In two weeks, Scottish voters will be asked to answer a simple question — “Should Scotland be an independent country?” — with a simple “yes” or “no.” The choice, of course, is far from simple.
No profound religious, economic or geographic issues separate the Scots and the English; there has been no colonial rule, no war of independence. Scotland and England have lived together as Great Britain in peace since 1707, sharing a monarch, a Protestant faith and, for a time, an empire, and fighting side by side in global wars.
Advocates of independence actually want to keep the queen, the pound and membership in the European Union, though maintaining the status quo on the currency and membership in the union is far from certain. In fact, this absence of acrimonious differences and a more unified Europe has made it easier for a modern nation of five million to ask itself what it wants to be.
Though the “no’s” have led in polls, the gap has been steadily narrowing, and it was only six points in the latest YouGov poll on Monday. That has both the “Better Together” and the “Yes Scotland” camps left to focus on the undecided, who want more autonomy but are wary of pulling out of Great Britain. Accordingly, Alex Salmond, the nationalist Scottish first minister, and Alistair Darling, the former chancellor of the Exchequer who leads the unionists, have each declared that there will be no earth-shattering change should either side win. The main British political parties have all proposed more autonomy should Scotland stay in Britain. Scotland already has its own elected assembly in Edinburgh in addition to seats in the British Parliament.
The issue of independence involves far more than economic benefits, and the debates in Scotland and England have often been passionate since the Scottish National Party won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2011 and started the ball rolling toward a referendum. Globalization and loss of empire have weakened a shared British identity, and the European Union has made it possible for distinct peoples like the Scots, Catalans or Basques to contemplate going it alone.
Unionists have countered that such dreams overlook the advantages of bonds, values, economies and shared identities forged over centuries, and that separation holds many unknowns. Quebec, for instance, has demonstrated that even if the separatists fail, the debate on independence contributes to a nation’s identity and narrative.
It is testimony to democratic values in Britain and in Spain, where a vote on Catalonia’s independence is scheduled for November, that the question can be put to the people peacefully — in stark contrast to Russia’s armed campaign to punish and dismember Ukraine for trying to break out of the Kremlin’s orbit. In Scotland, there is no threat of reprisals for either choice, and the only pressure is the complexity and fatefulness of that simple question.
Source: NYTimes , Scotland 's Identity, Put to a Vote