I ought to start this with a disclaimer. I do not hold a British passport; I am not a subject of the Queen. I will have no legal right to vote on this subject in the autumn of 2014. But it matters to me.
I hope one day to make my home in Scotland. I would like to raise my children there. I want to bring my family back to to the land of my ancestors. There are Scots on every branch of my family tree. Some of them are closer to the trunk than others, but they’re all there. Since 2004, I’ve spent a lot of time in Scotland. The first time I ever went, I was alone. It was me, a large rucksack, and two months that changed my life.
I spent over eight weeks there that summer. Listening, learning, absorbing. I saw everything from misty glens to sheer faced cliffs. I climbed Ben Nevis and visited chambered cairns and standing stones. But what I recall most about that trip were the people.
From the Glasgow cabbie who cheerfully bid me “Welcome home!” when I told him I had Scottish ancestry to Robin, a young man from Rothesay, who took me out with his friend Neil to fly on the beaches of St. Andrews — they accepted me and welcomed me. Kind and gracious and welcoming are the Scots.
That land snared me so tight that I found ways to go back year after year. At Christmas in 2006, a few New Zealanders introduced me to the Scottish band Albannach. Albannach means, quite simply, “Scottish” or “Scots” in Gaelic. Their music is reminiscent of a time when drums served to make you dance, to make you fight, to stir your soul. From the first strains of Donnie’s pipes, they caught me. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet them several times and to see them live more times than I can count now — they breathe a fiery passion for their homeland, and they believe that a Scot is a Scot, even unto a hundred generations.
Even then, I’d seen Braveheart. It’s a romanticized portrait of a violent former time, to be sure, but the facts as they are remain unmolested. William Wallace was a hero. He led the Scots to many victories and a few losses. Some of those victories, like that at Stirling Bridge, were brilliant displays of tactics and courage by the outnumbered Scots. And it remains that Wallace paid for Scotland’s freedom with his blood and a horrific, torturous death long before Robert the Bruce was able to rally his countrymen to victory on the field at Bannockburn.
Robert Bruce himself is a paragon of Scotland’s heroes — and a bit maligned by Braveheart’s writers. He saw Scotland freed, and she remained thus for four centuries.
It should be noted, in the interest of fairness, that Scotland’s greatest enemy has — at times — been her own rulers. Nobles wooed by prospects of English titles or land, lured by empty promises at the expense of those who had no voice.
While doing my research on my family, I found a line of Scots that people on Ancestry.com were quick to believe came from the Earl of Panmure. It was exciting to think that perhaps I came from some noble house — but the facts didn’t line up. Some were content to leave those gaps unfilled, but I’m not. That Scot, with all the other Scots on my tree, was most likely a peasant. A crofter or a farmer, and likely no one of note. Indeed most of my Scottish ancestors had no voice. They were subject to the whims of their rulers, and I’ve no doubt that the political machinations of the time are what forced my forebears from their homeland.
For the first time, the people of Scotland have a say in what becomes of her. They didn’t have much of a choice when James Stuart, sixth of his name, landed on the thrones of both Scotland and England. They didn’t get to vote on the Act of the Union in 1707, and many Scots dissented — and were forcibly put down.
Three hundred years have passed since then.
This time round, there is a chance for Scotland’s independence to come without bloodshed. This time round, I doubt it will come to that. I can most sincerely and fervently say that I hope it will not. The basis of my belief in Scotland’s independence is one of principle. Scotland is a discrete nation with a distinct culture and history. Why should she not have self-determination?
It bears mentioning as well that Scottish history is not the national history taught in Scottish schools. Scottish children learn British history, which is by and large an Anglocentric pursuit. I think that if more Scots had grown up learning more in-depth about her long and fascinating story, there would likely be greater support for independence. As children progress past primary school and onto secondary, a bit more emphasis is placed on Scottish history and identity, but it’s not the same.
I remember how I felt when I found that certain parts of American history had been glossed over in my classes. History should be the property of the people. It affects us and the choices we make.
From a political perspective, a split of the United Kingdom would be difficult. Would Scotland retain membership in the European Union? What would happen to the North Sea oil reserves? What would change? Would they get to keep golf? (Okay, that last was a joke.)
Those who are against Scottish independence say that the United Kingdom is more prosperous as a whole and that membership therein does not compromise the individual identity of its member nations. But under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which the UK has signed), Scotland has a right to self-determination if she so chooses.
Scotland of course benefits as a part of one of the world’s major powers — but what if the status quo in your country’s foreign policy grossly diverges from your wishes? Such was the case in the last major election in the UK, with the Conservatives (Tories) winning on a national scale (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) when in Scotland they garnered a tiny 15% of the vote. Yes, you read that right. 85% of Scotland did not vote for the current UK government, but they don’t have the option to get out of it. Scotland is significantly more liberal than England, and when your country has five million people to your neighbor’s whopping 59 million, your voice gets lost in a very large crowd.
It’s difficult to be objective in a case like this, but then I’m not trying to be. I’m merely trying to express an opinion and give a few reasons for it.
I believe that Scotland should be free. She should have the chance to go it alone and make what she can of this new era. Her people are capable, hardworking, generous, and kind. They have eked out a living on a hunk of largely barren rock for ten thousand years. They have fought back superior forces and given us people like David Hume, Alexander Graham Bell, Alexander Fleming, Andrew Carnegie, Robert Burns, Adam Smith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan (Like bikes? He invented them.), Craig Ferguson, Julie Fowlis, and many more.
Why do I care about all of this? I guess it comes down to who I am. I am a Scot. What makes a Scot? Is it blood? Yes. Is it ancestry? Yes. Is it birth? Yes.
But beyond all those things, I think what makes a Scot is a passion for the land, her people, and her heritage. It’s the beauty of her languages — the cadence of Scots and the fluidity of Gaelic. It’s her haunting stories, lively reels, whirling jigs and the piercing sound of the pipes. It’s a belief, in her history and her perseverance. It’s hope for her future. It’s fire and passion born of rock and rain.
Even if you don’t support the coming referendum, a Scot can be any of those things and all of them. I am one. MacLennan and MacLachlan, Maule and MacMillan, Brown and Hamilton, Taylor and Mears. By blood and bone and the stories passed down from my ancestors who never forgot where they came from — I am one. And this Scot happens to believe that Scotland is a living place, and she must and shall go free.
The aforementioned Scottish band Albannach are offering a new album entitled The Independence EP for free on their website. If you click the image below, you’ll be taken to the page where you can download it.
They are a band of patriots, people who genuinely believe in Scotland’s ability to govern herself. One of their dear friends, writer and historian David Ross, passed from this world two years ago. His life was a testament to that belief and will not be forgotten by any of us who were lucky enough to have met him.