The First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP), is currently substantially ahead of Boris Johnson in Scottish opinion polls, largely due to her comparatively steady-handed and rational approach to the coronavirus crisis. Despite recent developments, however, I am not won over by the argument for Scottish independence. This discourse is rooted centuries, millennia even, into the nation’s history, and has simulated deep divisions in Scottish society. Is Scotland even a nation, though? Or is it a country, or a state? These are questions which many are unclear on.
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum caused many young people in Scotland to become politically engaged at an earlier age than one might expect. I experienced this first-hand in my high school, where uniform was strictly enforced and expressions of individuality somewhat quashed. Despite these regulations, peers of mine proudly donning a ‘Yes’ badge on their blazers, and divisive political discourse riddled its way into our trivial early-teen conversations.
The context and origins of Scottish nationalism do not by any means correlate to a linear or simple narrative. A significant juncture in the Scotland-England historical record, however, can be identified in the Union of the Crowns (1603). This took place following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, who, due to her childlessness, was succeeded by the son of her first cousin once removed, Mary Queen of Scots. In March 1603 King James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland, and the realm became unified, at least in terms of international diplomacy. His accession took place around 300 years after the death of William Wallace (1305) and the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), – two other famous epochs – and roughly 130 years before the Jacobite rebellion (1745). This indicates that conflicts and hostilities have been continuous and relentless historical themes – on scales political, social, cultural, and, more recently, economic – despite the establishment of supposed sovereign unity.
So, taking another historical leap and moving forward a couple of hundred years, tensions remain not only evident but prominent between the lands of the red rose and thistle. The sentiments suggested when describing the Scotland-England relationship in terms of ‘Great Britain’ and the ‘United Kingdom’ are limited in the extent to which they accurately represent popular attitudes.
In Scotland, those who choose to move south for tertiary education, – albeit with privilege a decisive prerequisite – for instance, are subjected to a degree of implicit judgement for exhibiting accommodation towards their English neighbours. This is also largely applicable to anyone who expresses a favourable, even neutral, attitude regarding a political party that is not the SNP. I have never understood this sequence of behaviours. The arguments for independence seem, to me, to be predominantly based upon internal policies, which would surely precipitate an isolationist sentiment. With the world as unpredictable and turbulent as it currently is, and with little indication that there is any stability or certainty on the horizon, we Scots need all the friends we can get. This is not to undermine our integrity or self-worth, but it is a consideration I feel is relevant to all political entities, regardless of size.
Westminster – and the centralised authority it represents – is systemically flawed and a serious anachronism. This fact I do not dispute, but actively promote. Having said this, I would rather have an ailing friend than reject and alienate them out of blinded nationalism and grudges. The latter course, I believe, would result in a solitary state wallowing in loneliness, all for the sake of placing shallow pride before pragmatism and realism. Whilst I recognise the manifold shortcomings of this image, I nevertheless feel it has substantial agency. Difference, when accepted and celebrated, reaps innovation and progress. Isolationism, domestic preoccupation, and cognitive homogeneity do not.
As I conclude this piece, I wish to emphasise that a full and detailed overview of the issue of Scottish nationalism, and the long-standing independence debate, cannot be covered here, but my hope is that an essence of it has been communicated. To be clear, I share in the widespread respect for Nicola Sturgeon, which deservedly permeates borders. She is talented, articulate, a fabulous female role-model, and promotes several legitimate arguments. The mission of her party, however, I fundamentally disagree with.