Scotland has always interested me, and not just because, like Sarah Palin with Russia, I can see it from my upstairs window. My mother, a Donegal woman, used remember the excitement of her “Scotchy” cousins coming each summer and sleeping anywhere and everywhere in the house. Back in Scotland, one of them played for Glasgow Celtic for some ten years. When they got married my parents went to live in Glasgow for a time, where two of my siblings were born. And of course there’s that fascinating dialect Ulster-Scots (no, Virginia, it’s not a language), Donegal tattie-hokers and a myriad of other links.
Which is why I’m interested to see David Cameron this morning doing his damnedest to hobble Scottish nationalism. Alex Salmond’s party, last time out, ran for election on the promise of a referendum on independence in the second part of their term of office, and it was elected with a firm majority. Now Cameron has decided he’ll tell the Scots when they’re going to hold their referendum, how many questions will be on the ballot and what the wording. Salmond wants it in 2014 and wants two questions – one on whether full independence is favoured, the other on whether, short of independence, Scotland should have more powers devolved to it. Cameron says no, there’ll just be one independence question and it’ll be a lot earlier than 2014.
Both men, of course, are politicians, keen to further their aims; but it doesn’t take a political philosopher to figure out who should decide when and what kind of referendum the Scottish people will face: the man whose party was elected by the Scottish people with an emphatic overall majority or the man whose party has half as many MPs as there are pandas in Scotland (yes, Virginia, there are two pandas in Scotland).
According to the polls, the numbers in Scotland favouring full independence are growing but still well short of a majority. With that in mind, Salmond is keen that his promise of a referendum be left until 2014 , and there’s talk of having it held on the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a famous Scottish victory over the English. For the same reasons Cameron wants to force a referendum of his choosing at an earlier date with no historical reverberations.
But what’s most interesting is the way this matter lays bare the nature of the union. As far as Cameron is concerned Westminster as the senior partner calls the shots, not the Scots. In the north of Ireland, on the other hand, the opposite applies: any movement out of the union with Britain can only come from the people in the north-east of Ireland. The views of others in the UK are deemed irrelevant.
You probably see the consistency in Cameron’s position vis-à-vis the two regions. Me, I’m going to need three or four years to think about it – say until around Easter of 2016.