Scottish Expats Divided on Question of Independence

 | Wed 17 Sep 2014 20:48 ICT

CityNews – Scotland votes tomorrow in a referendum on independence that could have huge repercussions worldwide.
The future of the United Kingdom is at stake in tomorrow’s vote. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

At stake is the future of the United Kingdom. If the Yes campaign wins, the more than 300-year-old political union between England and Scotland will come to an end.

Campaigners for independence, led by the charismatic Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party, say the Scots would be better off managing their own affairs without interference from London.

The ‘Better Together’ campaign, however, argues that the two countries have a long and illustrious shared history, and highlights the economic risks involved in going it alone.

Although the pro-union No campaign has a slight lead in most polls, analysts say the result is too close to call.

Only current residents of Scotland are allowed to vote in the referendum, meaning most expats won’t have the opportunity to do so. However, among Scottish expats in Thailand there are passionate supporters of both camps.

Scots have a proud history in Chiang Mai, dating back to the days when it was part of Britain’s “informal empire” and many worked in the teak industry in northern Siam. Here, as elsewhere, the Scottish community is divided.

“All the ones I know are pro-union,” says retired journalist George Munro, 68, from Ayrshire. His late father, Hugh Munro, wrote detective novels set on Clydeside, and George considers himself both a proud Scot and a true Brit. He has lived in Chiang Mai for 24 years.

Others have less fondness for the union. “I don’t really know any No supporters here in Thailand,” says retired English teacher Ian Gilman, originally from Dundee. The 70-year-old has been in Chiang Mai for 10 years and lives in Mae Rim with his partner, who runs a resort.

CityNews asked them both to explain their views and outline the arguments for and against Scottish independence, which they kindly agreed to do.

George Munro says:

Proudly step into the Northern Lights and go it alone, or continue within a United Kingdom and 300 years of unity? That’s the biggest question in centuries asked of Scots aged 16 and over in the land of my birth in the historic referendum, and the result will have reverberations globally. Only Scots resident in Scotland have the right to vote.

Having spent more than a third of my life in Chiang Mai and a third of it in England – mostly in London, Fleet Street and the Houses of Parliament as a poaching news reporter turned Whitehall press gamekeeper – I do reflect intensely now on my being born, raised and educated in the west of Scotland and my journalist beginnings there. I observe this referendum through no tartan-tinted specs.

I am a true Brit, proud of being Scottish, but like the few Scots expat friends I know in Chiang Mai am fearful of an unnecessary break-up of the united country, Great Britain, and nations partnered within it which we love. And nationalists, those striving to push for a Yes victory and total independence, I understand and respect some of their desires too. In that lies the anguish ahead.

Whoever wins, huge swathes of my countrymen are going to be savagely disappointed. And the fruits of that unhappiness bodes ill for the immediate future of Scotland as a contented-together five million people. Those of us expats have selfish concerns re. citizenship and, heaven forbid, Salmond-pink passports, but those will sort out in time. A rebuilding of Hadrian’s wall will not affect expats but it’s a grim spectre for us praying for the NO (not out) brigade.

Very strange indeed it will feel if myself, my relatives in Scotland, England and South Africa can no longer call ourselves “British”. And we have no say in the matter.

The seeds for a referendum should never have been allowed to be planted; greater devolution of powers at an earlier date and attentive action by Her Majesty’s government could have nipped that breakaway Scots thistle in the bud.

Scotland and its people have contributed greatly to the world and will continue to do so regardless of the referendum outcome. But – and this is serious – what will happen to the price of whisky?

Ian Gilman says:

I’m a firm Yes supporter for Scottish independence. To explain why, some history is first needed. Historically, Scotland and England were two separate countries, often at war with one another. Scotland’s alliances were with France rather than its neighbour, England.

However, in 1603, when Queen Elizabeth died without an heir, James VI of Scotland was the next in line and became King James I of England, uniting the crowns of both countries. In 1707, the parliaments were united, much to the disgust of ordinary Scots who had no say on the matter.

So, the Union is 300 years old, and for much of that period has worked well. However, since the 1950s there has been increasing dissatisfaction with the way that Scotland has been ruled by her southern neighbour, and a feeling that we would do much better if we were again in charge of our own affairs.

This feeling grew stronger with the discovery of oil in the North Sea, mainly within Scotland’s maritime boundaries – particularly when it was seen that very little of the revenues from this vast resource was being spent in Scotland.

In 1997, Scotland received a limited form of devolution and its own parliament, but without the powers to raise its own finances and with no control over key areas such as welfare, taxation, immigration, defence or foreign policy.

So, with limited fiscal powers, Scotland has little control over budgets affecting key spending areas. This, plus the fact that Scotland’s resources per head of population are considerably more than its neighbours, causes great disquiet.

Additionally, Scottish attitudes in areas like immigration, defence and health are often at odds with the Westminster parliament which is currently dominated by the Conservative Party, which has only one MP in Scotland!

So, for example, the majority of Scots oppose nuclear weapons, and yet we have nuclear submarines based 25 miles from Glasgow, the UK’s second city. Scottish people are also mainly in favour of the European Union, whereas down south the majority of the population wishes to exit the EU.

Many Scots also resent the dominance of London and the Southeast in terms of economic decisions made in Westminster. Other regions of the country feel the same way, but Scotland as a separate nation, rather than a region, can actually do something about this.

The above facts are some of the reasons that many Scots support full independence for our country. It is not that we are anti-English, but rather we feel that we would make a better job of running our country if we were in charge of our own affairs. Things may not be easy at first, and negotiations will be difficult, but in the long term, with Scotland’s considerable resources, we can do considerably better than before.