What is a fifth in Scotland

Quo vadis, Scotland?

In 2014, Scotland kept the world in suspense: it voted on possible independence. The decision to remain in the United Kingdom was narrowly down. What do the Scots really want?

The outcome was extremely close: in 2014, 44.7 percent voted for Scotland's independence from Great Britain. | © istockphoto.com/George Clerk

by Karin Feuerstein-Praßer

Should Scotland become independent? On September 18, 2014, all residents of Scotland over the age of 16 were invited to cast their vote - including British and EU citizens who were currently living here. Native Scots who lived outside their home country were not eligible to vote. That was just one of the issues at stake. One of the ambiguities was the question of the legal status of a future independent Scotland. Would it act as the legal successor to the United Kingdom or would a newly formed state have to renegotiate all international treaties, including membership in the EU, NATO and the United Nations?

The alarm bells are ringing in London

The result was close. The turnout was around 85 percent. 55.3 percent voted against independence, 44.7 percent in favor. The alarm bells rang in London: Prime Minister David Cameron promised the Scots that they would immediately expand their rights. But that doesn't mean that the topic is off the table.

For centuries it had looked like the Scots had got used to being part of the United Kingdom. At the end of the 17th century they initially felt they were disadvantaged. England had a monopoly on overseas trade with colonies; Scotland received nothing. Then in 1695 the wealthy entrepreneur William Paterson proposed to found his own trading company, the Company of Scotland. It was supposed to have its base in Darién, an isthmus in what is now Panama, which connects North and South America. Scotland would have its own colony, New Caledonia.

The project of a Scottish colony fails

The plan was to organize the movement of goods between Southeast Asia and Europe from here, with which supposedly fantastic profits could be achieved. The Scots were delighted and sacrificed a fortune to fund the project. In 1698 five ships set sail, with 1200 adventurous settlers on board. As soon as they got there, they found that Paterson had lied to them. On the one hand, Darién had belonged to Spain since 1501. On the other hand, the soil turned out to be not very productive. Worst of all was the warm, humid climate, which turned the supposed paradise into a breeding ground for diseases. After only six months, epidemics had killed a quarter of the newcomers, and the rest were threatened with starvation. Now they also knew why there were no Spaniards to be seen here.

In the summer of 1699, they decided to abandon the project and return home, and the adventure was not without consequences. Scotland was hopelessly in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Then London made an offer that its neighbor could hardly refuse: Scotland should become part of the United Kingdom. Not only would it get rid of its debts, it would also have freedom of seafaring and trade. The legal system and currency should remain, as should the reformed Church of Scotland. The Scots lost their independence, but not their national identity.

For a time the Scots are proud to be part of the Empire

In 1707 the Scottish Parliament met one last time - to dissolve. Initially, the Union of the Crowns met with little approval. But when an economic boom set in, the Scots were proud to be part of the Empire. It was only when the economy was in crisis as a result of the First World War and unemployment rose that the desire for independence rose again. The Scottish National Party (SNP), founded in 1934, did not advocate separation, but fought for more rights and its own regional parliament . Their endeavors were spurred on by oil that was discovered off the Scottish coast in the 1970s.

London wanted to give the Scots back their own parliament in 1978 - provided they voted in favor of it in a referendum. But that failed due to a lack of interest. Only 32.8 percent voted for it. The subject seemed settled, but a little later Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. It cut all subsidies for the ailing industry, so that between 1979 and 1981 a fifth of Scottish jobs were lost. The call for independence grew louder and Tony Blair tried to appease the Scots with a regional parliament in 1998. It should be given the same powers as the UK, apart from a few like foreign policy. In May 1999 the time had come. However, its own parliament allowed Scottish nationalism to flourish all the more.

Brexit is fueling the quest for independence

In 2007 the SNP emerged as the strongest force in the elections. On this occasion, party leader Alex Salmond called for a referendum, which was held in 2014. The narrow defeat did not discourage supporters of independence. Nicola Sturgeon, head of government and SNP chairman after the resignation of Alex Salmond, announced a second referendum.

The Brexit gave a new impetus to the quest for independence in 2016: 62 percent of the Scots voted to remain in the EU. But in the elections in June 2017, the SNP suffered a defeat. In uncertain times, economic stability and maintaining their jobs are probably more important to the Scots than independence. Nicola Sturgeon has therefore made a U-turn and wants to campaign for a soft Brexit in the future, i.e. for Scotland to remain in the European internal market.

Does England also need a regional parliament?

Meanwhile, the British Conservatives strike back. To this day, the so-called West Lothian question posed by MP Tam Dalyell from West Lothian, one of the 32 Scottish districts, in 1977: Why are MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allowed to have a say in English politics in London, while England, where more when 80 percent of the British live without their own regional parliament? If it were up to the Conservatives, the answer would be clear: In future, the Scots would have nothing more to say on purely English matters.

The article first appeared in G / HISTORY 7/2018 "Scotland - Legends of the Highlands"

G / HISTORY author Karin Feuerstein-Praßer is the author of numerous history books and biographies of historical personalities, including "Liselotte von der Pfalz" (Friedrich Pustet), "Bed stories. Bedroom secrets from five centuries ”(Theiss) and“ The poets' wives ”(Piper).

Last modified: June 21, 2018


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