This Friday, the results of a monumental vote on Thursday arrived for the people of Scotland. The small nation – one of the four members of the United Kingdom – had a difficult, burning question rooted deep in their history to answer: should we be independent? There were only two choices on the referendum. It should be easy to pick yes or no, and even easier to abstain from the vote, right? That was the only question a Scottish native could easily answer.
Before I reveal the results (which you could easily look up before finishing this sentence), I pose the question: why does a nation with economic stability, access to resources and trade unions, and fair representation in Parliament need independence? I turn to the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, and his text, “History of the Peloponnesian War”, in which he presents his argument that “everyone fights for fear, honor, or interest.” In this case, the Melians, a small Greek tribe, chose to remain independent rather than joining the Athenians, despite the obvious threat to the safety of their people this creates. The Melians would rather fail with honor than give up their freedom, just as the Scottish crave independence regardless of their current fiscal indemnity.
Centuries of patriotism have led to the referendum yesterday. The story of William Wallace – as made famous by the movie “Braveheart” – exemplifies the beginnings of the Scottish tradition of resilience and honor. In a war thought impossible to win, the Scottish prevailed over the English in 1314 and retained their freedom for years to come. However, in 1707, governing Scots who feared their nation was destined for economic failure signed the Act of Union, and suddenly England, Scotland, Wales, and eventually Northern Ireland became one coalition known as the United Kingdom; outrage ensued amongst local Scots. A violent attempt for freedom led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the great-grandson of Scottish King James VI, embarked from France in 1745, but was easily crushed by the English. Any effort for freedom thereafter was routed.
Amongst the fear of risking their peoples’ security, the Scots still honored their belief in independence and pursued a democratic approach towards freedom. In 1934 the Scottish National Party (SNP), a party dedicated to achieving full independence, was established. Through the 20th century, the SNP gained considerable ground in Parliament, and in a 1997 referendum, earned Scotland the right to control its own education and health care systems. Finally, SNP candidate Alex Salmond was elected as First Minister, the highest government position, in 2007 and again in 2011. Salmond and British Prime Minister David Cameron subsequently agreed a referendum would take place on September 18, 2014, and it would ask only one question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
While the honor the Scottish hold for their identity is valiant, it might be arrogant as well, and that can be dangerous. If Scotland votes yes, then the British political, economic, and social landscape is changed forever. More than that, Scotland would be on its own for the first time in more than three centuries; such a drastic change must be paired with preparation for the worst of the consequences that will follow. But that’s not to discourage a people who believe so strongly in their ideals. Honor is a double-edged sword. Overconfidence can easily lead to neglecting threats, but it also fosters a will power unmatched by any opposing force. With honor, the Scottish people trust that they can succeed.
The Melians proved to be arrogant in their negotiations with the Athenians. For while they had some immediate success after denying the Athenian’s offer of alliance, they were ultimately defeated and assumed by the Athenians. Was it worth the time wasted and good soldiers killed just for the Melians to prove a point? Is it worth the risk of secession from the UK when the Scottish know failure is more than possible?
To answer the latter question, fifty-five percent of the Scottish population does not think so. That was the final vote count on Friday morning. Of the 3.6 million voters, 2 million said no while 1.6 million said yes.
It was not a complete loss for the SNP, however; PM Cameron awarded Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and England with increased control over their individual nations. Clearly, Parliament received a message. The United Kingdom is dependent upon all of its nations. London (which has been the center of British dominance in its triumphant history) can no longer be the forefront of the kingdom while the other three countries compete for second place. That imbalance is an inevitable source of inspiration, and sooner than later, Scotland will once again demand independence (perhaps with a different result).
In the meantime, Salmond solemnly stepped down as First Minister on Friday. Even that decision derived from fear, honor, and interest. Fear of reality, honor of country, and interest in the people has been the basis of our actions since the times of ancient Greece. And there’s a reason we have not changed that ideology despite the countless times societies have failed. Because if we did stop, we wouldn’t be human anymore.
Polici 101 Lecture Tools Slides
“The History Behind the Scottish Independence Vote.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.history.com/news/the-history-behind-the-scottish-independence-vote>.
“In Pictures: Scotland Decides.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29250391>.
Irwin, Neil. “Why Does Scotland Want Independence? It’s Culture vs. Economics.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/upshot/why-does-scotland-want-independence-its-culture-vs-economics.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1>.
Oliver, Jack Kempster and Mark. “Scottish Independence: The Results Tracker.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11106917/Scottish-independence-live-results-as-they-happen.html>.
“What’s Going on in Scotland?” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26550736>.