The speculation of Scotland as a sovereign state has brought up questions about the future: its economy, military, and standing amongst international organizations, to only name a few. In a sentence, the argument of the pro-independence side can be succinctly summarized to: Scotland is better off on its own.
But the issue of unity or independence has persisted for hundreds of years, Scotland’s referendum on Sept. 18 only being a recent manifestation of the age-long question. From the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Han China, and Rome to the American Civil War, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans, the people of nations and empires have oscillated between extolling the benefits of independence and holding the flag of unity.
Each time, the drive for independence was fueled by emphasizing the differences. Different ancestries, different home lands, different customs, different religions, different ideologies; whatever the apparent divide may be, they are always used to declare that my people are better off without working together with yours. For Scotland, it’s the idea that the Scottish, not the English or otherwise, are the most qualified people to make informed decisions about their own future.
And it is the emphasis of the differences which brings up an issue: If unity only means a degradation of an individual’s freedom, what is it that binds Scotland together? If an independent Scotland, why not an independent Fife, Glasgow, Stirling or Aberdeen? One can use the exact same argument to say that there is no point in deferring to a larger government body, and Oregon should only be for the Oregonians, Eugene for the Eugeneans, and South Eugene for the Southern Eugenians. We already have our own city council and mayor, why should they not be trusted with matters of regional economics and defense?
Highlighting the divide is not an attitude that consolidates and fosters trust. It is a sentiment that limits cooperation and devalues coexistence. It is the collective effort to make compromises and work together that makes the difference between anarchy and a government which can make effective decisions that stretch beyond the differences of traditional borders and ethnic roots.
The pro-independence movement has appealed to Scottish nationalism and regional pride, using history to stir patriotic feelings. Yet they have not recognized the 300 year history of unity which has bound Wales, Scotland, and England together since the turn of the 18th century; the Treaty of Union that has been in place considerably longer than the United States. Scotland’s historical sovereignty cannot be recalled from anyone’s living memory.
In contrast, Great Britain has had an irreplaceable impact on the world of today. Its existence has not been free from economic recessions, foreign threats, or internal dissent. But it was the United Kingdom — not England or Scotland alone — that battled Napoleon, abolished slavery in 1833, stretched across the globe, and fought two world wars. It was the United Kingdom that persevered until the present day and it is United Kingdom that is among the most important nations in European and international politics.
It puts things in perspective for those who recall Scottish history and tradition.
Beyond the fact that the leaders of independence campaign have been incoherent on their plans for the future of Scotland’s economy and its standing within the European Union, their ideological reasoning falters when faced with the reality of all the strengths that Scotland has received from being united. Thousands of men and women may be willing to die for the idea of independence, but millions have lived and prospered underneath an umbrella of unity.
Staying united may mean that Scots and non-Scots must work together to make policies that affect Scotland’s future, just like Oregon only has two senators who must represent our state’s interests in the capitol.
Negotiation is never easy. Compromise always means that the end result has its drawbacks and advantages. Yet it is the ability to build that bridge and extend those hands of cooperation and coexistence that enables nations to become powerful. Without the internal element of remembering a shared history, common desires and similar virtues, there is no tradition left. — Syrus Jin