Tuesday, January 16, 2007

300th anniversary of the Act of Union

Today is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, the act that created the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

As I mentioned in my St. Andrew's Day entry, the Act wasn't exactly negotiated between the two countries. Scotland was the victim of economic blackmail; sign the Act or be ruined. There were protests in the streets by commoners who wanted no part of the Act of Union, but the Scottish parliament ignored them.

Today, the question of Scotland's full independence from England is being debated. There will be Scottish parliamentary elections later this year, with a possible referendum on independence if the Scottish National Party takes power.

The debate is over whether or not Scotland should split completely from Britain, or whether Scotland should get stronger fiscal powers within Great Britain. The debate has wide ramifications for England. English voters don't like the fact that Scottish Members of Parliament (MPs) in London can vote on English affairs, but English MPs can't vote on many of the same issues affecting Scotland since they fall under the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. At the same time, the last ten years has seen people in England feeling less "British" and more "English" (though there are Scots that would point out this is mostly a matter of word usage, that Englanders always felt Britain = England).

The pro-British side point out that tiny Scotland — with a population around 5 million — would lose clout in the world. Admission into the European Union would not be automatic. Britain's permanent position on the UN Security Council would go to England. Independence would spark cross-border protectionism in England, and exacerbate — not dampen — resentment that's been festering for about a decade. All this at a time when more Scots are living in England and more English are living in Scotland than ever before.

The pro-independence side has, of course, a different view. They want control over fiscal affairs. They want control over fish, oil, and other natural resources in Scotland, resources that the small country would have in abundance after serving its own needs. It's likely Scotland would become a member of the EU, giving Scots access to a European passport, the Euro as a currency, and the EU as a diplomatic entity (something that, say, an independent Quebec would not have access to). Proponents of an independent Scotland point to the economic success of small countries like Ireland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway within the EU. Independence would give Scotland control over its own destiny. For instance, there is a strong anti-nuclear and anti-Iraq War sentiment in Scotland, but Scots have no say in whether or not Trident missile sub bases in Scotland should be closed, or whether or not Scots should be involved in the war in Iraq.

Regardless of what happens, it seems likely that the Act of Union as it was forged in the 18th century is likely doomed. Scotland will become independent, or Scotland will have a new role within an altered Great Britain. One way or another, it's likely that this year will be a major turning point in British history.

Here are some interesting articles in The Scotsman. Of particular interest are the comments (even if they do quickly become monotonous variations on the same themes).

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