One of my earliest memories of school was my proud Scottish teacher making a 7-year-old me learn the de facto Scottish National Anthem “Oh flower of Scotland.” It was curious for a young boy in France to learn a song charged with national pride and independent sentiments. That was very telling of the ethos of Scotland and the Scots, even though I could not grasp it at the time. Indeed, I was more preoccupied with changing the lyrics from “and sent them homeward” to “and sent them homework” as a humorous nod to my teacher.
This rendition of the national anthem just oozes patriotic fervor - an impressive display
Despite my youthful naivete, I still remember the lyrics of that song. On this vital day for Scotland, the Frenchman in me (and the European) is tempted to stand from the tallest building I can find and bellow out the anthem. The prospect of dividing the United Kingdom while potentially strengthening the European Union is obviously appealing to any Frenchman.
Despite my nationalistic rancor (all in good fun, of course, my British friends) my rational self can simply not justify supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign. Alex Salmond’s charismatic and passionate pleas have undoubtedly made this debate much less one-sided than may have initially seemed. Yet, his failure to answer on key economic questions is alarming at best and negligent at worst.
Salmond has undoubtedly profited from a lackluster campaign from the ‘better together’ side. Alistair Darling, despite an impressive performance in his first debate, has led a very technocratic argument focused on rationality. Unfortunately the idea of independence is driven not by rationality but by emotion. David Cameron and his conservative allies have proven equally incompetent in making a coherent argument for staying in the union. The Prime Minister made passionate pleas for Scotland not to ‘break his heart.’ For the deeply unpopular conservative PM (at least in the eyes of the Scottish), such a statement is interpreted more as a challenge than a heartfelt appeal.
Ultimately, the only truly rousing defense of the Union has come from an unlikely character: former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Although relatively silent during the campaign, his speech for the ‘better together’ camp eloquently outlined the patriotic arguments for Scots staying in the UK while dismantling the inconsistencies of the ‘yes’ camp.
In the final analysis, those seeking greater autonomy in Scotland will only win if the ‘better together’ camp comes out on top. Particularly if the ‘no’ only takes it with a small margin. Such an outcome would force London to give more powers away to Scotland while maintaining a currency union, membership in international institutions, and avoiding the other headaches associated with independence.
As an outside observer, it’s tough to fully comprehend the emotional implications of this vote. Indeed, the issue will not be solved tomorrow regardless of the results of the referendum. And as much as I would love to see how a ‘yes’ victory would play out, the simple truth is that such an outcome creates more problems than it solves.
“Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again”
Those lines from the last couplet of “Oh flower of Scotland” ring prophetic today. Yet, unlike Mr. Salmond, I don’t think that Scotland will “rise now and be the nation again” by voting yes. Rather this destiny can only be achieved by remaining a fiercely independent and autonomous nation within the United Kingdom.