As a long removed ex-pat Scot, I’m some distance physically and otherwise from the tension surrounding yesterday’s independence vote in Scotland. Or so I thought. It seems you can take the wee boy out of the heather but…you get the idea. I found myself drawn into the debate as voting day approached, and stared at my laptop screen last night until the decision was confirmed. The fact that the vote split was exactly what I had predicted, 55/45 for the Nos, was little comfort given the outcome. Since a visit to Edinburgh University in August where I became more familiar with the pros and cons of Scottish independence, I gradually moved towards a cautious Yes position. I came round to the viewpoint that a vote for Yes was a vote for hope, aspiration and courage (Scots wha hae!). But it was not all about emotions and nostalgic refuge. To the extent that any of the predictions about Scotland’s capacity to function successfully on its own were reliable, the Yes side built a cogent case for economic, cultural, socially and environmentally progressive autonomy. This was not just about how much oil was really left in the North Sea, but also about a more compassionate society with enlightened immigration and carbon neutral energy policies.
But the people have spoken, as they say, and in the short term there will be wounds to heal for some and sighs of relief for others. Once the dust settles, I hope people can see this historic event for all its positive attributes. To begin with, Scotland – and Wales, Northern Ireland and possibly parts of England – will be given greater devolved powers over everything from taxation to housing authority (and should Westminster renege on their eleventh hour promises, they’ll be inviting secessionist uprisings in more places than Scotland). Increased responsiveness to the needs of local communities – what’s not to like about that?
This was also a victory for civil democracy. Millions of people passionately debating the future of their country without bloodshed or brutality – how civil is that? And the turn out – 85% of eligible voters exercised their franchise, a staggering proportion Canadian elections can only dream about. The referendum animated millions of people, and engaged more citizens in the democratic process than ever before, including hundreds of thousands of young people whose appetite for political activism has just been whetted. The government of the day is being held more accountable, citizens openly expressed their views, and the body politic is more robust and responsive as a result. Leaving aside the short term disappointment and dashed hopes of the day, ultimately everyone won in the Scottish referendum.
(note from Renee: photo courtesy The Piper’s Frith, Newfoundland, where I studied in 2011.)