by Aube Rey Lescure
The days of the empire on which the sun never sets may be over, but tell that to certain members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and they will reply that England is still, in essence, a 21st century mini-empire. That its mode-of-rule is borderline neocolonial. That the taxation is unfair. That the devolution efforts are phony. Some ultranationalists will surely tell you, brimming with pathos, that Westminster—which, in 1707, ‘forced itself’ upon the Kingdom of Scotland—is holding unwilling populations hostage and denying their right to self-determination.
Scottish first minister Alex Salmond and his party, the SNP, have long pledged Scottish independence as their goal. They are now in tight negotiations with UK Prime Minister David Cameron about holding a referendum in Scotland and deciding once and for all whether the Scottish people want independence. The referendum is planned for 2014. For many Scots, independence is a three hundred-year old obsession that has permeated their culture and history but which, at the same time, a significant part of the population has grown comfortable living without. Quality of life isn’t distinctly worse because of Westminster’s authority. The Scots obtained their own Scottish Parliament in 1998—a very significant concession on the part of the UK parliament—and micromanage more or less everything they aren’t explicitly forbidden from managing.
Which brings us to taxation.
Taxation can be a very dry topic, but it has also historically proven to be one ripe for nationalist fervor. The Scottish case today isn’t starkly different from its 18th century antecedents—at its core is resentment towards a distant central authority. There is also the sense that said authority belongs to a cultural out-group and, worse, is a historical oppressor. Then add oil to the equation: after petroleum and natural gas were discovered off the Scottish shores in the North Sea almost four decades ago, the Scots went wild with anger. Imagine: England went along tranquilly pumping the oil right from under Scotland’s nose, earning huge revenue, but taxed the Scots the same as anyone else in the UK and gave them the same benefits. Pre-oil discovery and post-oil discovery, the Scots saw no substantial change in their economy. What they considered to be their wealth was being redistributed to millions of other people they had no wish to be co-citizens with.
“It’s Scotland’s Oil!” roared a 1974 SNP campaign. There is more truth to this claim than what most people imagine—the UK in fact has legislation (written before the oil was discovered) that divides the North Sea into a Scottish sphere and an English sphere. It is estimated that 80-90% of oil revenue is extracted from the parts of the oil fields that fall within the Scottish sphere. Given Scotland’s lack of sovereignty, however, the two-sphere argument was successfully ignored because the logistical and legal complications it brought forth were too much to handle for a state which, at the time, did not even have its own parliament.
Alex Salmond is building his utopian image of an independent Scotland off the platform of North Sea oil. Scotland would, in this dream scenario, vote “yes!” on the referendum and pressure England into accepting its secession. In addition to winning back all the pride and glory its ancestors had been denied, it would now own all the oil and join the exclusive league of Norway, Sweden and Finland, leading a quiet and wealthy existence, not seeking world domination but happily distributing to its 5 million citizens what previously had to be shared with 62 million people.
Is Westminster going to sit idly on the sidelines as more and more Scots get seduced by their first minister’s ingenious and glorious plan? David Cameron is in Edinburgh right now giving speeches urging the Scottish people to vote “no”. His argument is, expectably, that UK citizenship means being part of a world power and brings along the benefits of a world power—a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, NATO, a substantial defense budget, and, among other things, sound fiscal decisions like saying no to the euro. Scottish independence, said Cameron, would make him “deeply, deeply sad.”
Aube Rey Lescure ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger on E.U. affairs. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.