This week there were a whole gamut of responses ranging from dismay to outrage when Scotland’s independence debate went global. While I understand why fellow supporters of us becoming a normal country might feel like Custer when the entire Sioux nation piled into his little fracas at Little Big Horn, it was only a matter of time before the world paid attention to our indy issue.
Some may claim there are more weighty voices in global affairs then the US President, his Secretary of State and Il Papa but I’d be hard pressed to name them. This blog interpreted what the Pope said in a blog earlier this week. But UK shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said Ms Clinton had brought a global perspective to the debate when she commented:
“I hope Scotland does not become independent from the rest of the UK; a “Yes” vote would be a loss for both sides.”
In this, she was simply backing up her boss, Barack Obama who, after months of steering clear of voicing an opinion broke cover during his recent meeting with David Cameron to opine that “America’s interest lies in ensuring it retains a strong, robust, united and effective partner“in the UK.
So 300 million Americans, plus one-and-a-quarter billion catholics are lined up with the UK parties to lock Scotland into the UK forever? Before fellow yessers fall prey to despair and starting queuing to fling themselves off the new Forth Road Bridge, once it’s built, they should first see all this from both global and relative perspectives. As I spent 22 years furth of Scotland, 15 of which were in the States, I have some background in supplying this.
What outsiders (even our English cousins) don’t know or understand about Scotland may be seen as outrageous, were it not for the fact that most Scots are no better at following the geography—let alone the current affairs—of most of the rest of the planet. Leaving aside a well travelled/educated and cosmopolitan minority that exists in almost every country, we are dealing with a degree of benign ignorance among punters, which is compounded by a natural short-sighted self-interest and all this seen through a prism of the local culture.
The first rule of a Scot abroad is not to assume people know anything. I once hitchhiked around Western Europe with a saltire on my pack: nobody recognised it. It’s not just Europe but most of the planet that talks about England/Angleterre/Inghlaterra/etc when they mean ‘Britain’ or ‘UK’. When culture is discussed, afternoon tea, bobbies, stiff upper lips and a warm pint in the pub watching cricket on the village green predominates from California to Kowloon. Many think we’re independent already (confusing us with Eire) or don’t include us under the rubric ‘British’.
All that said, the profile of this small country of 5.25m is astounding. I have been in some odd places: poppy harvest near Chiang Mai; Fiesta de Mayo in Popoyan; fishing junk off Macau; pseudo-Cetnik meeting in Belgrade when it was still Yugoslavia. Everybody knew about Scotland and—whether it stretched no further than ‘whisky’ or ‘kilt’ or ‘bagpipe’—it produced a smiling positive reaction. It got me through an army anti-drug road block outside Baranquilla in tropical Colombia where any ‘mora’ (white guy) must be a dealer. “Yo no soy ingles: soy escoces” brought smiles and a chat (halting from my side) about single malts over a couple of ice-cold Aguilas while helmets idly spun on rifle muzzles.
It may be because we have a diaspora that surpasses even the Irish. It may be that for 200 years, there were no more enthusiastic standard bearers of the British Empire than the Scots. From Himalayan hill stations to Hudson’s Bay trappers, we administered and we traded, built ships and railways, explored, fought, settled. Right up until Suez burst the illusion that Britain was still a global power, as evidenced by pink-dominated maps in every school classroom, the Scots showed up everywhere.
As a result, an amazing number of people and cultures have some sense of Scotland and the Scots. However partial, however kailyard those views, most countries would give their eye teeth for the positive profile we Scots enjoy. And, despite our centuries of participation in empire-building, a kind of cognitive dissonance seems to separate the dour competent Scot from the undiluted resentment felt for pith-helmeted English and their effortless act of superiority.
So when Obama or Hilary or various EU nabobs wade into this debate, they do it for pragmatic reasons—fewer countries take less effort when they are as neatly bundled and externally indistinguishable as the US of A. But talk to the general population on any continent and most are surprised to learn that Scotland isn’t already independent and don’t get why we would voluntarily still hang out with those lisping Old Etonians (or whatever caricature is local shorthand for feelthy Eengleesh).
It starts right across the Channel. Flemish Belgians identify immediately with Scots because their culture is under constant Francophone assault. Catalans, who have suffered far more cultural abuse than we have, love us to the point of seeing us as a kind of political battering ram against those lisping Castilians dominating Madrid. Bavarians see Scots as kindred spirits, afflicted by the kind of ‘Saupreuß’ cultural colonialism they deal with daily. The Dutch remember our trading residents (the museum in Veere is ‘De Shotse Huizen’), villages across Poland have Scottish names because they were founded by mercenaries and informed Russians will admit not just to the (reversed) saltire as their flag but to 15 of their imperial navy admirals hailing from Scotland.
That’s to not even start on Gaelic in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan indians showing up in Orkney looking for their great grandad, the Carolina coast, the Blue Ridge mountains, Patagonia, the Transvaal Scottish, most of Oz, the City of Wellington (NZ) Pipe Band, Aberdeen Harbour (Hong Kong), Jardine Matheson and hugely influential oddballs like Lachlan MacQuarrie the “Father of Australia” or Thomas Blake Glover “the Scot Who Shaped Japan”. The huge majority of that huge diversity not only know about Scotland but see us as couthy, capable folk who have already made major contributions to civilisation.
So, when unionists are droning on about three hundred years of successful togetherness, they are technically correct. But how we managed both to profit from the British Empire as its very enthusiastic partner and yet escape most of the opprobrium as evil repressers of freedoms and dismantlers of cultures (from which England continues to suffer), remains a puzzle. The UK lost global clout post-WW1 but it took the Suez debacle to underscore the fact. Yet, 60 years on, Whitehall still acts as if a gunboat backed up by a subaltern and a thin red line is all it takes to sustain their natural role top dog.
But one thing is clear: if the English were also given a vote, they would likely vote ‘no’ and outnumber the Scots’ own ‘yes’. But, if the English could vote, why not the rest of the world? The ‘no’ campaign seems ignorant of the degree of global resentment against Britain/England (90% of foreigners make no distinction), whether due to slavery, colonial repression, EU stroppiness, the Iraq invasion or any number of ‘global policeman’ roles that Westminster took upon itself (perhaps to justify a seat on the UN Security Council).
Because, if the whole world were to vote on Scottish independence, it would be a huge embarrassment for our southern cousins—an overwhelming landslide for ‘Yes’.