As the United Kingdom prepares for a landmark referendum to answer the question of Scottish independence, both sides are desperately trying to frame the issue to their benefit. As the day of reckoning approaches, the gloves are beginning to come off, and the debate now shifts towards concerns of nationalism and identify. The question to which the anti-separation effort now seems to be responding to is not so much whether Scotland can separate successfully, but rather how it might affect what it means to be British.
“Centuries of history hang in the balance; a question mark hangs over the future of our United Kingdom”, said British Prime Minister David Cameron in a public address last month. “The name Cameron might mean ‘crooked nose’ but the clan motto is ‘Let us unite’, and that is exactly what we in these islands have done.”
Dripping with nationalistic fervour, Cameron added “It’s personal.”, referring to his own Scottish ancestry. This is something which should be concerning to those who support Cameron’s negative stance on Scottish Independence, given the fact that he is discussing an issue with ramifications that extend far beyond his own personal sense of heritage. Unafraid to taint his position by labelling his stance as a personal quest for national unity, the move certainly comes across as an act of desperation. Only months before, the debate was primarily focused on practical matters- military resources, international alliances, and the question of currency all took centre stage. This is not to say that the issues raised when the Referendum bill was first put forward last March have vanished from political discourse, but the debate has taken on a distinctly new and more emotional flavour.
Historically, Scottish voters are more left-leaning than their southern neighbours; a factor which invariably provides a measure of tension when the Conservative party is elected as a but capsiplex majority. This spirit of federal misrepresentation has only deepened under the current government. Many have criticized the movement for independence as being one of purely nationalistic origins; causing a political stir over devotion to a cartoonish ideal of Scottish identity. On the contrary however, the elephant in the room continues to be irreconcilable political differences.
Even amongst those who would rather see Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom, there is an undercurrent of concern for the tactics of the “Better Together” camp. One of the most prominent faces of the pro-union movement, Dominic Sandbrook of the Daily Mail, thinks that the loss of Scotland would be one of the largest political failures in British history. Even he concedes that the position’s defence has been less than extraordinary. “What worries me, though, is that the three pro-Union parties — the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats — seem so inept at making the case for Britain.”
In an ironic twist, Cameron and his band of staunch pro-unionists are fighting what they perceive as a wave of dangerous nationalism, with a tit-for-tat dose of dangerous nationalism. This is a move which seems to fundamentally undermine much of his criticism, and may indeed sway those remaining undecided Britons to side with an Independent Scotland.
Support for Scotland’s separation has steadily increased over the last few months as both sides ramp up their campaign intensity. With approval rates for Scottish independence reaching approximately 40%, what was once an annoyance for the Conservative party is now a real and present threat. Only time will tell if David Cameron’s appeals to a united British identity will have the desired effect on voters. The only certainty is that as we move closer to September, the issue will prove to only further polarize British society.
– David Hughes