The Act of Union of 1707 may have seemed unthinkable to a populace accustomed to the historical rivalry between England and Scotland. Today, it seems just as strange to be contemplating a future where the two nations are no longer bound together in a United Kingdom.
However, if First Minister Alex Salmond has his way, Scotland will become an independent nation once again 2014, when a referendum is now due. Salmond’s nationalism may appeal to some, although currently less than one-third of Scots are planning to vote for independence. It is hardly surprising given that, for most of its history as an independent state, Scotland resided in England’s shadow, prey to its military whims and economic demands.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 ended the final Jacobite Rising, which attempted to re-create an independent Scottish monarchy before making a decisive move on England. The crushing defeat for Charles Edward Stuart and his Scottish allies reflected a historical reality; the disparate, small and under-equipped tribes of the north were no match for the larger English Army. From the days of Edward I, “the Hammer of the Scots”, through to Culloden, Scotland’s grip on independence was at first tenuous and subsequently non-existent. Of course, some notable Scottish victories occurred over the centuries, including at Bannockburn (1314) and Culblean (1335) and these have helped feed a misconception of equality on the battlefield.
Indeed, more notable Scottish military achievements have come when fighting as part of the British Army during both World Wars and in numerous colonial conflicts which helped Great Britain become the greatest imperial power on the globe. Such shared achievements will no longer be accomplishable should Salmond win his referendum.
Putting aside the military, there are obvious economic and political connotations for independence. Scotland already subsumes a disproportionate amount of national budgets and political appointments. Why forfeit such privileges to rule the roost over a comparatively puny and feeble nation? What happens when North Sea oil and gas runs out and Scotland’s economic lifeline dies?
It is considerations such as these that are likely to doom Salmond’s referendum to failure. He believes Scottish pride and freedom will be restored by independence. But how about the potential economic regression and political inferiority such a move would also entail? Scottish pride would be better served within a United Kingdom, whereby each part contributes to a strong whole. Unfortunately for Mr Salmond, many Scots will be thinking the same.