Great Britain began with the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James the VI of Scotland ascended to the Throne of England and Ireland, but the United Kingdom didn't officially come into existence until the Act of Union in 1707, which effectively dissolved the Scottish Parliament. The British Empire began with the Union with Scotland and, if those in support of a Yes vote have their way, it will end with Scottish independence.
But what's any of that got to do with Barack Obama, the Pope or any other international leader or celebrity?
I can ask that because I'm an American transplanted in Scotland. If a native Scot tries to do so they're likely be dismissed as backward and chippy 'Bravehearts'. But ever since that morning in 1707 when Scots awoke to the news that their Parliament had been dissolved by a handful of lords and rioted in the streets, through the joys of the battle of Culloden, the Highland Clearances, and so on all the way to the brutality of Thatcherism in the 1980s it's been clear who benefits most from this political construct.
Much has been written about how the upcoming independence referendum represents a divorce between Scotland and England. But if we're making relationship analogies, let's just say that historically the British government is a power-hungry polygamist and Scotland is just the latest in a long line of unwilling wives to leave.
This is how we're so sure that the many of the threats that emanate from Westminster are indeed bluffs. We've rung up all of Britain's exes: the USA, India, Ireland (and the entirety of the Commonwealth), and we can see that whilst the UK government can be an abusive partner and often behaves dreadfully during a break-up, once the deed is done they become much more cordial with their former flames, because it's in their best interests financially and politcially. Heck, they even send the Royalty around periodically for grand visits just to be friendly.
Another fact is clear too - whilst all nations have their ups and downs, absolutely none of the countries that have broken up with Westminster have ever come crawling back.
It's very hard to communicate to people in the United States the level of centralisation of government within the UK. When most who hear why, as a 'New Scot' from the States, I support a Yes Vote, they often look at me in puzzlement and say, "Well, that's like supporting North Dakota leaving the USA".
Not quite. Scotland is a nation of just over five million people, a similar size to Ireland, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway, and we balance our budget on pocket-money grudgingly returned to us from our own taxes by Westminster. We don't control the revenues from our oil & gas industry, our whisky, water, fishing, farming or tourism.
The smallest of towns in anywhere USA has far more tax-raising power & spending control than the entirety of Scotland. Most towns, counties or states can set sales tax (VAT), property tax, alcohol sales and even borrow to invest in their infrastructure. All of our VAT (20% of most purchases) that is collected in Scotland, goes straight to Westminster, does not count as Scotland's wealth and is rarely seen again north of the border. We have minimal representation in Westminster and far less in the European Parliament in Brussels than we would if we were independent.
The entire strategy of the No campaign has been to overwhelm people with doubts about whether Scotland could manage these tasks that are second-nature to small US towns, leaving the average voter to believe that they need a degree in international law to cast a vote. I listen to a lot of BBC World Service radio in the wee small hours, and night after night I hear these brave journalists travel to the farthest-flung corners of the globe to interview, analyse and report on an impressive array of topics.
However, when it comes to reporting on most issues in Scotland, it seems that we're a no-go area. Rather, the majority of the media prefer to rely on some London-based hairdresser or a celebrity who maybe had a Scottish granny or went on occasional holidays to Skye for all first-hand knowledge of the situation. It is beyond insulting. We, the actual residents whether ancient or new are not known or much cared about in what's supposedly our own country, even three centuries on. It's time to face the reality, and start seeing other people.
The referendum is an amazing opportunity for the people who choose to call Scotland home to partake in a political process in which their votes will actually matter. Together we could craft a constitution to reflect the needs and values of our community, and make sure that each person within Scotland can actually share in the bounty of her many resources. Priorities such as our NHS, free tuition, affordable childcare and a welfare system that doesn't harass and demonise the sick, disabled and elderly can be protected in a way that we simply can't do now.
There will be bumps in the road, the outside world will still exist and influence us - but we can finally speak with our own voice and at least have a chance of being heard.
I believe in real representative democracy. I believe in accountability. I believe that the status quo is not as good as it gets, and I believe a better Scotland is possible. Where my American ancestors had to fight with rifles and cannon to free themselves from London rule, I'm voting Yes to begin that process of making that better future happen. My President and other leaders who support democracy should be able to understand that, and get out of the way.
Originally published on Wings Over Scotland
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