Sharing is caring!Facebook0Twitter0Google+0Pinterest0 It is fitting that the Rev. Ian Paisley died last week, only days before Scotland’s vote for ind...
It is fitting that the Rev. Ian Paisley died last week, only days before Scotland’s vote for independence threatens to break up the United Kingdom after three centuries. As the ugly face of religious intolerance throughout Northern Ireland’s infamous “Troubles” of the 1970s and ’80s, no one had more blood on his hands in the name of preserving the region’s place in the union.
“No compromise, no surrender,” was Paisley’s motto. He was known as Dr. No for refusing any deal for peace and holding the feet of moderate Protestant leaders to the fire. All in the name of the union.
On Thursday, Scots threaten to simply walk away from the union without a bullet fired. While the betting is that the “No” votes will win by a small margin, Great Britain will never be the same.
In less than three generations, the United Kingdom has gone from defender of Europe against all odds to a shadow of its former imperial self. From India to Hong Kong, Africa to South America, the Union Jack that 100 years ago flew over territory representing one-fifth of the world’s population has steadily faded. Now the flag might need to be physically altered entirely if Scotland bails.
In the frantic days leading up to the vote, as polls tightened from once unthinkable margins for the No vote to a dead heat, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has promised Scotland everything it ever wanted in its 15-year devolution from Westminster with its own parliament. Should he prevail, these new powers will ensure the independence question will come back for the next generation, if not sooner.
Financial markets – especially the British pound – quake in fear of what a smaller Great Britain will look like, especially in these dangerous times. Separatists in Italy, Spain, Belgium and other parts of Europe are paying close attention. And concern about how Spain’s Catalan and Italy’s Veneto regions will react to a “Yes” vote has already manifested itself in the bond markets of those countries, with yields rising.
Cameron’s own role in history would be secured as the prime minister who presided over the breakup of the union. Though his Conservative party would ultimately benefit as Scotland was long the engine of the opposition Labor vote, he would certainly be thrown out in a general election next year, if not in a vote of confidence next week.
Much of the final campaigning has centered around what it means to be British and the military history of the union. But to many Scots, particularly the younger ones, this is only so much noise. The English have always held their London seat of government and power as a cloak of superiority over their regional partners, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Try passing Scottish bank notes – legal British sterling – in London and watch the reaction, as I did this past weekend. “No, I said 10 pounds. Pounds,” insisted the doorman at a popular sports cafe. “Those are pounds,” I replied. “Oh, guess so,” he said as he stared at the bill. “For a few more days, at least,” I joked.
Even today, two-and-a-half centuries on, some of the older English aristocracy will still comment upon meeting an American, “So how are the Colonials doing these days, anyway,” only half kidding.
The Irish proved a century ago that a breakaway is possible, however messy. Now the Scottish see their shot, if not this week, then next time. A “No” vote will only delay the inevitable.
On Saturday night, the annual Last Night at the Proms event was held in Hyde Park to celebrate an end to the month-long Proms music festival at the nearby Royal Albert Music Hall in West London. As the night ended with the traditional playing of God Save the Queen, one over-served reveler stood on his beer cooler waving his Union Jack and shouting, “I love Scotland. I love Scotland. I really do. Love their haggis, ha ha.”
Then the night ended with the tens of thousands of concertgoers gazing at fireworks above and bellowing in unison a full-throated, rafter-shaking rendition of Rule, Brittania! Perhaps for the last time.
David Callaway is editor in chief of USA TODAY where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.