A week from today, on the 18th of September, Scotland will decide whether it wants to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom and become independent. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the result of this referendum will have far reaching consequences for all of the countries in the Disunited Kingdom (as I prefer to call it), including for Wales.
Unlike Wales, which was conquered by England in the late 12th Century and was absorbed into England in the Act of Union of 1536, Scotland was never defeated by England. It was independent until 1707, when the Scottish Parliament voted to dissolve and to form a political union with its larger neighbour to the south, and for Westminster to become the Parliament for a new Great Britain.
Interestingly, despite this over 300-year union, Scotland has always retained a separate legal and educational system to England, although decisions about them have been made by the whole British Government in London. In 1999 Scotland and Wales were both given a limited amount of independence (devolution) from the Westminster Government, and for historical reasons the level of decision making afforded to the new Scottish Parliament was greater than that afforded to the new Welsh Assembly.
It may surprise some of my readers in e.g. the USA and Australia that the level of decision making which Scotland and Wales have is much less than the individual states do in the USA and Australia. Having lived in the United States for 9 years, and in 4 different states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine and Wisconsin), each of those states has the ability to raise their own taxes, make their own laws and control much of their affairs like health, education, roads. Far far more independence from Washington D.C, than Wales or Scotland have from London.
Over the last 15 years I think it is fair to say that most people living in Scotland and Wales feel that devolution has been a success. Here in Wales we now get a block-grant from London, but can decide on matters of health and education how that money is divided up. So, for example, in Wales medical prescriptions are free (which they are not in England), we are charged 5p for plastic bags in shops (to cut down on their usage), and university fees for students from Wales are £3,000 rather than the £9,000 which English students have to pay (the Welsh Government pay the difference as the universities in England and Wales mostly charge £9,000).
I am no expert on the level of devolved powers Scotland has, except that it is more than those Wales has, but in the eyes of some these levels of devolved powers have not been enough, and on the 18th the Scottish people will decide whether they wish to go several steps further and have full independence from the rest of the Disunited Kingdom. For most of the last several months the “no” campaign has had a comfortable lead in the opinion polls, but this last weekend the polls showed that the gap has narrowed considerably and one poll even showed the “yes” campaign to have a narrow lead. This led to most of the London newspapers having headline stories on Monday (8th) about the impending doom should Scotland vote to break away.
This is how the Daily Telegraph have reported the narrowing in the opinion poles.
And, this is how The Times has covered it.
This is how the Daily Mail covered the story. My apologies for posting a screen capture from this awful newspaper, which I find nothing better than a xenophobic hate-stirrer, but I thought I should include it as an example of how the more hysterical right-wing press are covering the story.
It was also announced on Sunday (the 7th) by George Osborne, the Chancellor, that the Government would be laying out details of how Scotland will be given more independence from London should they vote “no” in the referendum. I think it is fair to say that the British (London) Government is in a bit of a panic, as the possibility of a “yes” vote now seems more likely than it did even just a few weeks ago. Just yesterday (Wednesday the 10th), the leaders of the three main “British” parties David Cameron, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg all headed to Scotland in what some see as a last-ditched effort to “save the union”. The “three amigos”, as they have been dubbed, have stayed out of the debate thus far, and it may transpire that their going to Scotland will backfire on the “no” campaign and be perceived as English politicians meddling in Scottish affairs.
As a Welsh person who has always wanted Wales to be independent, I am watching what happens in Scotland with much interest. Realistically, I cannot see Wales even holding a referendum on full independence any time soon. Having been to Scotland several times I have certainly got the impression that they are far more confident about their ability to run their own affairs than Welsh people are. I have always put this down to the difference in mentality of a people who were never conquered by England compared to the Welsh, who were conquered.
But, whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no”, it is now clear that Scotland will have more independence from London than it currently has, and this can only mean that Wales will gain more independence too. Already, just in the last year, Wales has gained the right to create and vote on its own laws which fall within its devolved powers. How much longer before we can also raise our taxes, to allow us to raise more (or less) than the London Government does?
The outcome of the referendum next week will certainly be historic, and I await it with bated breath.