An immigrant’s tale: Scottish independence

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I was born in Brasil to a Brasilian mother and American father. When I was 5 and my sister was in utero, we moved to the US so my dad could take care of his ailing mother. Circumstances made what was supposed to be a temporary stay into a permanent one, so as we couldn’t move back to Brasil, my dad would send my mum, sister and me down there almost every summer for 3 whole months. Having only 2 weeks holiday every year, he could never join us. I missed my dad of course, but I was surrounded by my big, noisy family, loving grandparents, cousins my own age, a culture I loved, so I wasn’t as troubled as they must have been.

Growing up so internationally meant I was not as immersed in the blind patriotism of the American midwest, and even at my most patriotic, I still saw the flaws of the US, particularly the cultural imperialism that was simultaneously adopted and resented. By the time I was halfway through uni and had made my first trip to Europe, I knew I had to get away. I came to Scotland for a summer research project at St. Andrews, and I loved it so much I decided to come back for my PhD.

Four and a half years later I got that PhD and switched from a student visa to a highly skilled migrant visa. About a year later I switched again to an unmarried partner visa, as I had been living with my Scottish boyfriend for over 2 years by that point. I got my indefinite leave to remain in 2011 and applied for citizenship after our wedding. I officially became a citizen on Leap Day, 2012, after more than 8 years and several thousand pounds in visa fees. The next day I sent off my voter registration, and soon after, I joined the SNP.

For you see, in the 9 years I’ve been here, I changed my mind about a few things. I was your typical Britophile back in the day. I loved tea, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and ‘Jane Eyre’. My favourite living authors were the very British Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett. I thought ‘Coupling’ was better than ‘Friends’, and my boyfriend knew that as much as I loved him, Colin Firth was top of my list. I thought ‘The Dambusters’ was the best war film ever. I thought Westminster was a fine political institution, especially compared to the US Congress. And I thought Scotland was probably better off as part of the UK in the same way that Ohio was better off within the US.

Most of these things are still true. I still love tea, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Colin Firth, etc. I walked down the aisle to ‘The Dambusters March’. However, I am no longer a believer either in the quality of the Westminster government or of the benefits of the Union for Scotland. My reasons for this are many and complex, but I will try to give a brief summary of some of the main points.

* I am a firm believer in small countries. The complexity of modern societies is leading to diminishing returns, and I think the best way to counteract that is to have countries that are smaller but cooperate more fully with each other on the global scale. Smaller populations can have more representative governments that are more in touch with the people they represent, and resources can be more effectively utilised. The perfect examples of this are the Nordic countries, which have populations of 5-10 million people, moderate levels of natural resources, and some of the most equal and least corrupt societies in the world; they also cooperate with each other extensively and have shared institutions. This is the sort of model I would like to see for the British Isles.

* Westminster has shown itself to be corrupt and beholden to a very select few in the upper echelons of the financial world. This is true of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Expenses scandal, Iraq war, financial deregulation, bailed out banks being allowed to give out millions of pounds in bonuses for failure, cruel benefits legislation, terrible immigration legislation, inappropriate media relationships, tuition fees, NHS privitisation… the list goes on and on. This is not the government I want representing me.

* If the Union has been so great for Scotland, why does it have the lowest life expectancy and highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe? Why are the industries decimated? Why is there so much child poverty? How can a country with so much wealth in the form of natural resources seem to have such difficulty coping with these problems? And why have these things only started improving AFTER devolution, and particularly after the SNP, a party answering not to anyone in London but only to Scotland, came into power?

* By definition in Westminster, Scotland cannot have an equal voice. Some might say this is fair, because it is so much smaller in population than England, but being constantly run by an unrepresentative government is a sure source of resentment. The framers of the US constitution recognised the danger in such inequality, and created a bicameral legislature with one house representative of population and the other giving equal representation to each state. I’m not normally one to praise the US method of doing anything, but this basic idea is at least fair. Westminster’s second house is one of privilege and cronyism that does nothing to redress the balance of the UK’s smaller countries being at the mercy of England’s electorate, regardless of how different their views might be.

* The West Lothian question. Of course it is a problem that matters affecting only England and Wales can be voted on by MPs representing Scottish constituencies. This shows that the Union as it stands is also not always fair to the rest of the UK, and not just Scotland.

* I want a society that is left-of-centre, socially liberal, equal, honest, with a strong emphasis on social justice and social welfare, that values education, intellectual endeavour, science, the arts, and people, takes care of its most vulnerable, and interacts with the rest of the world with respect. I do not believe Westminster is capable of delivering this society, but Scotland is much better placed to do so on its own.

That is why I will be voting ‘Yes’ in 2014, and I hope all my fellow Scots will join me.

4 COMMENTS

  1. This article pretty much covers my own position. I came to Scotland from Lithuania some years back with many of the same knowledge and opinions. Time here and a great deal of personal study of the facts has lead me to support independence. I had no opinions base in myths nor did I have a chip on my shoulder. I thought England and Britain were interchangeable terms and had no reason to question the UK’s public image. Once confronted with the reality of living in Scotland I immediately began change my opinions. I am now sure that many immigrants have gone through this process and have likely come to similar conclusion as myself and the writer of this piece. Any indigenous Scot must take this fact very seriously if they question that independence is a viable and preferable option then why do most immigrants have no hesitation in saying YES.

  2. I think sometimes it takes someone who comes into a situation afresh to question the status quo.

    Many people are instinctively in favour of the Union, but when you ask them why it is better than independence, their answers are often based on doubt about Scotland’s ability to govern itself or shallow notions of shared identity like James Bond, the Queen or Team GB.

    When you actually ask yourself the question – as I myself did, as a lifelong Scot, less than a year ago – ‘how does Scotland benefit from being in the Union?’, and when you look at all the evidence, the fact is that we’re not getting a good deal at the moment and that we could support ourselves as an independent country.

    Growing up, I was always instinctively anti-independence, and it wasn’t until I looked at what we had achieved under devolution, where Scotland governs its own affairs to the great benefit of people who live here, and then what was done at Westminster, and I thought ‘I don’t want to be a part of that any more’.

    In Scotland, when we can make our own decisions, we make them better than when they are made for us at Westminster. Sometimes it takes a simple questioning of our belief in the status quo to realise that.

  3. I haven’t quite made up my mind on the general question of Scottish independence yet, but I think 2014 is definitely premature, for the following reasons:

    1. Small countries are not necessarily better governed. Small countries – with its correspondingly small political and economic elite – can be incredibly corrupt as well. Austria is a good example. The small republic of 8 million people is rocked by scandal after scandal in the past ten years – passports sold for political donations, the minister of finance stealing millions of euros etc. All the while the country is ruled by the same small circle of elite – because there is not much choice. Which leads to the second point:

    2. If Scotland votes for independence in the coming referendum, the SNP will be the party that lead Scotland to independence. Combined that with the uncertain futures of mainstream UK political parties in a post-independence Scotland, it is not hard to imagine that the SNP will dominate Scottish politics for a good while. I have so far no problems with the policies or politics of the SNP – but I don’t want a Scotland dominated by one political party. The hold of power the People’s Action Party enjoys in a ostentatiously ‘democratic’ Singapore 40 years after independence is a cautionary tale.

    3. In such an uncertain economic climate. Scotland benefits from being a part of a larger fiscal Union. The future of the euro is uncertain – we don’t know what a potential collapse of the euro will do to the Scottish banking system – which for better or worse, is a economic life support system. We also don’t know how long the current economic doldrums will last. The North Sea oil is not strictly speaking Scotland’s – RUK has paid for its exploration and much of it is owned by private companies. It would only be ‘ours’ if Scotland nationalizes them outright and refuse to pay RUK for its previous investments. Even then there is the cost of decommissioning to consider. Independence in the best of times is an uncertain undertaking. In these times it is foolhardy.

    So I guess my conclusion on Scottish independence is – not now, but worth revisiting in better times, when Scottish politics is more competitive and when its economy is in ruder health.

  4. Interesting points, which I will attempt to answer.
    1. Of course being small does not automatically grant good governance. My point was that it can be a lot easier to keep your politicians to account when they are closer to you. You say Austria has a major corruption problem (though on the Corruption Perceptions Index it is still ranked better than the UK!); now imagine if it were twice the size, or three times the size, or ten times the size and the political elite being ever further from the people they are supposed to represent. Or just look at Westminster, with expenses scandals, cash for honours, Plebgate; this is a political elite whinging about having to justify getting new windows for their second homes at the taxpayer’s expense. And then there is the US political elite. Do I need to say more?

    2. That is the fault of other parties for failing to engage in the debate and treating the electorate with contempt. It is likely that the SNP would win a first election. However, the SNP is currently a broad kirk, and there are many SNP members and voters who are only so because independence is their primary issue; after independence it is likely that the party will fracture and/or lose some members/voters who would prefer to vote for other parties. It is an opportunity to revitalise stale political parties and create new ones. The SNP will only dominate if it remains the only real viable option for left-of-centre voters; that requires the other parties to start thinking now about what they would do post-independence. Also, there would be a 2 year gap between the referendum and the first election in 2016, which is plenty of time for that happen.

    3. I hold quite the opposite view. Scotland is currently tied to a lead balloon of an economy being driven into the ground by austerity-obsessed right wingers. A small economy is a flexible economy, and an independent Scotland would have a much better chance of reacting quickly to changing circumstances. Scotland currently operates under a balanced budget within the Scottish government as we are not allowed to borrow, and in terms of all UK spending (some of which would not be part of an independent Scotland), we are running under a smaller deficit than the UK as a whole and than any region outside London and the southeast. As for the oil, Scotland has never received its fair geographic share of the oil revenue, and it was the whole UK, including Scotland, that paid for exploration. The income at stake is the future tax revenue, so neither nationalisation nor ‘paying back’ past exploration are real issues. Oil is a dwindling resource in ever greater demand, so prices are going to go up, which means tax revenue will go up, and the cost of decommissioning would have to be shared between companies, Scotland and the rUK, since the rUK has reaped the benefits of North Sea oil for decades now.

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