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The Scottish referendum: a reflection of an imperfect British model

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

The last is yet to be heard about the resultants of the Scottish Referendum on the question of independence from the United Kingdom. Whilst the United Kingdom survived the scare of a looming threat of an independent Scotland by a vote of 55% to 45%, the ripples generated by the simple act of balloting will continue to reverberate the island of Britain and indeed the wider World in years to come.

“If not us – then who?

If not now – then when?

Friends – we are Scotland’s independence generation.

And our time is now”…. Alexander Salmond

For the first time since 1st July 1997 when the Union Jack was lowered at its Far Eastern outpost in Hong Kong, which was the United Kingdom’s last colonial outpost, the waning power and influence of the once global affluent ‘Great Britain’ was brought to bear as a ‘coup de grace’ was about to be dealt to homeland Britain.

What started as a union of Anglo-Saxons and Normans in what is now called England, ended up enveloping the Welsh in the 13th Century, and, in series of wars and finally in political agreements, the Gaels, Picts and Celts which make up what is now called Scotland were brought into the ‘Union’ first by the Union of Crowns in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England following the death of heirless Queen Elizabeth I of England. Thus, the seat of the Scottish Monarchy moved from Holyrood in Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace in London and finally in 1707 after a crippling bankrupting feat Scotland attained in trying to colonize the Isthmus of Panama in the Americas, the Scots looked South of their border to the English for economic salvation; and as such, after series of parliamentary debates, the ‘ACT OF UNION’ was born 1st May 1707 when England and Scotland came under one political government—effectively uniting the entire Island of Britain under one political and Monarchical Government.


I. That the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the First day of May which will be in the year One thousand seven hundred and seven, and forever after, be united into one Kingdom by the name of Great Britain; and that the Ensigns Armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as Her Majesty shall appoint, and the Crosses of St. George and St. Andrew be conjoined in such manner as her Majesty shall think fit, and used in all Flags, Banners, Standards and Ensigns both at Sea and Land.

III. ‘That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by One and the same Parliament, to be stiled, the Parliament of Great Britain.’

With such ‘Unity’ the United Kingdom of Great Britain wittingly sought to build an Empire thus colonizing about 1/4th of the Earth’s population. At the Zenith of this attainment, the British Empire was in the words of George Macartney referred as “this vast empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained.”

Over three quarters of North America in what is now known as Canada and the United States of America to patches of land in South America, the West Indies (Caribbean Islands), the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Singapore), Australia and patches of Chinese territory; the ‘British were famed as Colonial Masters and Master of the Seas! And not even Africa was left out of the British Colonial zest, for they effectively subjugated the choicest of territorial lands and largest number of peoples under their control in territories now known as Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya (All economic and regional powerhouses) not to talk of the Sudans (North and South), Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Gambia, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

‘the wind of change is blowing through this continent; and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact, we must all accept it as a fact’… Harold Macmillan (British Prime Minister from 1957-1963)

The 20th Century brought a significant ‘wind of change’ to the British Empire. Actively fighting off two World Wars, the homeland British war economy faced near economic crippling terms and coupled with the signing of  ‘Atlantic Charter’ with the United States which guaranteed the right to self determination of subjugated peoples, the British Empire began to defoliate rapidly for the first time since 1776 when the United States sued for Independence of London.

Starting from the British Isles, the Catholic Irish got Ireland off Westminster’s control and then the floodgates of independence opened in British colonies in Asia and Africa culminating with the return of Hong Kong to China —Britain’s last colonial outpost in the Far East in 1997.

Coincidentally, 1997 saw the British Labour Party consolidating power in Westminster and that came with the promise of devolution of powers to the constituent Non-English entities making up the United Kingdom. Ultimately, that set the tone for a series of intrigues that set the stage for this Scottish referendum question;


Whilst the ‘No’ votes helped to pass a volte-face to the ‘Yes’ separatist agitation, that simple act of ballot has posed several teasers for the British and indeed other countries of the free world in the following:

In an era of ‘International Unionism’ as seen in the formation of strong Continental Organizations such as the EU, NATO, AU etc; where smaller individual countries seemingly do not have a voice; is there really a need for emergence of new Nations who will in turn have to vie to join these continental bodies who advocate loose economic and border controls?

Though England has roughly 85% of the UK population and significantly projects the UK’s global influence, Scotland holds a significant portion UK’s defence capabilities in military industries and the UK’s Nuclear Weapon deterrents. What would have become of the Uk’s military capability in the wake of a Scottish independence?

The UK prides itself as a model of Parliamentary democracy and have exported this to several nation including India (the World’s largest democracy), Australia amongst others. The Scottish agitation has once again raised the once forgotten ‘West Lothian Question’. If Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (all making up 15% of the UK population) have separate parliaments and administrations independent of Westminster and yet have representatives there to vote on issues relating to England only, what about having a separate English parliament? Is the prided British governance model in any way effective? Isn’t it time for the UK to adopt the USA model of a ‘Federal system of Government’?

With the ease at reaching a decision for the Scottish referendum, what will become of other separatist agitations in Spain (Catalonia), France (Basque, Corsica, Catalonia), Moldova (Transnistria), Turkey (Kurdistan) etc, and even other colonial aggregated Countries in Africa where separatist agitations are rife?

For over 400 years, the British have prided themselves in setting the pace in terms of industrial and political revolution and have given the world their language— English Language. With the latest Scottish referendum and issues bordering on it, the British have once again aroused separatist agitation levels around the world. The British model is not perfect after all. Is it?


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