Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My Message to Scotland: Vote Yes to Independence. Let the Sun Set on the British Empire

In just a few hours, Scots will have the chance to do what their ancestors at the Battle of Bannockburn did seven hundred years ago: Win their nation's independence.  Fortunately this time, bloodshed is highly unlikely.  In a great exercise in democracy, Scots have been granted the right to choose their country's fate.  It's a right that most peoples seeking self-determination around the world can only dream of.  The fight for Scotland's future is very reminiscent of a struggle that I know all too well about as a Canadian: the question of Quebec's status.  Quebec has twice voted against independence.  The last referendum was in 1995, when I was still a teenager.  I can still remember my parents and I going to a massive rally in Toronto calling on Quebec to stay in Canada.  In my high school, we were even asked by our homeroom teacher to sign a petition calling on Quebec to vote against separation.  I signed that petition, but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not have signed it, nor would I have attended the rally in Toronto in 1995.  Quite the opposite.  I would have joined the campaign in favour of an independent Quebec, and I feel that should there be another referendum on the question of the province's status, I will definitely be on the side of the sovereigntists, which is why I am now on the side of those in Scotland who seek to regain their country's independence.

I have listened to the predictable arguments of those against Scottish independence.  They are very similar to the ones always used by those who are against independence for Quebec and they are almost all about the economy.  I'm not going to say that the "No" campaigners in Scotland are wrong about the economic consequences of Scottish independence any more than I would try to contradict the similar arguments of the federalist camp in Canada.  The truth is that there probably will be significant economic consequences for Scotland if they choose independence, just as their would be for Quebec if they decided at some point to go it alone.  But since when has freedom ever been free?  Indeed, there is always a price to pay when a people seek freedom.  It is usually paid in blood rather than money, and I would say that any economic costs borne by Scots after a "Yes" vote pale in comparison to the sacrifice made by their ancestors who bled on the battlefield of Bannockburn and the many other battlefields on which Scots gave their lives for their country's freedom.  Moreover, I cannot think of too many examples in which a newly independent country did not struggle during its first years of sovereignty.  So yes, in the short run there probably will be consequences for Scots to bear after they have voted for independence.  But in the long run, they will find that they made the right decision.

The Tyranny of the English Majority

It is true that way back in 1707, the Scottish parliament at the time decided to dissolve itself and delegate legislative power over Scotland country to Westminster in what is now called the Union of the Parliaments, so there was a degree of choice involved when the country joined the emerging British Empire - but only to a limited extent.  The Union of the Parliaments occurred well before universal suffrage; well before legislatures were elected by the masses rather than just by white male land-owners.  Then again, Scotland's accession to the British Empire was much more legitimate than that of Wales or Ireland, both of which were countries conquered by the English.  By the early 20th century, after centuries of bloodshed, most of Ireland managed to free itself from the yoke of British imperialism.  But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom, and they are all politically and economically dominated by the English.  Indeed, English domination has always been at the core of the British Empire and continues to be today.

Whatever Scotland gained from its domination at the hands of England will never make up for what it lost.  Centuries of English hegemony have made Scotland's Gaelic language nearly extinct.  The country's culture has become little more than a sideshow in the British melting pot.  And although Scotland's economy has developed significantly since the emergence of the British Empire, the country remains poor compared to England, even as oil has been pumping out of the Shetland Islands.  But instead of enriching Scotland, this oil has largely gone to where most precious resources in the U.K. have gone over the centuries: into the hands of the English.  The fact that Scotland and the other countries in the U.K. have gotten the short end of the stick while England has taken the bulk of the wealth and power shouldn't be a surprise, however, because after all, the United Kingdom, though largely a product of conquest, is a democracy, and in a democracy the majority rules.  So who is the majority in the U.K.?  Why the English of course!  So just as Quebec has been historically dominated by Canada's English-speaking majority, so too have the Scots, Welsh and Irish been dominated by the U.K.'s English majority.  In fact, Scotland and the other smaller countries of the U.K. are in an even worse situation because even together, they don't make up a very large counter-weight against England, whereas Quebec is Canada's second-most populous province and has been able to use its population's voting power to force significant concessions from the English-speaking majority, giving the province more power over its affairs and allowing it to reaffirm its distinct French identity.  It's time that Scotland said no to this tyranny of the English majority by saying "Yes" to independence.

Multinational Empires Have no Place in This World

The United Kingdom is what I often call a multinational empire - a country composed of two or more large ethno-national groups, but usually dominated by just one of them.  The U.K. is composed of four main national groups, but controlled overwhelmingly by one - the English.  It's story is the story of most multinational empires.  It begins when one group of people become so powerful that they conquer the territories of other peoples to eventually form an empire.  Rome, which was the greatest empire of the ancient world, began with the small Roman republic.  But of course, that republic grew more powerful, swallowed the territory of its rivals, and became an empire that stretched across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.  It contained countless ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, though control remained firmly in the hands of the empire's founders, the Latin speakers of the Italian peninsula.  But of course, all empires eventually come to an end, as did the Roman Empire, which slowly lost control over the territories it had conquered until Rome itself finally ceased to exist as a state.  Fast forward centuries later to when England began to grow in wealth and power until she took control of her neighbours to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, which in turn spread throughout the globe conquering other peoples and their territory to forge the British Empire.  By the mid-20th century, the British Empire was a shell of its former self.  The British no longer hold vast territories overseas.  They have lost their empire.  And now, just as Rome itself was erased as a state, I believe so too will the British state cease to exist.  Whether this happens as a result of the Scottish referendum, or happens later on, it will almost definitely happen.  In fact, I believe that eventually all multinational empires, be they Canada, the Russian Federation or even the great United States of America, will come to an end.  It's just a question of when.  


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