When the context was the referendum in Scotland that took place on September 18, the word “change” was a misnomer; the exact word was “independence”, especially as related to the referendum’s wording of the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” No doubt, independence is a way to bring about change, but change is not confined to independence only; it can be brought about without seeking independence. Hence, the point was not change. The strategy of seeking independence in the name of change speaks volumes about the kind of politics played in Scotland. The referendum was a case study for understanding how people could be incited by sheer nationalism to meet political objectives. Of the 10 reasons given for an independent Scotland, supported by the Scottish National Party (SNP), nine appealed to either ethos or pathos. Only one appealed to logic, which was that after seeking independence, the main source of income for Scotland would be the money earned from oil extraction (and sale) in the North Sea. Currently, the money goes to London.
The SNP was founded in 1934 and, in 1999, the Scottish parliament was formed. In the 2003 elections to the Scottish parliament, the SNP gathered 24 percent of Scottish votes, won 25 seats and became the second largest party in parliament. However, in its electoral manifesto in 2007, the SNP made a commitment to the Scots to hold a referendum in 2010 for independence. Consequently, the SNP was able to gather 33 percent Scottish votes, won 47 seats and became the largest party but remained short of a simple majority in the Scottish parliament under the leadership of Alex Salmond. The referendum was delayed. In the elections of 2011, the SNP gathered about 45 percent of Scottish votes, 69 out of 129 seats and gained a simple majority in the Scottish parliament. Consequently, the referendum was held.
It is understandable that Salmond, leading the SNP, made hectic efforts to increase the representation of the party in the Scottish parliament and to prepare Scots for the referendum. However, it is not understandable how Salmond or his party thought of breaking the equation of interdependence with England to create the independence of Scotland, as interdependence once established leaves little room for independence. In the case of Middle Eastern countries possessing oil wealth, other avenues to produce wealth have not been exhausted. Unfortunately, in the case of Scotland, most if not all other avenues to produce wealth have been exhausted. For instance, there is no more ship building or coal exploration there. Scotland has been deindustrialised. The Scots were made to believe that the Centre exploited all the resources of Scotland to its advantage and now only oil resources are left. Hence, it was time to take control of the oil resources and live an independent life, at least according to the SNP. It was as if Scotland was always the giving hand. Nevertheless, the interesting point I allude to is that if the oil wealth of Scotland were taken out of the equation, there would have been no referendum.
The dangerous aspect of the referendum was that the SNP was able to mobilise the opinion of about 45 percent of Scots in favour of voting for independence, though it failed to secure independence. This was again despite the fact that Scotland lacks skilled labour. The referendum laid bare an interesting divide in society. The general trends were that, in the context of the socio-economic domain, the upper and the upper-middle classes mostly favoured staying with the UK whereas the majority of the lower-middle and the lower classes voted for independence. Secondly, in the context of age, mostly middle-aged and old voters favoured staying with the UK whereas the youth mostly opted for independence. Hence, there were two main groups seeking independence: people from the lower-middle (working) and lower (labour) classes and the youth. What was common between them was the lack of foresight and maturity to understand things in a broader perspective. Another thing common in them was that they were vulnerable to exploitation through sloganeering. This is what happened.
A dilemma here is that the working class is still not fully literate and the new generation refuses to even attend schools to become literate at all. The SNP has tried its best to make them learn about information technology and send their children to schools. The central government has also subsidised higher education in universities for Scotland, despite the fact that English students enjoy this privilege in neither the UK nor Scotland. Another dilemma is that the labour class is not skilled to do tasks other than those that they are used to doing. No doubt, the SNP exploited the consequent frustration of the working class to its advantage but the same put the central government in trouble because it pledged to devolve more financial powers to Scotland. Under the heat of ‘independence’, the central government also overlooked the fact that the Scots now generally like to be more brawny than brainy. For such a trend, no job sector is available to cater to their needs. Over the years, the SNP has promised Scots that they will be able to sustain their living through selling oil in an independent Scotland. This is where the catch lies and this is where the foundation for the next referendum exists. When this writer wrote the column ‘Pakistani students and Glasgow — a case study in racism’ (Daily Times, July 3, 2013), not many people believed it. Now the result of this referendum indicates that out of 32 constituencies, Glasgow was one of the four constituencies that voted yes for independence.