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Scottish Independence and National Identity Politics

Though neither the date of the vote nor the make up of the ballot have been agreed upon, the campaigns over the coming Scottish independence referendum are now in full swing.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with their present economic situation, support for outright independence among Scots is down to around 35%. The governing nationalist party and First Minster Alex Salmond seem to recognize that they won’t reach their goal of an independent Scotland by 2014. As a back up, they seek to add a second question to the ballot not only to make it an “in or out” vote, but also to determine whether Scotland should gain additional regional authority while still remaining in part of the United Kingdom. According to pollsters, Salmond and his nationalist coalition are likely to win on the second question, thereby keeping hopes alive for full independence in the future.

It is here that the nationalists run into a major problem. Legally, it is the responsibility of the British Parliament to determine the legitimacy and the overall format of any referendum ballot. There are also concerns that the Scottish Parliment has no legal basis for drafting a binding referendum in the first place. Suffice is to say, the Scots and English are likely to continue to squabble amongst themselves as they have become accustomed to for centuries.

Nationalism is a tricky beast. Scotland and England have over 300 years of shared history in the United Kingdom, and both the Scots and the English still think of themselves as having separate national identities (to say nothing of the Welsh). Compared to the European Union project, however, the question of Scotland’s place in the UK is a very simple problem.  The EU is a collection of 27 distinct national identities, all of whom have far less in common with one another than even the most dour and plainspoken of Scots has with the plummiest Old Etonian in Mayfair. With so much trouble building a national consensus between two fairly similar sets of people, the idea of an “ever closer union” on the continent looks even harder to reach — and perhaps impossible to sustain over time.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    The SNP should let the English vote in the referendum. They’d win in a landslide.

  • Walter Sobchak

    We have been reading Trollope. The decline of England in the 20th century was a great tragedy.

    Mrs. Davis: Englishmen I have known have told me that the Scots will not vote for independence, because they would be thrown off the dole.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The trouble with the EU analogy is that the English have overwhelming political, financial, and cultural power in the UK, in a way that not even Germany and France combined have in the EU. (And Germany and France do not always agree.)

    NB: I am not saying that this English power is “wrong”: just that it is a reality which motivates Scots to want more autonomy.
    Also, I suspect that Mrs Davis above is right.

  • Corlyss

    The EU needs to hire some ACORN people to go to Scotland pronto and teach the pro-independence party how to stuff the ballot boxes, “find” “lost” boxes of pro votes in large metropolitan areas, and bribe election officials (if they have such a thing for this kind of vote). They need to get with the program. I wouldn’t be surprised if those 3 thugs from the New Black Panther party weren’t available to marshal some truncheon-wielding Scots to patrol the polling places to keep away anti voters.

  • Corlyss

    “The EU is a collection of 27 distinct national identities,* * * ”

    * * * the masterminds of which have been trying to break up the UK for over a decade in order to compel it to join the other lemmings in their suicidal march to yet another German-dominated union.

  • Jules

    support for outright independence among Scots is down to around 35%

    But in England support is closer to 90%.

  • Kris

    “to say nothing of the Welsh”

    Suits me.

  • Linsey Young

    The polls currently showing support for independence at around 35% also show support for the status quo at around 20%. The remaining 45% would appear to be either undecided or favour some form of repatriation of powers from Westminster. If that latter option is not available to them they may well decide to vote for independence rather than retain a political system that is objectional to many Scots. The cleverness of Salmonds’ gambit is that by offering the option of a second question on the ballot paper he has become associated with the position of ‘devo X’. He thus denies this ground to his unionist opponents for their strategy seems to consist mainly of opposing everything that he does or says. If you find it implausible that the campaign to preserve the British state could be so shallow take a look at these links:

    If the referendum were to be held tomorrow the yes camp would only have to convert aroound 1/3 of the undecided voters. There are however two years to go and that, as they say is an awfy long time in politics.

  • dearieme

    Part of the support for Scottish nationalism comes from revulsion at the dominance of London in British life. Presumably the French don’t feel the same way about Parisian dominance, though it seems to me that they have at least as much reason to.

  • Michael Follon

    Walter Russell Mead,

    This post clearly shows that no meaningful research was done before it was written. You write –

    ‘…Salmond and his nationalist coalition…’

    What coalition is that? There is certainly no such a coalition in Scotland. You also write –

    ‘There are also concerns that the Scottish Parliment has no legal basis for drafting a binding referendum in the first place.’

    Your statement concerning ‘no legal basis’ is based on a link to a BBC article on 20 January 2012. Had you bothered to do any research into this aspect you would have come across an article in ‘The Herald’ (Saturday 11 February 2012) titled ‘Holyrood has authority over referendum’

    How does it feel knowing that you have been used to spread deliberate misinformation?

    Michael Follon

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Michael Follon: I take it you are an impassioned supporter of Scots independence.

  • Linsey Young


    France is one country, Britain is not and therein lies the difference.

  • Jules

    France is one country, Britain is not and therein lies the difference.

    I think you mean France has done a more efficient job of crushing regional identities. Even so, many Bretons, Corsicans, Basques, and others would still disagree with you.

  • Linsey Young

    Perhaps you are correct – I am not a scholar of French sociological history. I would however note the major difference being that France is a unitary nation state, whereas this has never been the case in the British Isles. A unitary state of sorts, but always a multi national union.

  • Michael Follon

    Just to clarify the difference between the British Isles and the United Kingdom. The British Isles consists of the islands of the United Kingdom as well as other islands in the area which are not part of the United Kingdom (this includes the island of Ireland, part of which is in the UK).

    The following extract pertains to Scots law and the Scottish legal system –

    ‘…Nevertheless the two systems remain separate, and – a unique constitutional phenomenon within a unitary state – stand to this day in the same juridical relationship to one another as they do individually to the system of any foreign country.’

    SOURCE: ‘Royal Commission on the Constitution 1969-1973’, Volume 1, paragraph 76, Cmnd. 5460.

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