Scotland and England first came together in 1707 under Queen Anne (the one Olivia Coleman played in The Favourite). One of the reasons: “If they were to establish markets overseas, they needed the support of a stronger maritime power, which was England,” Christophe Whatley, professor of Scottish history Dundee University, explained to History.
However, in the last 30 years, that boat has been well and truly rocked. To some, in fact, it’s been holed below the waterline.
The New Labour government under Tony Blair held a 1997 referendum on devolution that led to the Scotland Act 1998. It established the Scottish Parliament to consider and pass bills specifically for the nation.
But it wasn’t enough to neutralise nationalist demands for Scottish self-rule. Another referendum was held in 2014 by the governing Scottish National Party. But the union held, just: to the single question of “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, 55.3 per cent of voters said no.
But if a lot can happen in six years, everything can happen in a Covid Year: in the past 12 months, 20 opinion polls have shown a majority of Scots now favour independence. Demonstrating that shit is getting really real, even Primal Scream frontman, Bobby Gillespie, formerly a staunch Labour man, is now backing Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.
And it’s easy to see why.
In large part it’s thanks to Boris Johnson’s appalling handling of the coronavirus, which stands in stark contrast with the far steadier hand of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. In a mark of the poor state of the leaders’ relationship, the Scottish First Minister recently berated the British Prime Minister for a non-essential trip to Scotland to speak on the importance of the two working together during the pandemic. The imposition of Brexit didn’t help either, with 62 per cent of Scots having voted against leaving the EU.
With elections to the Scottish Parliament scheduled for 6th May, expect the issue of to-break or not-to-break to be at the forefront of all the political parties’ campaigning. In the run up to that crucial vote, we polled five Scottish artists on their take on the situation, and on how they hope the future will unfold. Are we better together, or better apart?
Nova Scotia the Truth, musician
“I think the pandemic really adds a whole host of questions to the debate surrounding Scottish independence. I saw reports of the Prime Minister visiting Scotland because he’s apparently worried, including jibes at his considering his journey essential in this climate of lockdown. We’ve been seeing a strategy of dealing with the pandemic between Scotland and England that has [seen the countries] meander away from each other – then sometimes stepping back in line with each other. So then comes the everlasting question: would Scotland be better off dealing with this thing alone?”
Trackie McLeod, artist
“It’s hard to not feel like you are pissing in the wind when it comes to politics. Like most in Scotland, I’ve been turning up to the polling stations for the last 10 years in the hope that we will eventually see some democratic change. However, Scotland continues to get shafted despite majority voting against the grain in the rest of the UK. With independence, the democratic right to get the governments we vote for will at least be guaranteed. We are not a United Kingdom. In fact, my unibrow is more united.”
Becky Marshall, documentary filmmaker & DJ
“I voted for independence in 2014, motivated by long-term frustrations with the democratic deficit in the UK and a desire for greater representation at a national and local level. The Westminster system had proven itself to be wholly undemocratic, not just for Scottish citizens, but for citizens of the UK as a whole. With no real public will for genuine constitutional debate, electoral reform, or further regional devolution, independence seemed like the only option – one that might help redress the balance here [and] for friends in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where further change would surely come following the split of the union.
“The 2019 election [of Boris Johnson] was a real low point for me, and I guess reignited the impetus for the independence push in my mind. My belief in the need for independence in no way comes from nationalism. If I was to characterise it, it would be about protest against a system, British democracy, with its lack of constitutional protections, FPTP, over-centralisation, [the House of] Lords, the sovereignty of the monarch…
“I hate the Tories as much as the next person. But the Tories aren’t the problem – the system is. I guess my hope is: if Scotland chooses independence, it could be the beginning of a dialogue about how to build a better state for all citizens, not just here. I wish it wasn’t the only option. But to me, now, it feels that way.”
VAJ Power, DJ and promoter
“Originally I am from Russia, but have been living in Glasgow for the past eight years, and happy to be calling Glasgow my home. I also lived in England (not in London) prior to that for two years, and I’ve encountered a great amount of covert and overt xenophobia compared to my experience in Scotland, hence my decision to stay here. Of course things are not super smooth, as for any Eastern European in the West, but I strongly feel that down in England xenophobia is encouraged by the Tory government – we can just look at the Brexit campaign. I am glad that I would have an opportunity to vote in the referendum and will be voting ‘yes’ if (when) it happens, as I believe that Scottish government – though definitely not perfect, especially with their treatment of trans people – is more open to change and adapt to a more inclusive world.”
Sekai Machache, visual artist
“I feel that Scotland should have been independent since 2014 when the referendum happened and I do hope that Brexit and the way the Tories have dealt with the pandemic has proved that. I’ll always be for independence so if a second referendum happens I’ll definitely be voting for it. I think we can and should believe that Scotland is ready for independence and if that’s not possible right now, further devolution is a must.”