Appeared in Business in Vancouver – September 9, 2014
Syria. Iraq. Ukraine. Somalia. And more. Racked by nationalist violence. In contrast, Scotland’s referendum September 18 to separate from the United Kingdom is marked by almost a caricature of traditional British politeness and sporting civility.
In the Commons, Glasgow MP Ian Davidson wittily baited Prime Minister David Cameron (who had bestowed an MBE on his barber): “Without seeking to give offence, can I tell you that the last person Scots who support the No campaign want to have as their representative is a Tory toff from the Home Counties, even one with a fine haircut?”
Well played, sir, well played. Cameron and his Conservative colleagues joined in the laughter. The PM “humbly” agreed, then lobbed back a hard-core political message.
The referendum question is starkly simple: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” (Scottish separatists visited Canada to study Quebec referendums but wisely didn’t copy our convoluted questions.) The Yes side is led by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP). Point man for the No side, the Better Together campaign, is Alistair Darling, a former Labour Party chancellor. The No side has consistently led in the polls, but the gap narrowed in recent weeks.
Oddly, the more things changed, the more some things would stay the same – or is the SNP cynically wooing the nervous undecided, planning differently if Yes wins? A separate Scotland would keep the Queen. (Scottish blood.) Keep the pound sterling. (Never, Cameron insists.) Keep open borders. Apply for European Union membership. (Not painlessly.)
Everything – sharing the debt, defence, social programs – would be up in the air.
So, bluntly, what’s it to us? Business axiomatically hates uncertainty. (No response, predictably, from a couple of B.C. companies possibly affected.) A man named Jock announces his bias, you’d think, but Jock Finlayson, Business Council of BC executive vice-president and chief policy officer, offers a thoughtfully nuanced opinion:
“Despite my Scottish heritage, I don’t feel I have much skin in this particular game. My parents and their siblings were Canada-born, as was I. I have visited Scotland once and did feel a residual tug at the heartstrings, but I have little knowledge of the country’s politics.
“That said … I must confess to skepticism about the case for separation as articulated by the SNP. Scotland is a substantial net beneficiary of fiscal transfers from the U.K. central government. The large financial institutions that have their head offices in Edinburgh are tightly woven into the City of London finance cluster and would dread any risk to their connections to it [and to the Treasury and the Bank of England].
“I understand that most Scottish voters lean markedly to the left, so their dislike of the Cameron government may be a key factor leading some to support independence. But dislike of an incumbent government is a poor reason to fracture a successful polity.”
That polity was forged in 1707, “one of the world’s most successful unions,” declares English-born Roger Dawson, vice-president of the Royal Society of St. George, B.C. branch, and a predictable No supporter. New Westminster-born Dan Brown, former society president, whose views merit filling this space, counter-intuitively supports Scotland separating – “the Scots would do us a great favour if they would” – on the ingenious premise that it would allow long-deferential English nationalism to bloom.
My own in-depth research consists of staying 60 years ago at 1 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, where the landlady, the kind but fierce (a Scottish invention) Mrs. Fox, snapped: “You can’t trust a Sasanach,” almost a Scottish four-letter word for the English.
The excitement, the adrenalin flush of nationalism, invites Robert Louis Stevenson’s warning to tourists, expandable to hot idealists on a mission: “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” And a Scot, he was.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014