debate, the answer to most questions seems to be “It depends.” Depends on the terms of secession. Depends on how the global economy fares. Depends on how much oil can be economically recovered from the North Sea over the next thirty years. Depends on whether Scotland’s exports of oil, whisky, and comedians will be enough to keep it afloat.
But make no mistake. The United Kingdom, though formally lacking a constitution, is facing a constitutional crisis. In between the Yes and the No is a realization that, whoever wins, a close-run referendum means things are going to change. Implicitly the Noes have admitted that, by abruptly promising a lot more devolved power to the Scottish Assembly than they’d put on offer at the start of their campaign.
The good thing—and it really is good—is how passionately Scots have engaged in the debate. Next Thursday the turnout will far exceed the percentages attained in UK general elections. And Scots will be sitting around their televisions through the night watching the results come in.
They are also, in a small way, giving a democratic lesson to the rest of the world. On the tenements near where I live, one apartment has a No poster in the window, while the next has a Yes. Between them, hanging on a slender string, is a banner that reads: We love our neighbors.
Disclosure: I am English, and I will be voting Yes. My daughter, a student at Glasgow University, is a firm No. My wife is one of half a million Mibbes (undecided) – so she has the future in her hands.
David John Leeis a professional writer working with the global leadership training organization Haggai Institute. He lives in Scotland with his wife and three daughters.