Divorce Scottish style?
Will the 300-year-old marriage of convenience of Scotland and England be broken on the rock of the Scottish National Party's recent victory in the parliamentary elections? Mohamed El-Sayed
reports from Edinburgh
"Maybe yes, Maybe no," was the answer of the presiding officer of the outgoing Scottish parliament George Reid to Al-Ahram Weekly. It wasn't an answer that raised eyebrows, given that he is a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP) which managed a hard-fought victory over the Labour Party in the recent parliamentary elections. The SNP, for the first time in its history, won 47 seats, while Labour secured 46, the Scottish Conservatives 17, the Scottish Liberal Democrats 16, and the Green Party only two seats.
The unprecedented victory of the SNP ushered in a new era in Scottish politics. With independence from the union at the head of its agenda, the party and its incumbent First Minister Alex Salmond are calling for the dissolution of the marriage of Scotland and England which was sealed in 1707.
Apart from healthcare, education, taxes and the war in Iraq, the independence issue was, and still is, the talk of the town. For SNP officials, Scotland has come of age and can manage its own affairs. For them, the devolution which resulted in the formation of Scotland's parliament in 1999 is not enough. The victorious party holds the view that the Scottish people are capable of assuming responsibility for foreign policy, defence and taxes as well, given Scotland's new found oil wealth.
Nevertheless, the razor-sharp victory won't allow the SNP to form a majority government. Salmond has moved a step closer to form a minority government by securing loose support from the Scottish Green Party. Both parties call for independence from the Westminster government and agree to leave it to the electorate to decide the country's constitutional future. However, the SNP has to have a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to form a majority government, and will no doubt call a referendum on the issue of independence.
When asked if an independent Scotland could in the future go back to being part of the UK, Salmond said: "any nation can do whatever it pleases. It can vote to become independent and it can vote, if it so chooses, to become un-independent, that's the prerogative of a nation and Scotland, of course, is a nation."
The people themselves seem to be divided on independence from the union. In a recent poll conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council, support for independence was put at 32 per cent. "I'm not anti- England. I don't hate England. I just love Scotland," said a taxi driver, reflecting the feeling of many Scottish people calling for independence.
The notion of being separated from Britain raises concerns among other people, especially the older generation. "If this happened, it would be catastrophic for this country," said Adam Stachura, member of the Liberal Democrats. "It's a crazy idea. Yes we have explored considerable amounts of oil, but it will run out one day. If we separate from the union, we will be out of the European Union, and it will take us a long time to rejoin it," he added.
Most of the voters interviewed by the Weekly in Saint Andrews voiced their deep concern over the separation. "How come we get separated from the UK after 300 years of union that benefited both countries? It's not in the interests of either Scotland or England".