The debate around Scottish independence has been heating up in recent weeks, with the vote now only six months away. The latest developments are revolving around politicians from other jurisdictions telling the Scots what they’ll be missing out on if they have the nerve to vote for self-government. All of the three main parties in the UK parliament have insisted that an independent Scotland will not be allowed to use the British pound as part of a currency union; the government has also said that Scotland will lose its access to the national broadcasting company, the BBC (despite the current existence of a BBC Scotland). Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, has also claimed that it would be difficult for Scotland to join the EU as it would be seen as encouraging other secessionist movements in Belgium and Spain.
This is all curiously reminiscent of another debate that occasionally pops up around the independence question – that of Britain’s North Sea oil reserves, which are undoubtedly much closer to Scotland than to the rest of the union. For some time, British politicians loudly huffed about how all of the oil would rightfully still belong to the UK. Of course, legally speaking, the situation is much more complicated than that, and legal opinion probably backs a Scottish claim to the reserves – unsurprisingly, those British politicians have not been so loud since this became clear.
A similar situation applies to the debates around the pound and EU membership – basically, it’s never as simple as politicians with particular agendas are making out. Scotland has contributed greatly to the current strength of the pound, working with the other nations of the UK to build it up into one of the world’s foremost currencies over the last three centuries. To assume that they can simply be cut off from their historical currency seems premature at best. Equally, while Barroso has pointed to potential Spanish objections to Scotland’s EU membership, Spain has happily come out and said it has no problem – it considers the situation to be suitably different from its position with Catalonia, Galicia, and the Basque country as to not set any unfortunate precedents. Once again, the pro-union politicians have been left looking silly.
The Scottish National Party have consistently claimed that the UK is trying to ‘bully’ Scottish voters by promising to take things away from them when they have no right to do so. It increasingly appears that they are right, but this is no surprise. The relationship between England and Scotland has long been one of bullying and exploitation. The UK government helped to ethnically cleanse the Highlands of their original people in order to assist rich landowners in raising sheep; and it has been suggested that the transport links in Scotland (and Wales for that matter) resemble the kind described by Eduardo Galeano in The Open Veins of Latin America – extraction economies designed to transport resources from the interior to the ports and to London as quickly as possible, rather than to assist the local people or economy.
The Scottish people increasingly feel like they have been taken for granted and kept relatively poor for too long, and the current macho posturing from London is only exacerbating this impression. For the UK, the colonial era has been drawing to an end for some time – many considered that chapter of history closed when Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 – but many politicians are still finding it difficult to come to grips with a world in which long-exploited nations and peoples are allowed to stand up for themselves and make their own decisions about government. It seems that it may soon be time for another chapter to be written, as one of the oldest colonies of all finally gets the chance to govern itself again.