Take a Pill – The Sky Isn’t Falling
Scotland will hold a referendum this week to determine if it will remain part of the United Kingdom or will separate from the Old Girl and become an independent nation. While my personal ancestry is predominantly Scottish, dating back to Flora MacDonald, the truth is that I am Canadian, and as such, I don’t have a dog in this fight and don’t have much invested in its outcome.
Don’t take that to mean that I am indifferent to Scotland or Great Britain; I feel a strong kinship to both because of my heritage and would prefer to see both prosper. It simply means that unlike many media pundits and politicians who suddenly discovered the possibility of Scottish independence, I don’t think of this referendum as an indication that the sky is falling. I consider it an example of democracy in action – you know, that process everyone is always jabbering about on social media and in politics but seldom seem to respect?
I think this entire process has been quite civilized although lately the rhetoric on both sides has been over the top and self-serving but that’s for the Scots to sort out. I respect their right to determine their own future whether or not I happen to agree with their decision.
That is not the case with many in government and the media these days. Having all but ignored the long lead-up to Thursday’s vote, they have suddenly become aware that there is a real possibility of Scotland leaving Britain and that has them clucking like Chicken Little after he got hit on the head by the proverbial acorn.
Inevitably the talk is all about the dire consequences of separation rather than benefits of remaining united.
I’ve heard pundits bemoan what they see as the breaking with Scottish traditions as if Scotland’s history and heritage will suddenly disappear if the yes side wins the referendum. That’s thinking so plebian it’s hardly worth debating. Scotland at various times has been French, British and independent. Which heritage do these pundits think should be the deciding one?
Others have talked about the fact that Scotland will no longer be a member of NATO or the EU. Considering how expensive and inept those two organizations have shown themselves to be lately, that may be more of an argument in favour of voting yes than a reason to remain part of Britain. It’s hard to believe that a parliament of dithering Scottish politicians could be any worse than a parliament of dithering British politicians.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was particularly emotional stating that he will be ‘heartbroken’ if the Scots vote for independence. I would like to work up some sympathy for Mr. Cameron but I can’t. As political leaders go, he’s tragically worse than most and he’s had more than ample time to implement some of the governmental changes he’s now promising to make if Scotland remains part of Britain. He has been caught a pound short and a day late like so many of our leaders tend to be so instead of leading, he is reduced to trying to buy Scottish support for the No side and mouthing warnings to those leaning towards the Yes.
That’s another common thread in moments like this. Those in power first ignore, then warn and threaten and finally try to ‘buy’ support by conceding powers they weren’t otherwise prepared to consider giving up before things came to a head.
It’s moments like these that often make me wonder if any of our political leaders can deal with an issue without first turning it into a crisis. It’s like being led by Huey, Dewey and Louie at times and that makes me wonder why so many continue to follow them but. . .
Personally I believe that many who support the status quo are afraid that a successful yes vote not only weakens their power base but draws too much attention to the privilege and entitlement that is disproportionately shared in most western nations these days but we can discuss that in more detail another time.
Others right here in Canada work overtime to try to draw some comparison to the Quebec separatist movement and the possibility that Scottish independence might rejuvenate the sovereignist cause in Quebec. I doubt that will happen, but even if it does, why should the Scots be criticized for exercising their democratic rights because Canada might not be able to get its sh*t together?
And then there is the ‘sky is falling crowd’.
These are the folks that are full of dire predictions about the jump into the great unknown but here’s the thing. There are many potential pitfalls on both sides but If history has taught us anything at all, it is that when the status quo is no longer acceptable to a people, they will grow to fear the unknown less than they hate the status quo.
Once that happens, the status quo is doomed even if the desire for change is more uninformed emotion than well-informed pragmatism.
In the middle 1640s, Oliver Cromwell led a movement in England that eventually led to the overthrow of Charles I and the institution of a form of democratic dictatorship under his leadership. After his death, the monarchy was reinstated but with more power granted to the people’s parliament.
From 1789 to 1799, France underwent a decade of political upheaval as the people of France threw off their monarchy in the French Revolution. In both England and France, the people rose up because the status quo was no longer tenable to them and their fear of what might follow revolution was outweighed by their hatred of the status quo.
At the time, just as with today, there were those predicting that the leap into the mystic would destroy the nation and lead to cataclysmic ruin. While there was certainly some economic upheaval and political instability that followed including the emergence of Napoleon in France, both nations have not only survived but prospered. They went on to colonize much of the world and grew to become economic powerhouses in Europe – although the current crop of leaders seems intent on eroding that success as quickly as it can.
No greater example exists than the United States which became the world’s most powerful nation after 13 British colonies in the New World fought for, and achieved, their independence from Britain.
This isn’t support for Scottish independence. As I’ve already said, I believe it’s entirely up to the folks in Scotland to decide what is best for them but it is meant as a reminder to the panic brigade that the sky is not falling simply because a people exercise their democratic rights.
The only constant in life, including with nations, is that change is going to come and if we must have change, (real change, not the ethereal change promised by politicians in every election) let it be cooperative change that is achieved through a peaceful democratic process.
There were predictions of economic devastation when Poland left the Soviet Union – didn’t happen. Indeed most nations that were once part of the Soviet have moved forward with only some exceptions.
There were predictions that the breakup of the former Czechoslovakia would lead to the ruin of both new countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia – didn’t happen. Both are making it on their own and their people are generally much happier with what they are building than the old status quo they were living. In every case there have been setbacks and challenges but the new nations have succeeded and that is the point.
The status quo wasn’t working for them – change has and is.
Many western Canadians still remember the Trudeau Liberal’s National Energy Program, a hated piece of legislation that basically raped western Canada’s energy resources. It was right around that point that many in the west started feeling that the status quo in Canada no longer worked for them and talk of separation from the rest of the country raised its inconvenient head.
Change is inevitable. Either the status quo changes or people will throw off the status quo in favour of something new even if it is poorly defined and somewhat frightening. The process of change can take many forms: war, revolution, rebellion or, as in the case of Scotland, democracy.
Our only real choice is to determine what change will occur and how we will implement it. Defending an unpopular status quo never works for long.
In places like Syria and Egypt, they marched in the streets and when that didn’t bring about the change to the status quo they wanted, people rebelled. The democratically elected government of Egypt was overthrown and replaced by an even less democratic military dictatorship while in Syria people are willing to die in order to overthrow the status quo.
Ukraine is fighting a bloody civil war that has already seen the people of Crimea separate to join Russia. Libya continues to be a confused hotbed of tribal warfare, Iran overthrew its monarchy in favour of a theocracy and Romanians rose up in 1989 to overthrow Ceaușescu, to establish a new democracy.
In every case, the status quo was no longer tenable to the people and they chose radical change over a continuation of tyranny or poverty or economic privilege in the hands of a few. When peaceful change was denied; the people often turned to violent opposition to the status quo.
Now Scotland is voting on whether or not it wants to remain as part of Britain or leave the nest and try to make a go of it on its own. Many Scots are fed up with what they see as increased poverty and too little say in how their tax dollars are spent by London. Whether some or any of that is actually true the simple reality is that it is how many on the yes side see the status quo and it is no longer acceptable to them.
I don’t know how successful an Independent Scotland might be and neither does anyone else. History has also taught us that our ability to predict future outcomes isn’t very good. In fact, to use the colloquial we suck at it but that isn’t the issue. The point is that a significant part of the population is unhappy with the status quo and they see no way of effecting change within the United Kingdom.
The British government has done a terrible job of showing them the benefits of remaining united which has given birth and strength to the Scottish independence movement. Many Scots feel short-changed and want what they see as control over their own destiny and like it or not, they have every right to decide that for themselves without a whole lot of pointless weeping and wailing from us.
Rather than wasting our time with yet more panicked rhetoric about dire consequences, the political leadership should be focused on how best to help an independent Scotland integrate into the family of nations if it votes to leave or address the key issues in advance of the vote by presenting real proposals for change to the status quo that have caused the independence movement to flourish.
In other words, it’s time for political leaders and media pundits to stop acting like teenage girls in a dither on Facebook and grow up and respect democracy. The sky is not falling. There is no question that a victory for the yes side would bring about serious challenges for Great Britain and the new nation of Scotland but both will survive.
The real question isn’t whether or not the United Kingdom can survive the secession of Scotland but whether or not it can continue to survive appalling leadership it has had for the last three decades. It’s a question many other countries, including our own, should be asking.
Considering that leadership, it’s hardly surprising that many – like many in Scotland – are seriously wondering how much worse independence could be.
If I had any advice for adherents on both the yes and the no side of this issue it would be; take a pill the sky isn’t falling in Scotland, it’s democracy in action.
© 2014 Maggie’s Bear
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