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Ciamar a tha sibh Alba?

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The fight for Scottish independence

The fight for Scottish independence

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  • 1. Ciamar a tha sibh Alba? For the Scottish, who face numerous social problems, their reply to such a question about their well being, might not be at all positive. The Scottish people, as the legacy of Brythonic Pictish and the Goidelic Gaels, could be seen to be in some respects an indigenous people. This makes the low standard of living for the Scottish people an important factor in New Zealand’s foreign policy toward Scottish issues, due to indigenous rights being held to be of the upmost importance to New Zealand and indivisible to the state(UN, 2007). On said premise this essay will give a basic history of Scottish independence, it will look at the movement behind independence, and will look at the seriousness of the movement’s claims, as well as analysis of its goals, and will argue that in respect of New Zealand’s values, the state should support the will of the Scottish people in the movement towards Scottish independence.

    From Alba to Scotland
    Although Scotland today is a non-sovereign country, and only part of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom, it has a history of self sovereignty and independence. Scotland has its roots in the slow merger of the Pictish confederation and the kingdom of Dál Riata, which over time became Rìoghachd na h-Alba. After much change on the island of Britain this in turn changed to the Kingdom of Scotland, due to the dramatic increase in the use of Germanic languages in Scotland. This independence was disrupted for a short time, after some effort the previous state of affairs was maintained up until James VI King of Scots, who also became King James I of England in the Union of the Crowns, uniting the crown of England and the crown of Scotland in 1603. In 1707 the states themselves became united in the Acts of Union, an act that created lively debate, this later turned to angry disdain (Parliament 2007). After the removal of the Scottish clan system, and thus the clan leaders who were the biggest critics of the union (Harvie, 1994: 11), the then government of the Kingdom of Great Britain turned its focus upon Ireland, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the Act of Union in 1800. At this time Scotland had a broad support base for English Imperialism (Finlay,1997: 25-35), but that was short lived as by 1880 the fight for Home rule, that would ultimately be fruitless, started and would end up lasting for over 100 years(Finlay, 1997: 43). After a failed near start in the 1979 referendum (Finlay, 1997: 157), pressure grew until a second referendum was held in 1997 which then led to full Home Rule in 2000, thus ended a 200 year stint without proper governmental representation.(BBC 1997).
    Comrades
    Scotland has a new choice to make, should it be independent or not? The planned independence referendum, set for the end of 2010, is not final as the Unionist parties are banding together to defeat the separatist movement’s referendum. The separatist movement is made up of the leftist Scottish National Party(SNP), Scottish Greens party, Solidarity Scotland party and the Scottish socialist party (Times 2009). The separatist movement as a mainly leftist movement also feels strongly about social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, broken families and communities, poverty and unemployment that they feel is not an issue to the Unionist. A frightening example is that in some cities in Scotland the life expectancy of an urban male in only 54, 9 years younger than the life expectancy of a male in India (daily record 2008).

    Of dreams of Wallace
    For some in Scotland, and most importantly the Scottish National Party, believe that the only solution to these problems is for Scotland to become a fully independent state. This independence would mean that all foreign policy and economic decisions are made in Edinburgh, and where the influence of said policies come from all their North Atlantic neighbours and not just London (SNP: 2009). The SNP saw in both the failed 1979 and the successful 1997 referendum for Home Rule, also called Scottish Devolution, as a stepping stone on the path to end the union between England and Scotland (BBC 1997). The Scottish National Party has always aimed for full independence (MacIver, 1982: 121-4), and correspondingly for Scotland to make its own economic decisions. This is of paramount importance as the North sea oil field lays partly in what would be Scotland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a zone of waters out to the 200 miles from shore mark in which Scotland controls the use of its resources (UN 1998). The idea that the profits from Scotland’s oil end up in London coffers and not Edinburgh is unthinkable to the SNP, as such “It’s Scotland’s Oil!” has been the SNP’s call to end the funnelling of Scottish wealth to London since the early 1970s (Harvie, 1994: 184). To the Scottish National Party, and others in the movement, it is not merely desire for petroleum, they feel as if there are other policies and decisions made by London which are often not in the best interest of Scotland. According to them this is why their similar North Atlantic neighbours have much higher levels of economic growth, and more importantly far higher living standards(SNP 2009).
    Bye-bye Union
    From the start the SNP has not wavered in its seriousness in its goal of independence (MacIver, 1982: 121-4), the fact that it won the 2007 elections with a campaign for a referendum on independence (SNP 2009), also makes the government in London quite nervous. The SNP’s youth party, the Young Scots For Independence (YSI), have pointed out just how far London is willing to go, with London’s EEZ related documents containing misinformation (YSI 2006), as well as outrageous, unsubstantiated claims that the Scottish government would abuse human rights; as pointed out by former vice-president of the SNP Neil MacCormick (2000: 724). This discredits the unionists, and only emboldens the separatists, with a clearly legalistic path set in mind that has had, as of yet, hardly any violence to undermine their end goals. To MacCormick this is a virtue of the Scotsman (2000: 721). The SNP has also been an outspoken critic of the United Kingdom involvement in the conflict in the middle east, and has pushed for a potentially embarrassing public inquiry into the matter(SNP 2008 b). Another embarrassing and highly antagonistic issue is the matter of the United Kingdom housing its weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, which the SNP finds outrightly offensive, and is prepared to send Scottish representatives in " possible attendance" to the 2010 nuclear non-proliferation treaty talks (SNP 2008 a). With these examples the SNP has shown that they are both confident and willing to take on the government in London, as they have the competence in legalistic and constitutional matters required to succeed in any state of affairs.
    Emotive fallacy?
    An important criticism by the Unionists and the supporters of the union in London is the accusation that the separatists suffer from overtly flawed logic, for the Unionists claim that Scottish independence would be economically catastrophic. As shown by Paul Hallwood, they point out that Scotland reserves more per capita public spending in Scotland, than what England reserves because of their secession threats ( 2008: 12). Added with the fact that if Scotland was independent or had some level of fiscal independence, then for the last two decades would have been facing a deficit in that timeframe(ibidem: 9), that makes outright independence economically unsound. The retort of the separatists is that this is only looking at this issue in a unilateral fashion under the framework and yoke of the united kingdom, a view that can not conserve anything outside of a deeply pessimistic mindset. This retort is farther crystallised by Peter Preston writing in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, who pointed out that Scotland could use its oil income as a “cushion“, before setting up a superior free market environment by implementing a tax regime attractive to multinational corporations (2008: 723-4). An alternative, less pro laissez-faire capitalist, rebuttal is one taken by Siol nan Gaidheal who take the view that this simply is non applicable, for rather it is the self-determination of the Scottish people that really matters (Siol nan Gaidheal 2009).
    Tha mi à Alba
    Although one might call the SNP civil nationalists, the Siol nan Gaidheal call themselves an Ultra-Nationalist Organisation, foresaid self-determination is seen as a way to uphold what is left of their highland clan culture, language and community; summed up as their ways as the indigenous people of Scotland (Siol nan Gaidheal 2009). The self identification as an indigenous people is not fully conscious in the Siol nan Gaidheal movement; however on the other hand the Scottish Crofting Foundation has proclaimed that their members are the indigenous people of Scotland. They feel that they might be much the same as any normal Scot but they still live a traditional lifestyle on croft farms, speaking their traditional Scottish Gaelic language, and immersed in their traditional culture, where as the average Scot is not culturally active. Despite this the government in London will not ratify United Nation legislation that would protect these people (Farmers Guardian 2008), stating rather that the “national minority groups and other ethnic groups within the territory of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories did not fall within the scope of the indigenous peoples to which the Declaration applied” (UN 2007), yet at the same time Scot Gaelic is recognised indigenous language (Farmers Guardian 2008). New Zealand also did not support the indigenous rights declaration; how this was due to it being ambiguously worded, as well as it being incompatible with the Treaty of Waitangi. Conversely a strong argument that New Zealand would support the rights of indigenous people is that New Zealand has previously implemented in to the constitution many of the standards that is in the declaration. The signer, Rosemary banks, stated that “New Zealand was one of the few countries that from the start had supported the elaboration of a declaration that promoted and protected the rights of indigenous peoples” (UN 2007).

    Conclusion
    Indigenousness, independence and secession are difficult subjects; and certainly not something to nonchalantly wander into. Although there are some economic considerations, it is not New Zealand’s place to ponder on these issues, rather it is Scotland’s, and only Scotland’s place. To intervene on these matters is to outright reject the Scottish right to self-determination, which goes against the values of all progressive modern states such as New Zealand. Rather New Zealand should subtly show support for the Scottish right of self-determination; and furthermore New Zealand is required to do so by its own standards due to the factor of the indigenousness of the gaelic people. To not do so, would deem the New Zealand policy makers open to the charges of hypocrisy and to be only supportive of indigenous rights when there is personal gain to their own social, political or academic standing. Thus if Scotland became independent; New Zealand should support their decision whole heartily as the civil and indigenous self-determination of the people.

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