On Thursday around four million Scots will be voting on the future of their country’s independence. The cultural and political otherness of the Scots justifies the experiment, says DW’s Daniel Scheschkewitz.
For many years, Scotland was considered by many people in Germany and Central Europe as a remote region in Britain’s far north, linguistically equated with England . Sure, people knew that it rained a lot there, and that Scotland’s men were fond of wearing skirts and drinking whiskey, and that their proverbial stinginess was less than amusing. But that Scotland was for many centuries a proud, independent nation before 1707 – that was less well known, overshadowed by its more recent history as part of the United Kingdom.
But all that is old news: If the majority of Scots over the age of 16 say ‘Yes’ to independence on Thursday, Scotland could return to the map of Europe as an independent state. The United Kingdom, that governmental construct of the 18th century, could become a part of the past, with as yet unrecognizable political and economic consequences. Would this be a step backwards? A historical- romantic anachronism and relapse into a small state mindset in a modern Europe without borders? In my opinion: No!
Always been different
Scotland has always been different from its neighbor to the south, England. Even the Romans recognized that fact. Not for nothing did Emperor Hadrian, in the second century, order a wall to be built along the border with the Celtic Picts in the north. In the coming centuries, the northern Celts and, in the south, the Normans and Anglo-Saxons, waged war against each other, with the Scottish army always striving to preserve its independence.
It was only after the union of the royal houses in 1603 and later, the ill-fated attempt by the Scots to launch their own trading empire in India, Africa and the Americas, did they agree to a financially necessary parliamentary union with England in 1707. This set the foundation for the rise of Great Britain as a world power. Scotland and England, along with the carbon -rich Wales, created a resource pool, unique in the world, which brought the island kingdom political power on the world stage and prosperity at home. Problems over cultural and political differences only resurfaced in the second half of the 20th century, but then with full force.
Union from another time
In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher de-industrialized Britain and overhauled the ailing national budget with the black gold from Scotland’s North Sea oilfields. At first the Scots took it all in stride, but when they began to realize that many in their oil capital of Aberdeen, which by all right should have resembled a Scottish Abu Dhabi, still lived in poverty and misery, doubts began to emerge. These doubts only increased as Thatcher’s Conservative Party took almost unbroken control of the British Parliament – this despite Scots not having sent even one Conservative MP to Westminster in every election since 1997.
In a Scotland widely deprived of its political influence and economic possibilities, the influence of nationalists began to grow. In 1999, they managed to wrest political control from London and set up the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.