Burning Kilt

Jim Farquharson: "We have the right to independence"

Jim Farquharson: "We have the right to independence"

The Scottish referendum on September 18 might result in shrinking Great Britain to Small Britain. but what does the independence bring for the Scots?

The drive for independence starts early. Sometimes even in the Uterus. „My birthday is on September 18“, a voice says in the TV spot. We see an ultrasound of an embryo. „Do I still want to be ruled by Westminster when I am older?“ the unborn child asks itself. The answer at the end of the campaign ad is as simple as expected: „Yes!“ to the independence of Scotland.

On September 18, about 4 million Scots will vote per referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent state - on whether it should leave a union with England which has existed since 1707. The Scottish separatists, under the leadership of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its First Minister Alex Salmond, are fighting for every single vote. The Yes camp is growing. By now already 43 percent want a separate state. Still, a silent majority fear that a future in a small state might not be as bright as promised.

In his garden outside of Dunphail, Jim Farquharson is spending the day painting „Yes“-signs in white paint. „Every nation has the right to independence“, the retired taxi driver says: „Why should we Scots not live in our own state?“ Slightly embarrassed he points to the holes in his kilt: „It’s not my good kilt, I only use this when I work outside.“ He quickly returns to politics: „We Scots hate nuclear weapons and the English can come collect them immediately after September 18.“

The best thing about the referendum is clearly that it can take place. It gives credit to British institutions to allow the Scots the right to decide over their fate in a democratic way, something which is not always the case. The English clearly hope that the Scots will remain in their union. Otherwise the United Kingdom would loose a third of its land, almost a tenth of its population and substantial revenues of oil and gas on the Scottish coast.

Great Britain would end up being Small Britain and the famous Union Jack, now flying demonstratively above Castle rock in Edinburgh, would be history. If the blue and white diagonal cross of the Scots is taken away, only the red crosses of England and Ireland remain. Trying to keep the Scots happy, London already agreed to referendums for more autonomy in 1979 and 1997, bringing Edinburgh quite a lot of “devolved rights”, meaning self-determination in health, education and social affairs. For example, the Scottish population goes to university for free - unlike in England where everyone pays 9.ooo pounds per year.

„We want to build up our own country“, explains Angus Robertson of the SNP. Like most Scots he has a social democratic agenda. Of 58 Scottish Members of Parliament in the British House of Commons only one is a member of the Conservative Party. Forty are Labour, eleven are Liberals and six are Nationalists. Also, only ten percent of the Scottish regional parliament are Tories.

Robertson has a German mother and spent years living in Vienna, where he wrote his first article for the Austrian news magazine “Profil”. He then turned from journalism to politics. As British MP for Morey in Northern Scotland, he is furiously campaigning for Scottish independence. When he is not busy meeting journalists, he is putting Yes-flyers in letter boxes.

What more does Scotland want, if it already has control over its own health and education budgets? It’s own foreign policy, Robertson explains: „We send our soldiers to wars which do not concern us. We better protect our own borders.“ An independent Scotland should have its own army; Robertson wants to enlarge the defence budget. The four nuclear submarines currently floating outside of Glasgow would be sent down the coast to England. The SNP wants a nuclear arms free country.

Is Scottish independence only an attempt to invest more in defence? Most Yes-Fans don’t think so; they often come from a more ecological background. „I would invest in wind energy“ , says an anonymous student. She works in a mill in the highlands, where water power is the energy source for the old weaving looms in the mill house.

She is voting for the green party. „But we have no chance to ever get an MP into the House of Commons!“, she says. Great Britain has a majority voting system, which makes it difficult for small parties to get into parliament. The Scots, on the other hand, have been voting since 1999, when they elected their first regional parliament by an Additional Member System, a semi-proportional voting method: „That’s why I will vote Yes!”, says the green student.

Scottish nationalism only gained wide spread support after oil and gas deposits were found in front of the Scottish coast at the end of the 1960s. The Scots in the cold and windy Highlands were no longer the poor people of Britain. The SNP slogan of the 70s was „It is Scotland’s oil!“ Today Scotland could be as rich as Norway, which also found oil forty years ago and invested it in a social and egalitarian society. Forty billion barrels of oil have already been excavated in Scotland. 24 billion more are supposed to be there - at least according to the calculations of the SNP. At the end of august Sir Ian Wood, Scotland’s most influential and respected oil expert, claimed that the separatists had exaggerated the numbers at about 60 percent: „Theirs numbers are totally unrealistic.“ Rich as Norway? Too late.

This is one of the reasons why there is still a majority against separation. Most Scots still wonder what independence would bring. In any case, it seems the Nationalists want to keep most things as they are: The SNP wants to keep the Queen, the British Pound and free borders on the islands. So why to leave at all? „In our hearts we are Scots anyway“, explains hotelier Norman MacGeoch in Knockando: „But I think we should not shut off our brains when we discuss independence.“

The union was fruitful for Scotland just as much as it was for England. The United Kingdom was an empire. A third of the governors of the British colonies were Scots. With 60 million inhabitants, Great Britain is still an important member of the European Union. We would lose all this“, says MacGeoch and pads his labrador Millie. The property developer came back to Scotland after sixteen years in England. His 16 year old son Calum plays tennis for Team GB. „If the Scots leave, for whom would he play?“ asks his father. He will vote No because he wants to stay British. „Scottish we are anyway. And why should we destroy what has worked well so far?“

The whisky distillers could not agree more. Once upon a time, whisky producers went to the Scottish highlands to hide from tax officials. Whisky has been brewed since the end of the 15th century. Today the distilleries in the Speyside region have become one of the most successful exporters of Scottish products. Four billion pounds worth of whisky were sent out into the world in 2013 alone. At the parking lot of the Glenfiddich distillery - the triangular green bottle - a sign in many languages reads: „Please drive on the left side.“ Apparently not all tourists can remember this after tasting the famous whisky.

It is not a miracle that the family who owns Glenfiddich came out in support of the „Better together“-campaign and even donated money to further the PR effort for the Union. „Scottish whisky profits from the British government and its network of trade representations all over the world“, the Grant family says in a declaration. „The lack of trade barriers within the EU is good for us, too.“

Gary Williamson agrees. „We are clearly in a stronger position together“, the owner of a metal scrap company in Forres says. The proud Scot stands between mountains of scrap metal and finds it deplorable that politicians campaign for an independent state without knowing what it would look like: „We don’t even know which currency we would have! They can’t simply say afterwards: Oh, sorry, we were only joking.“

The British government in Westminster does not want the Scots to keep the pound if they leave the union. What other options are there? Scottish economist Gavin McCrone warns: „Scotland is not qualified for the Euro. State deficit and debt are beyond the criteria.“ In his opinion the most probable scenario is a Scottish Pound bound to the British currency.

And otherwise? Not much will change. Scotland wants to join all international organisations it is now already a member of. UN, NATO, EU - the only difference would be that Scotland, with its five million inhabitants, would have even less influence than Austria. And this is not much. Today the Scots sit as Brits at the most important tables - they have a permanent seat in the UN security council.

Even Scottish celebrities have been drawn into the trenches of the battle for independence. Harry Potter author JK Rowling fears small-mindedness: „I warn of nationalists who demonise those who are critical towards independence.“ Rowling is British, but has lived in Edinburgh for the past 21 years and would like to stay. She is eligible to vote and donated a million pounds to the „Better together“ campaign. Actor Sean Connery on the other hand, who likes to pose in his kilt, will vote yes to create a „fairer“ country.

„The referendum will be in any case a catalyst for change“, believes baker Lewis MacLean: „The British political system is morally corrupt.“ If Lewis is not kneading dough in his „Highland bakery“ he is campaigning for the independence of Scotland: „Those in London stopped listening to us long ago.“

Many people in England would agree. Outside of the capital there is a feeling that the conservative government in London only caters to the interests of hedge fund managers and their superrich clients from Russia or the Arab Gulf. The English clearly hope that the Scots will not go solo, but they also hope the referendum will begin a debate about a fairer society - in England, too. This would be a clearly positive effect of Scottish separatism.

But first there is the referendum. There are still fourteen percent of undecided voters. On the morning of September 19, when even the last votes from the Highlands will have been counted, baker Lewis might have to face a hot moment: „If we loose this referendum“, he says, „it will be as if my kilt burns through.“

Keep me updated!

© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz