I interrupt our regularly scheduled arts programming in order to bring (slightly) breaking news from the Scottish Political Front! This time on the Celtic Blog: A Quick Guide to the Scottish Referendum. However, I won’t be starting with the referendum itself, since I feel that in order to understand why the vote in September matters you’ve got to understand the history of relations between Scotland and England.
I feel justified in turning your attention to the referendum because, as we’ve seen through the poetry of Robert Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid, the politics of Scotland and its poetry are very closely related. Both past and present Scottish poets have focused on the message of a free Scotland, and with the referendum nearing, their hopes may soon be answered.
Scotland and England, as you’ve definitely gathered from the poetry we’ve read so far, were not always one country. Indeed, for a very long time the two countries were separate and fairly antagonistic (Ex: William of Orange’s orchestration of the infamous MacDonald massacre in the Glen of Tears, also known as Glen Coe, during which the entire MacDonald clan was murdered by men they had been housing as guests for over a fortnight; the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, by her cousin Queen Elisabeth I). However, following Queen Elisabeth’s childless death her cousin King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was proclaimed King James I of England in 1603. This move effectively combined the two countries under one ruler, though each retained their own governments. This partial separation lasted until the Scottish parliament headed by William II dissolved itself 1707 by the passing of the Acts of Union. Scotland was thus brought completely under English control by the vote of small body of upperclass men. Having failed to keep Scotland free through his poems on historic Scottish Resistance, Robert Burns immortalized this moment in Scottish history by penning the bitter Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation:
“What force of guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages
Is wrought now by ac oward few
For hireling traitor’s wages”
Though the move to unite the two countries into one government was likely accompanied by numerous bribes, the failure of the planned for colony of Caledonia in Darien, a colony that would have substantially helped the Scottish economy, also played a role in the merger. The two countries remained merged for the next three centuries.
In 1998, however, the Scottish Parliament was reformed, and has been voting on matters of importance to Scotland ever since, from the abortion debate to currency circulation (Scotland, in case you didn’t know, issues its own version of the British pound with the Queen replaced by famous Scottish Figures, including Robert Burns. This currency is quite lovely, but is unfortunately not accepted in other parts of the United Kingdom). I highly suggest visiting their website here: www.scottish.parliament.uk/index.aspx and finding out more about the political intrigue modern Scottish poets write in. This reinstatement of Parliament gave Scotland power over its own future it had not had since Mary sat on the throne, power that was made even more meaningful in May 2011 with the creation of a full Scottish government that reports to the British one.
Now, however, Scotland stands on the cusp of the even greater freedom of the Referendum. Should the Referendum pass this September Scotland will no longer be part of the UK. It will instead become a country in it’ own right, and take over the entire governing of itself. As this vote essentially could restore Scotland to the position its poets have dreamed of for centuries, this may be the most important votes any living Scottish person will ever face. After all, there is no telling if the chance to democratically secede will ever be given to Scotland again. The Parliament of Scotland certainly seems to be viewing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, as they have lowered the voting age in Scotland to sixteen just for the upcoming vote, allowing the youth of the prospective nation to have a say in their future.
Now, for the logistics of the Referendum! According to the Referendum website (www.scotreferendum.com/) , Scotland will take all of the land currently designated Scotland with it, which including as it does most of the UK’s in country oil-rigging, means the newly formed country will not find itself bankrupt directly out of the starting gates. Scotland will have to print an entirely new currency, however, and its place in the EU will be touch and go for the first few months. There will not, however, be a change in passport requirements when crossing from England into Scotland, just as there is not one currently existence between the Republic of Ireland and the UK.
There are quite a few other issues at stake, such as defense strategies and culture (As one poster asked, what happens to the BBC? ), all of which tie in to the truly pressing question, the one of everyone’s mind, the one that will not be answered until September: Will it pass? At the moment, it doesn’t look good. The Guardian reports that only 32% of Scots say they are planning to vote Yes in September, with fifty-seven percent saying No (www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/03/scottish-anxiety-independence-revealed-poll) .
Though it is unlikely the referendum will pass, it is a milestone in Scottish History. It is, after all, a chance for the whole of Scotland to decide its fate. No more will Scotland be sold for hireling traitor’s wages.
Note: all the history here recounted comes either from what I can remember from tours around Edinburgh and the Highlands or from the book Scotland: History of a Nation by David Ross.