It was of little surprise that on the same day the SNP launched their Yes Scotland campaign, a YouGov poll commissioned by former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, found that only 33% of Scots would opt for independence, while 57% would reject it. Releasing the findings of the poll was a deliberate attempt to undermine the SNP festivities and ominously paves the way for two and a half years of political bickering, one-upmanship and repudiation; such is the reality of today’s political rivalries and competition.
That is, unless either side manages to articulate an argument that extends beyond a basic economic or political blueprint to encompass something far less tangible but equally important in the debate over Scottish independence: the notion of identity and belonging.
…the proportion of national deb…
At present, the debate over Scotland’s future is being dominated by economic arguments that are purely theoretical and therefore should be seen as thoroughly unhelpful. It is as easy for the SNP to argue that people would be £500 better off per year in an independent Scotland as it is for the Unionists to refute this point.
The ideological argument for independence has been replaced by vague economic surmises. They are given legitimacy through statistical interpretation of data that could quite easily be presented in a contradictory manner. No more clearly is this demonstrated than in the debates over the proportion of national debt an independent Scotland would have to take on, (a figure around 8% is commonly agreed on). The SNP argue this would be manageable, the Unionists disagree. That is not a real debate.
…an expression of a resurgent Scottish political identity.
Scottish independence has quickly turned into a competition as to who can gain the most favourable newspaper headlines, becoming a replay of any British general election, and therefore not doing justice to the importance of what is at stake.
The political argument that Alex Salmond espouses – essentially that of self-determination – is understandable and justifiable. Scotland has a specific historic and cultural identity, together with a demarcated geographic border that lays the foundations for theoretical political autonomy. Political nationalism has been absent as a significant force in Scotland over the past few centuries, namely on account of its successful incorporation into Great Britain, creating an identity that was enforced through an invaluable contribution to Empire building and both World Wars. However, the electoral success of the SNP in recent years is clearly an expression of a resurgent Scottish political identity. The SNP have filled a vacuum left vacant by years of neglect from countless Westminster governments. It is undeniable that an unprecedented Scottish political identity exists, therefore providing a mandate for an independence movement, regardless of the poll figures.
…the economic arguments that are determined by uncontrollable variables…
The answer to what specifically is at stake is the future of Great Britain. Certainly there is political structure, economic unity and many more practical implications of Scottish separation that must be addressed. But what I believe matters the most is the impact that independence would have on British identity. The richness of historic and cultural inheritance and the impact that these have on politics is very hard to express because it is personal and unique to every individual. People relate to identity and belonging in different ways, but it comes together in one large hybrid pool of emotion and pride at events such as the Royal Wedding last year, or this year’s Jubilee and Olympics.
No one can define what Britishness means and yet it is an undeniable component of identity that exists. Perhaps such an identity would remain if Scotland were to become independent, but my feeling is that a systematic dilution of a shared heritage would be enacted over time not just for the people of Scotland, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland too. Therefore, despite all the economic arguments that are determined by uncontrollable variables, or the undeniable legitimacy behind the SNP’s desire for political autonomy, what will really determine the outcome of the referendum is identity and belonging. Does Great Britain, and everything she stands for, still have relevance in the 21st century?