I’ve managed to avoid the temptation to blog on this for a whole two days, but I can’t hold my tongue anymore. Alex Salmond wants a referendum on independence for Scotland – and I believe if you really understand what it means to be a Scotsman, you will fight tooth and nail for the Union.
Let’s set the scene. Scotland is a nation of around 5 million people (about the same as Finland), which is part of the United Kingdom. Since 1603, we have shared heads of state with England (when James VI of Scotland succeeded the Tudor Monarchs and took the English throne as James I of England). This was then ratified in law in 1707 with the Acts of Union, which merged the two crowns into one, and the two parliaments into one parliament in Westminster. Naturally, there were some unhappy parties in this transaction, and some of the Scots rebelled in the famous ’15 and ’45 rebellions (which remember, was not a conflict entirely defined by nationality – its climactic battle at Culloden was mostly between Highlander Scots and Lowlander Scots, with the English siding with the Lowlanders).
Now after these (admittedly awful) birth pangs, the new unified country began to grow anew. The Union may have begun by restricting Scottish freedoms, but it continued by opening up a new world to Scots folk. Yes, there was an irredeemable loss of culture, and the death of Gaelic as a mainstream language has its roots in that time, but the Scottish people began to make their presence felt on the world stage. Anyone who is unsure of the facts please read this book on the Scottish Enlightenment (and that goes double for the Scots reading this).
The Scottish Enlightenment is what makes me unequivocally proud to be a Scot. Lasting from around 1750 to 1800, it was the time when we took our place as a great nation, and made our presence felt around the world. We produced an astonishing outpouring of intellectual achievements, and a bevvy of powerful, important thinkers who paved the way for the modern world that we know today. James Hutton discovered the science of geology. Adam Smith outlined the principles of modern economics for the first time, and ushered in the free market world. Robert Burns penned timeless works such as Auld Lang Syne, sung all over the world at Hogmanay. James Watt constructed his Steam Engine. Even the unparalleled Benjamin Franklin immersed himself in the Edinburgh scene when he had the chance, noting that time as
the densest happiness of my life.
All this in such a short space of time. And the Enlightenment echoed further into the future, producing even finer minds such as Lord Kelvin. We don’t even have to make the dubious claims required for Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird to invent the telephone and television respectively. Instead, we can look to possibly physics’ most famous Scotsman, James Clerk Maxwell, to ensure eternal posterity by discovering the theory of electromagnetism, leading Richard Feynman (himself a juggernaut of the physics world) to say:
From a long view of the history of mankind — seen from, say, ten thousand years from now — there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade.
And this was a Scotsman’s contribution. That little island state of 5 million inhabitants. Scotland remains a powerhouse of intellect, both in science and art. We enjoy a rich panoply of cultural delights, from cullen skink to ceilidhs, from Scotch to sgian dubhs. Our soldiers make us proud, winning high honour in almost every major battlefield Britain has entered for the last hundred and fifty years. If you’re a Scot, you know all this anyway – but I implore you, read about our past a little more. Learn how we made the Union work to our advantage – learn how we enriched England just as much as Scotland, and how every member in the Union is made fuller by the presence of Scotland (and the other members to boot). The UK’s whole is far, far greater than the sum of its parts.
When Alex Salmond or one of his successors asks you to vote on Scotland’s independence (because despite the best efforts of the other parties, this appears to be inevitable), don’t succumb to the easy, blue-faced patriotism that Hollywood has sold to us, and don’t let the (long-healed) wounds of the past sting you into voting for autonomy. One look at the BBC’s Have Your Say page is enough to see that many have made that decision already, although it’s hardly a barometer for the thoughts of people who don’t feel the need to vent over the Internet (yes, I see the irony, thank you!). But please, think twice. An independent Scotland might look attractive from the rose-tinted glasses of sickly jingoism, but remember that our greatest achievements would probably never have happened without the Union, and that without it, we could be short-changing a nation that frequently punches above its weight.
I love my country, and I want what’s best for it and the world. I hope you do too.