The #Indyref is over and it has become a referendum for the ages, wherever we come from. The question of Scotland concerns all of us and the “yes” vote has won even if, as most polls, pundits and most importantly bookies, are still predicting it falls short. Devolution is catching on and Scotland has won big out of this election no matter the result. Indyref has been a transforming argument which forced Scotland to look at the possibilities of the future as well as the fears. The no argument appealed to the fears saying independent Scotland would be worse off on defence, the pound, pensions, taxation, the national health and the banks. The best positive argument they could come up with was the United Kingdom was “better together”. But mostly it was just the English who felt they were better together and many Scots had other ideas. The yes campaign forced Scottish people to confront their own identity on many layers and made them wonder whether they had the “right stuff” as a nation to solve the myriad problems separation would bring.
This was a dangerous argument but also exciting in its possibilities. The media simplified this appeal to nationalism by endless re-runs of American-Australian Mel Gibson in a make-believe movie about Scottish legend William Wallace rousing his troops to fight the English. But Indyref is a lot deeper than Hollywood romanticism of buttock-weaving Bravehearts. Modern Scotland has the potential to be an important independent bulwark in northern Europe and an antidote to the American-centric stridency of London. That the English media and its paymasters don’t like this possibility was shown by George Monbiot who noted that almost “the entire battery of salaried opinion” was against the yes vote. That was also reflected in the desperation of English political leaders in the final days of the campaign when the polls tightened to 50-50.
Prime Minister David Cameron staked his leadership on “no” when that result looked comfortable and was forced to eat humble pie of “don’t divorce us” and offer more powers to Holyrood in return for victory. Cameron’s arrant hypocrisy mixed appeals to British nationalism with fears of what might happen and threats if he did not get his way. It’s Cameron’s own fault for allowing the referendum question to be the simple “Should Scotland become independent?” It left Scots forced to make a stark choice and it is hard to feel any sympathy for his “you can’t undo this” stance this week. As I pointed out in 2012, only 30% of Scots wanted independence but 60% wanted more taxation powers for the Edinburgh parliament. Half of these did not want independence, but with that option not on the referendum, the question is how many of those wanting more Scottish powers will vote “yes”.
Cameron’s opponents in Westminster have even more to lose. Scotland has a left-leaning history, a fact that alarms Labour if it lost 80 seats in a general election. North Brit Gordon Brown has been wheeled out to continue the illusion the Scottish working class have a say in Whitehall. You can be Scottish and British, Cameron and Brown say (for different reasons), but no one mentions “the English”.
England was the premier power in the initial 1707 Act of Union and although the Scots punched well above their weight since then, England, or to be more precise London, is where the action is. Scotland may look to Ireland of how an English-speaking nation thumbs its nose at its imperial master and survives, if not thrives, in the shadow of Westminster. Ireland exudes a lot of soft power, particularly through its vast diaspora. But Ireland’s governance reeks of corruption so an independent Scotland would look to east not west for a more better inspiration. Norway is not part of the EU but like Scotland has vast oil and gas reserves. Norway has gone down the social democrat path of establishing a secure future fund out of its resource super profits (something that many Australians look on with envy and perhaps why PM Tony Abbott spectacularly intervened in indyref) and Salmond’s SNP government would look kindly on a similar scheme.
We’ll find out soon enough if Salmond has that opportunity. It will ultimately come down to Glasgow, who declare their result with Edinburgh later this afternoon Australian Eastern Standard Time. Catalonia, Kurdistan, Lombardy and Quebec will all be watching closely – but so will everyone else. Scotland has tapped into deep politics of identity that profoundly affect us all. Nationality may be an imagined identity, but its consequences are real.