If you have been following American news, even very closely, you might still have missed the news of the possible breakup of one of America’s oldest allies, the United Kingdom.
On the 18th of September, British citizens who live in the Scottish part of the country will cast their ballots to decide whether or not Scotland should split from the other regions of the UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and become a separate kingdom. The official question to be placed on the ballots is “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The major players in this referendum are Alex Salmond, Alistair Darling and, to a lesser extent, British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Salmond is the head of the Scottish Nationalist Party, or SNP, a party founded in the 1930s to campaign for Scottish independence. While less violent than their Northern Irish cousins, the SNP has advocated for home rule for the majority of the last century with limited success.
In the most recent Scottish elections, a disastrous showing for the left-wing British Labour party resulted in the SNP taking 69 of the 129 seats in the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. By virtue of his party holding the slim majority of seats, Mr. Salmond became First Minister of Scotland, a position similar to a state governor in the United States.
Darling is the former Chancellor of the Exchequer of the defeated Labour party and the current head of “Better Together”, the campaign for keeping the Scottish government as a part of the United Kingdom. Darling, a Scotsman and Member of Parliament from Edinburgh since 1987, was chosen to lead the Better Together coalition in 2012 instead of his then-deeply unpopular fellow-Scot and ex-boss, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the English current Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Cameron has stayed on the sidelines to some criticism, largely due to two factors.
The first, and perhaps the more forgivable factor, is that he is English, not Scottish, and while the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of all of Her Majesty’s subjects, Mr. Cameron’s very upper-crust English upbringing is the antithesis of all things Scottish. Surprisingly, the Queen herself remains relatively popular in Scotland, perhaps boosted by her frequent visits to Scotland’s Balmoral Castle, and a lifelong affection for all things Scottish.
The second and most grievous reason for Mr. Cameron’s distance is that he is a member of the hated the Conservative Party (also known as the “Tory” party).
Conservatives have never fared well in Scotland but their numbers declined to endangered-species levels under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership in the 1980s, when Scotland’s industrial workers took the brunt of the 1980s move away from manufacturing.
Today, the Scottish Conservative party is almost at an all time low with only 15 seats at Holyrood, 115 Conservatives holding any office out of the over 1,200 total Scottish offices and, most bleakly, only one Member of Parliament from the entire region.
Mr. Salmond has made a rallying cry for the separatist movement of the fact that, “there are more pandas in the Edinburgh Zoo than there are Tory MPs from Scotland”.
Having a Conservative prime minister, albeit one in a coalition government, in Westminster has been a blessing for Mr. Salmond, who has adroitly messaged the campaign as being about a lack of representation in government and almost foreign-occupation of Scotland by hostile Englishmen, despite the historical fact that the two Prime Ministers prior to Mr. Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were both born north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Yet the issue of separation from the United Kingdom is about much more than Scotland’s distaste for the Tories. Scotland’s politics have consistently leaned further left of center than the rest of the nation, and the subsequent spending on Scottish residents (The UK, it is estimated, spends £1,300 more per head in Scotland than it does in the rest of the UK, and the gap is widening).
Scots resent being considered freeloaders for wanting what they consider to be basic services or human rights, such as free prescription medicine and free tuition at Scottish universities. Scottish opinion is similarly against being the base for the UK’s nuclear Trident submarines, and growing increasingly concerned about the rest of the Kingdom’s willingness to return to Iraq.
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