In bright sunshine this past week, the cobbled pedestrian streets of Edinburgh
and the bustling byways in and around the Royal Mile have been thronged with
students getting to know Scotland’s historic capital. Students like me,
eager to start this new chapter in our lives while enjoying the cheap
alcohol and easy socialising that comes with Fresher’s Week.
However, behind the carnival atmosphere the question of Scottish independence
looms. The Yes and No campaigners are everywhere, even more so since the
shock of last weekend’s YouGov poll. Posters, badges and balloons festoon
nearly every building and I can reliably inform you that Greyfriars has a
new flesh and blood “Bobby”, this time with a Yes bandanna tied
around its neck.
Most campaigners are peaceful and respectful, but I’ve seen two well-dressed,
middle-aged men fighting on the street as they disagreed over the economic
realities of independence. Not your typical drunken brawl.
Political conversation is hard to avoid and while roaming Edinburgh’s streets
I’ve heard more than a few young Scots that say they are voting Yes because
they feel that Scotland needs to build its own identity.
Having lived abroad all my life and attended an international school I have
met people from scores of different cultures, and I strongly contest this
point. Scotland already has an identity. Whether you’re in London or LA this
little country of 5 million has a very big reputation. The Tartan Army, the
Old Firm, the inventors and pioneers, the scientists and entrepreneurs from
Bell to Balfour, the dockyards of the Clyde and the famed passion of our
people all contribute to Scotland’s unparalleled standing within the global
community. So, if Scotland already has an identity separate from the UK,
then why lose what we gain from being part of this historic union? Scotland,
unique and loved across the globe, is also an intrinsic part of the United
Kingdom, a partnership that is the envy of millions, the best of both worlds
I say “our” people. I was born in Thailand, raised in France and
attended an English boarding school from the age of 14. But my mother is
Scottish and I’ve always considered myself a Scotsman – never more so than
when a try is scored at Murrayfield or the ball hits the back of the net at
Hampden. To live in Scotland has long been my dream. And yet my realisation
of that dream comes as this country that I’m fiercely proud of is on the
verge of making a catastrophic decision.
Some of the most fervent advocates of Scottish independence, the members of
Alex Salmond’s “Team Scotland”, would argue that, given my credentials, I
should have no say on the future of this country and shouldn’t even voice an
opinion. But even if I cannot vote, I will have my say, and urge young
people in Scotland to think carefully or think again.
I believe that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, that
Scotland is truly Better Together. I will leave the economic arguments to
the experts – but Mr Salmond’s imagination must be commended and, even if he
is not realistic or entirely truthful, at least he can say he is a “pint
half-full” kind of guy – or should that be North Sea half-full …
My opposition to Scottish independence stems from a belief that unity in the
face of adversity is, and always has been, the best course. The world today
is an uncertain place. Climate change and economic problems hang over us
like storm clouds. Instability from Iraq to Ukraine presents a terrifying
vision of a divided, troubled and violent world. Whether as citizens of an
independent country or as citizens of a strong United Kingdom, the youth of
Scotland will have to face these challenges.
Salmond’s vision of a Nordic social democracy with a strong economy and
egalitarian politics may be an attractive one. Attractive, yes; realistic
no. Mr Salmond cannot guarantee such a society and this Utopia is highly
unlikely. Why we would take the chance? If Scotland becomes independent and
the SNP’s Promised Land never materialises then there will be, as David
Cameron has made clear, no coming back. Scotland will be left in a weaker
position in an ever more challenging world. We can remain within the United
Kingdom and, while keeping the social, economic and historic advantages that
this brings, push for more devolved powers and a more egalitarian Scotland.
Many of those who back independence seem to do so for all the wrong reasons.
Edward I and the invasion of Scotland in 1334, Culloden and Margaret
Thatcher are not valid reasons to support Scottish independence. Yes,
Scotland has been invaded by the English. Yes, we have fought many battles
against our close neighbours. Yes, Thatcher’s poll tax and industry closures
did do lasting damage to this country’s economy. If you must look back to
history in order to inform your decision on September 18 then think of what
Scotland has accomplished as part of the United Kingdom. Victory over evil
in 1945, the creation of the first National Health Service and London 2012
is just a fraction of the history that will be tainted if Scotland chooses
independence. However, September 18 should be a day in which Scottish voters
look forward, not back. We as a nation should be looking to what is best for
Scotland and not for the best way to give a two-fingered salute to
politicians in Westminster. Simplistic Braveheart nationalism and an
uninformed and outdated dislike of the English should not be the driving
principle which leads to a Yes vote in next week’s referendum.
When I began writing this article I saw the independence referendum as the
route to Scotland realising a death wish, as a political movement that was
threatening to change and destabilise everything just as I had arrived home
after a lifetime abroad. However, I now see that what we have is a historic
opportunity for the Scottish people. I have heard the Union described by
nationalists as a “ship without a mast”. Scots can choose to abandon ship.
They can choose to set adrift in a lifeboat and face the unchartered waters
of independence, vulnerable to all the unknowns and all the uncertainties.
Equally, Scotland can prove to the world on September 18 that it does not
give up, it will not abandon ship. We can rebuild this ship, improve this
ship and make it a better place for all of us to live.
Aaron Clements-Hunt is a first-year student at the University of Edinburgh
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Scottish readers: Undecided about the referendum? Please read Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda.