Scotland: Aye or No?

By bogotapost September 10, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 19.41.01Ahead of a landmark vote on September 18, The Bogota Post speaks to people on both sides of the Scottish independence debate

The road to a referendum on Scotland’s status as part of the UK began with the 2011 Scottish elections, when Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) were elected with the promise of a referendum in their manifesto and thus got a mandate to push for a vote. This historic vote – which if passed could see the end of a 307-year-old United Kingdom – will take place in eight days’ time. Only people living in Scotland are eligible to vote in the referendum. The vote has also been opened up to 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time ever in a major vote.

In October 2012, the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ was signed between the Scottish and UK governments, promising a vote on Scotland’s status. Throughout the process the pro-union ‘Better Together’ campaign, backed by the political establishment and parts of the media, has maintained a strong lead, averaging at between 6 and 14 percentage points ahead of the independence campaign. However, on September 7, a YouGov poll showed the independence campaign in the lead for the first time, with 51 percent versus 49. This poll did not include undecideds.

Nonetheless, it now looks like a close race. Bookies odds have been slashed and London financial markets are said to be ‘concerned’. On Monday, the value of the British Pound dropped to its lowest level in 10 months on fears of a split. Independence campaigners claim to have an unstoppable momentum while ‘Better Together’ point to the fact that almost every poll still shows them coming out on top. One thing that makes this referendum a difficult one to predict is the historically high participation rates expected – the SNP are predicting 80 percent turnout, compared to 63.8 percent voter turnout in the last general election.

If the no vote wins out on September 18, then Scotland will remain part of the UK, although some political analysts now believe the result will be close enough to allow the SNP to push for a further vote at some time in the future. If a yes vote is returned, Scotland will begin a process of devolution from the UK which is estimated to be completed in 2016.

Countries around the world will be keeping a close eye, as a yes vote could have a knock-on effect: both on the rest of the UK and on other regions around the world, including the French speaking province of Quebec in Canada, and the separatist movements of Spain, Catalonia, the Basque region and elsewhere.


 Scotland: Aye or No?

Scottish flag FLICKR (Craig Chew-Moulding)‘An unprecedented opportunity to start the democratic experiment afresh’

Christopher Cotter is from Northern Ireland, but has lived in Scotland for the past 10 years. He explains that “this background makes me naturally quite jumpy when the issue of nationalism comes up – whether we are talking about Irish nationalism, UK nationalism or Scottish nationalism,” he told The Bogota Post.

As a result, Cotter says it took a lot for him “to come round to the idea of Scottish independence.” But he is now heading to the polls on September 18 determined to take a gamble on an independent future.

So what decided his view? He explains, “I am voting for independence because I see this as an amazing opportunity to effect change that could be immensely positive for every person living in the British Isles, and to a lesser extent those beyond this small group of islands.”

The idea of Scotland as having a fundamentally different political ideology to the rest of the UK is one commonly espoused by the yes campaign and Cotter agrees, saying he wants a future for Scotland “where we no longer try to play at the ‘big boys table.’” What this means for him is a country free of nuclear missile installations, where welfare is prioritised and borders are open, and where “we are willing to accept a much less comfortable standard of living in order to make real change for the better for everyone on the planet.”

Heading off accusations of romanticism, the Irishman explains, “I am under no illusions that independence will bring the idealistic future that I want overnight, if at all.” But, in another common theme among yes voters, he explains that for him the possibility of change is better than nothing: “Independence will provide the people of Scotland with an unprecedented opportunity to start the democratic experiment afresh in the twenty-first century, with the benefit of hundreds of years of hindsight.”

Despite the optimism of Cotter’s views and vision for the future, he has been disappointed by the level of political debate, saying “the atmosphere has been particularly ghastly.” He describes a situation where both sides are “demanding factual answers to questions that can’t be answered factually” as neither side wants to admit the possibility of losing to the other.

There have been rumblings by yes campaigners of a media bias against their cause and Cotter concurs, saying he is “utterly frustrated” by media coverage of the referendum.

“As far as I am concerned, and as far as most folk that I speak to on both sides of the debate seem to be concerned, the currency issue is far down on our list of concerns… yet the media has decided that this is what the debate hangs upon, and thus reports everything within that light.” He also suggests that the UK media is part of the “status quo” and as such wants to keep things the way they are.

In spite of his hopes, Cotter thinks the outcome of the vote will be a no victory. He estimates that “people are far more likely to bottle it when they make it to the polling booth.” He says, “I think most people will vote ‘no’ for potentially very understandable reasons – worries about their job, their family, their mortgage.”

However, he believes the vote will be close and with a glimmer of hope, adds “Maybe, just maybe, I will be pleasantly surprised.”

Union Jack - Flickr Gary Knight‘I fear it is going to get a lot uglier the closer the date comes’

Some who are wary of Scotland breaking up the UK fear a worst-case scenario.
“This is not what Scotland is about – we are a friendly country and should not be engaging in a civil war.”

These are the words of Scott Barron, who is planning to vote no in the referendum on September 18. Barron was brought up in Falkirk, Scotland, before moving to London to study music. He stayed down south for 15 years before returning to Edinburgh nine years ago.

Gordon Smith is also voting no. He is from Paisley, near Glasgow, and asked for his name to be changed, as his job does not permit him to comment on political matters.

Both voters oppose independence from a financial standpoint. Barron believes that Scotland cannot survive financially as an independent country. He says, “The yes campaigners are putting a lot of emphasis on our oil reserves but what happens when these run out?“

The SNP have been criticised by the no campaign for a lack of clear answers on key issues such as currency and EU membership. Smith agrees with this interpretation, saying, “I do not believe that the vague promises delivered by the SNP are deliverable. There has been no agreement with the UK government or EU on any matters whatsoever. If we were to vote yes it would be a blind decision based on hope as opposed to fact.”

Barron is also skeptical of the promises made by the yes campaign, saying of the SNP’s outspoken criticism of poverty levels in the country, “Scotland has been run by its own government for many years now and they have so far failed to do anything significant about this. Why would an independent Scotland change anything?”

Another issue that concerns these voters is currency. The Scottish government proposes that an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound and enter into a formal currency agreement with the government of the United Kingdom. As Barron says, this raises several questions, not least whether the rest of UK would agree to this, and if not what the alternative would be.

Barron is also worried about a rise in anti-English sentiment in the lead-up to the vote, saying that he has noticed an increase in aggression towards no supporters, especially on social media such as Facebook. He says, “I fear it is going to get a lot uglier the closer the date comes.”

On the other hand, Smith says there is aggression from both camps: “There has been a slightly nastier atmosphere as the referendum draws closer, with public disturbances and some cases of assault by both sides of the divide.”

Both Barron and Smith believe that, in the end, a no vote will win the day. While the two voters coincide in their impression that the yes camp is more vocal, they believe that on September 18 the no voters will nonetheless be out in force.

Smith says he is “confident that the majority will vote no on September 18.”


By Charlotte Ryan