Thoughts from Abroad During the Scottish Referendum

By Lauren Muliawan, Contributing Writer ||

Having spent the last five weeks in the heart of Edinburgh, I have begun to live, breathe, and eat Scottish politics. In the few weeks leading up to the referendum, debate was vibrant. Citizens were actively seeking out an answer to the future of the country. The most amazing thing was how peaceful and democratic the whole process was. As an American used to the attack dog approach to elections and politics, it was invigorating to witness the grassroots democracy that was taking place.

The question for Scots was not could Scotland be independent, but whether that was best for its future. As a nation that has served as a beacon for education, enlightenment, and egalitarianism for centuries, no one debated Scotland’s ability to stand on its own. They debated the ‘bread and butter’ issues. I heard more conversations about education, job security, and economic growth than about the latest football (soccer) scores, or the newest celebrity scandal — a most welcome change of pace from typical conversations I hear in the states.

The Yes Scotland campaign in particular was reminiscent of the 2008 Obama campaign of hope over fear. Everywhere I looked people had rallies, buttons, posters, flags, and opinions. But everyone was calm and everyone weighed the decision heavily. It is an amazing piece of democratic history we were privileged to witness several weeks ago.

With 90 percent of Scottish citizens registered to vote (4.5 million, roughly), and an 84.5 percent turnout rate, Scotland shattered records. And, although Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom for the time being, there was but a 10-point difference in results. Yes, 10 points is not small—but there are still roughly half of Scots who wish to be independent. This is going to have a profound impact on decisions moving forward, especially with a Tory majority in UK Parliament, an impending EU Referendum, and the rise of “English Votes for English Laws.”

What has also been amazing is that neither campaign was expecting the status quo to remain the same. Better Together’s campaign was not advocating for the devolved powers of the Scottish government to remain intact. The campaign called for increased devolution — devo max.

Despite the less dramatic result, Scotland is still in for major changes as England and Scotland wrestle over the identities of their nations and the effectiveness of their institutions. One thing is for certain: the face of British and Scottish politics is at a crossroads. I suspect that in the next 10 years we are going to see the independence question resurface. Forty-five percent is not an insignificant number, and the Scottish National Party’s membership has skyrocketed since the vote.

The SNP is now the third largest party in the United Kingdom. A political organization that focuses on Scottish national identity and sits on the left side of the spectrum, the SNP is larger than the Liberal-Democrats—one of the parties in the United Kingdom’s current coalition government. When I talked with the member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) for whom I intern, he was astonished by the growth of his party in his constituency. The most recent numbers place the SNP at the 77,000 mark. The Labour party stands at 190,000, the Conservatives at 134,000, and the Liberal-Democrats at 44,000. 77,000 is roughly 17,000 more people than the population of Lancaster City.

It is a curious and exciting time over here. People are reinvested in politics. Talk is lively, and the people are knowledgeable. It is refreshing and inspiring. Big things are unfolding for the UK, and no one is quite certain what will happen, only that change is inevitable.

Leave a Reply