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Social issues

Thistles & Freedoms: Life During the Scottish Independence Referendum

– by Tom Munday

Sitting just short of the North Pole, there is a place that mindlessly celebrates peculiar dishes and elaborate items of clothing. It’s also a place in which everyone’s favourite sport is golf and the sound of one of the world’s most irritating instruments echoes for miles without end. Fuelled by its violent history and stereotypes, it’s an exciting place to call home, and an even more exciting place to visit as a tourist. I am, of course, talking about Scotland.

Yes, it’s the only place that celebrates Haggis, the bagpipes, and kilt. It’s also the only country to have been characterised by an award-winning Mel Gibson movie. However, it’s a country of proud traditions and enthralling personalities. It’s a land in which a cloudy, 19-degree day is considered a Godsend. Scotland is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on Earth. Despite the idiosyncrasies, most of it has been left untarnished by man.

So, what’s the big issue? Why has this noble country been dragged into the news media lately? Well, to kick off this journey, we must travel back a few hundred years. The Battle of Bannockburn was a 1314 conflict of great importance in Scottish history. With a 6,000-strong infantry, the Scottish withheld a British force of 25,000 men and 2,000 horses. With this victory at the forefront of every Scot’s mind, the battle in which England was defied is remembered fondly to this day. In fact, mass re-creations of this famous event occur regularly.

Now, let’s move forward several hundred years. In 2011, Scotland recorded its first majority government since the opening of the Palace of Holyroodhouse (where Parliament is situated) in 1854. With the Scottish National Party (SNP) snatching the most Senate positions, the parliamentary majority seemed destined for significant returns. Then, in 2012, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond launched the Independence campaign. Salmond and United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron signed the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ committing to a ‘yes/no’ vote in 2014.

2014 has arrived, and Scotland is in a frenzied buzz. Over the past few months, the ‘Yes Scotland’ and ‘Better Together’ groups have been at each other’s throats. ‘Yes Scotland’, supported by the SNP and Scottish Greens, wants the country to break from the United Kingdom and become an independent nation. Backed by its own government and economy, an independent Scotland would be given back control. The ‘Better Together’ campaign, supported by the British Government, wants the blue-and-white-striped country to stick with Great Britain.

Obviously, the September 18th election is not to be taken lightly. With approximately four million Scottish citizens – from the age of 16 upwards – expected to vote, the public has the power to change the future. Affecting this generation and all those to come, the voters must decide whether to radically alter the country’s infrastructure or maintain the status quo.

The voting process itself has taken on many changes since the start of the campaign. Giving people young people the right to vote makes for an interesting choice. Certainly, bringing teenagers into this debate may get more high-schoolers interested in political processes than ever before. However, this also raises significant issues. Will anyone of this age care? Do they even know anything about the parties involved? With the fate of a nation resting on such a wide age bracket, this decision may be the equivalent of handing the Joker a live detonator!

Before delving into the country’s behaviour over the past couple of weeks, we must examine what each party wants from this. The ‘Yes Scotland’ group, racing towards independence, is currently asking the people of Scotland to trust them. Despite the optimism, the ‘Yes’ vote may throw major consequences at its citizens. If Scotland leaves the British Empire, the clean up job may take decades. The economic issues may tear a huge line between the land of the Loch Ness Monster and the land of royal families and roses. In switching to the European Union, the country will become embroiled in the Euro’s crippling issues. In addition, with several unwelcome nuclear weapons hubs situated throughout Scotland, handing these weapons back may worsen the relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom.

The ‘Better Together’ campaign, despite delivering its fair share of compelling arguments, has run into several bumps in the road. The ‘No, Thanks’ vote, despite its condescending tone, has the facts and reason to carry itself over the line come Election Day. The people situated on or near the border, namely farmers and union workers, will most likely vote no. If a ‘Yes’ vote is cast, land ownership will become difficult to manage. In addition, the country’s oil reserves will dwindle unless the U.K. takes control and shares the product between the countries involved.

However, executing the political equivalent of missing a penalty kick in the 90th minute, the British Government representatives have slipped up at several inopportune moments. Prime Minister Cameron, seen by many Scots as the epitome of the Empire’s woes, has alienated many citizens with his Tory Party stance. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and British Labour Party politician Ed Miliband have been turned against whilst campaigning throughout Scotland. Meanwhile, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s campaign plans have been wholly rejected. In addition, the ‘No, Thanks’ wave was almost broken by one particularly bad advertisement that implied that women will vote no because they are too busy to decide.

10705229_10201847808276050_1393722568_nOver the past couple of weeks, I have immersed myself in Scottish culture. Travelling from town to town, each has something to add to this lively debate. Across the land, ‘Yes’ and ‘No, Thanks’ signs have been stuck on fences, buildings, and streetlights. With some cities signposting more of one than the other, it is easy to see which places sit on which side. With blue and white flags plastered across the nation, one thing’s for sure – Scotland is now embracing patriotism.

However, to truly understand the public’s stance, you have to talk to the locals. Hanging flags and signs across their windows, many people are making their opinions known. Older citizens are favouring the ‘No’ vote, many pro-independent citizens are enthusiastic about the country’s future and anti-independence folks like arguing for days on end with the pro-independence people. Meanwhile, many under the age of 20 simply shrug at every mention of the topic. Interestingly, on September 16th, the BBC poll had ‘No’ at 48%, ‘Yes’ at‘44%, and 8% still undecided.

So, as the race comes to a dramatic close, how is the world taking it all in? Well, despite serious backlash from the local hedgehog and badger communities, the Scots are enjoying the David and Goliath-esque fight between them and Great Britain. Despite the risks, many seem content with the possibility that their lovable land may break up with the Empire. Others, however, are offended by the very idea of it. With the race so tight, it may all come down to one vote. Will it be from a brawny middle-aged farmer, a sweet old lady, or a blissfully ignorant 17-year-old? Who knows? As far as I’m concerned, not getting in the middle of this feud is the right way to go. As long as the deep-friend Mars bar is sticking around, most will be happy.

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