With the impending fate of Scotland looming ever closer, Stephanie Redfern Jones analyses the key philosophical issues of the Yes/No debate.
The Scottish Independence Referendum was always going to be a contentious issue. Surely no one can confound the Scottish people for being proud of who they are and where they come from – national identity is, indeed, an admirable thing. Although I am not Scottish myself, I feel affinities with this history-making decision, and in writing this article I in no way want to tell the Scottish people how to cast their vote. This decision is up to individuals. It is your future, and it is your decision. However, what I think should be borne in mind it that the outcome of this referendum has implications for all of the nations of Britain, whether these implications are social, emotional, or economic. Regardless of my personal views surrounding this debate, I would like to raise three philosophical values that I see to be at stake and lay these plainly on the table as food for thought.
In one regard, the referendum is about identity. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), who have proposed independence, are understandably proud of Scotland; they want the best for their country and a fair deal for the Scottish people. On divisive decisions such as this, sometimes it is difficult to know what constitutes a fair deal – especially within politics, which has come to be known as a place to parade empty promises. It is little wonder that there is disillusionment emanating from the electorate when the parties voted into governments back out of their promises and, indeed, sometimes go against the very philosophies they promise to entertain. Yet this debate has undeniably engaged (and perhaps enraged) the people of Scotland, as well as the wider vicinity of the British Isles. Identity is a very personal matter – it means different things to different people. Being Scottish to one person could be synonymous with being British. However, the person standing next to them may vehemently deny self-identifying as British. This is why the issue is now too close to call; we simply cannot discern the self-perception of identity among the populace of Scotland. As a result, in one sense, this question is asking the Scottish people to articulate who they are. In my mind at least, personal identity is closely tied to national identity. Therefore, this debate suggests a question: do the Scottish people think they are (and want to be) part of Britain or not? If I am right in suggesting that personal and national identity are intimately related, the issue is an emotionally stirring one, and I think Alex Salmond has rallied support using this emotional reaction from the start. He knows that the Scottish people are proud of who they are and where they come from. That they also want to be able to govern themselves as a country without being answerable to a government not of their choosing seems to be an affirmation of this identity.
The second concept that surrounds this debate pertains to the very fabric of society: issues of economics and welfare. In publicity campaigns for both sides, North Sea oil revenue has splashed across the newspapers like there’s no tomorrow. Then of course, there’s the currency issue. Will Scotland be allowed to use the pound? Will they be forced to resort to the petrifying thought of the Euro? Or will they invent a new Scottish currency?!
The issue of money – as important as it is to run a government – is growing tiresome within the debate. Bandying around these terms in an attempt to gain support is a crude method of winning the electorate from both Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. The only certain ‘pound’ that will be used is someone pounding their heads together! Neither seems to be overwhelmingly convincing, relating to my aforementioned point that politicians are mistrusted in today’s society. In terms of welfare, the other issue tossed around is our dear old beloved institution, the National Health Service, which has truly served us well for the last six decades. This issue, again, pulls the heartstrings of both the Scottish people and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The third involvement within this debate is one of conviction. In life there seems to be two types of people: those who are confident in their opinions, and those who are less so. This is, of course, at risk of over-simplification, but at least for the purpose of this point, it should stand. There seems to be a weighty manifestation of confidence on the part of those who support the Yes Campaign, which is admirable indeed. Yet in uncertain economic times, this confidence can erode massively. The No (Thanks) Campaign, for all its apparent negativity, does seem to stampede the elephant in the room: what is Alex Salmond really promising here? And more importantly, can he deliver? Emotion and identity, as commendable as these integral parts of human nature may be, are simply not enough in decision-making without reasonable certainty that the plans posed can be executed satisfactorily.
One thing is certain, however: this is not a decision to be undertaken lightly. It is surely a good thing that sixteen-year-olds have been granted the right to vote, particularly as it is their future that will be affected. Yet this is not a bandwagon to jump upon in a foolhardy way. Both sides of the argument should be weighed up carefully and considered in a measured fashion, as should be done with all debate. Reason is central to decision-making. Emotion should perhaps count for a proportion of what we decide, lest humans perish through rash decision-making and senseless abandonment.
The outcome of this debate will change Scotland regardless of which way the electorate decides to vote. If the will of the Scottish people is Yes, then independence is guaranteed and Salmond will be obligated to pursue his lofty promises. Undoubtedly, he will be watched avidly in leading the way of Scotland’s separation from the United Kingdom, which will no longer be quite so united. If the will of the Scottish people is No, things may be perceived to remain much the same, but the atmosphere between the Scottish people and the other nations may – in my opinion – become incredibly tense if no positive parting words are exchanged between Salmond and Darling. Oddly enough, this debate has turned largely into something akin to a football match. Both sides take themselves seriously, and they compete fiercely for their team. Fouls occur and penalties may be given, yet when all is said and done one hopes that both sides exchange well-wishing in a civil and respectful manner, affirming that both sides are united in a common game – their whole reason for playing. Whether the commonality between Scotland and Britain is ‘unity’ has yet to be proven, and I’m sure we will all avidly be watching the kick off on the 18th of September. But for now fair play is sorely needed, and, whatever the outcome, I hope we will treat each other with the humanity we all deserve, whether we agree or not.
In remaining (fairly) neutral as this article has endeavoured to do, I hope to give a pearl of wisdom attributed to Aesop, which could be perceived for or against independence, depending on your interpretation:
“United we stand, divided we fall”
Of what little time there is left before the people decide, may you think carefully, cast your vote wisely, and may we all share the hope that the future of Scotland will be a happy one whether Scottish independence comes into being or not.
Stephanie Redfern Jones
Photo credit: Yamen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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