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A less perfect Union

A less perfect Union
The verdict is out. The No or the Better Together campaign led by Alistair Darling, a Labour Party MP for 27 years from the Scottish capital of Edinburgh has trounced the Yes campaign led by Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond by a vote margin of 3,83,937 votes. This essentially means that Scots who were Pro-UK have had a lion’s share. But politics in United Kingdom has never been more interesting and it never would be again. For people who thought that a unified UK would still be able to command the position it once had, are wrong. The Union stands diminshed and there is complete truth about that fact. Some sections may though say that Scots have squandered their only chance to independence, but think of the verdict in hindsight and ou would realise the untiring efforts that went in from all quarters, be it for Salmond’s SNP, Darling and Labour’s Better Together Campaign or the collective assurance of the British troika of Cameron, Clegg and Milliband. There is no denying the fact that Cameron’s efforts in particular will be hailed but one must not forget the courage of Alex Salmond, who so courageously led to ensure  the Saltire gets its rightful due.  The Union Jack will still soar atop the Palace of Westminster and the 307 year old association will continue though with increased powers for Scotland.

Nobody, however can deny that the verdict has let open an entire gamut of speculations for the UK. Most notable is that of Welsh party Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood’s dissapointment with the result. Wood, who spoke to the BBC about her insinuations early on Friday morning said, ‘We don’t have the financial settlement that we need, we don’t have the fiscal powers that we need, we don’t have powers over things like energy and the criminal justice system. That’s the next step for Wales now. There’s great appetite for more independence, more devolution for Wales from people out there and it’s essential that we make sure that we get Wales’ needs met through this process.’

Wales may or may not get a chance to stage a devolution referendum is another matter, but it is not just UK which will have to deal with independence referendrums now. Catalonia is already
clamouring to gain independence from Spain, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference has demanded that Kashmiri people in India should be given a chance at referendum and French President Francois Hollande, who himself  is in a tight situation with the entire of provincial France to hold on to had yesterday said that after building Europe for half a centruy, the Scottish referendum could be the first attempt  at deconstructing it. Further, UK’s biggest ally the United States fears were well known. Even if United Kingdom  managed to stay together it is difficult if London’s position as an international financial centre will be looked at with the same might, especially after India and China yesterday decided to make  Mumbai, India’s Shanghai.  

In the wake of such political turmoil it becomes important to know why Scotland was demanding independence from the Union of countries.

The kingdom of Scotland came into existence in 9th century AD after the Gaelic-speakers in North-West Britain who presumably migrated from North-East Ireland united with the Picts, who were a tribal confederation of people, living in Eastern and Northern Scotland during the early Iron Age and the medieval periods. Scotland came under the rule of Normans after they invaded England in 1066 AD and annexed large parts of Wales and Ireland. Subsequently, the Scottish Wars of Independence fought between Scotland and England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries remained inconsequential. England’s dream of annexing Scotland remained only a fleeting desire. Scotland remained completely independent until the Treaty of Union was signed in 1707 to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The events that led to the signing of the Treaty of Union are of immaculate interest and must be told.

After Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland died on 24 March, 1603, the throne of England fell vacant. Queen Elizabeth I was the last serving monarch of the Tudor dynasty which came to an end after her demise. The throne of England fell into the lap of King James VI of Scotland, double first cousin to Queen Elizabeth I. He assumed the throne as King James I of England and Ireland the very same year. This personal union, made the English slacken their stance towards the constant fear of a Scot-French retribution. It was widely believed that Scotland would not join forces with the French to invade England as it was morally bound to work for the continued progress of the throne of England and Ireland.  People by then had naturally started to confer the idea of uniting the Kingdoms of England and Scotland which did not happen until both the parliaments of England and Scotland agreed for a fresh round of negotiations in 1705 after the three failed attempts of 1606, 1667 and 1689. Queen Anne of England who had assumed the throne following the death of her cousin and brother –in-law King William in 1702 was considered to be in complete favour of political unification.

On 22 July, 1706 when the negotiations between the English and Scottish commissioners came to end, there were widespread debates about the future of the union in both the capital cities of London and Edinburgh.

Karin Bowie, Lecturer in Scottish History in her research paper Popular Resistance and the Ratification of the Anglo-Scottish Treaty of Union, explains how the Scottish people in general were opposed to the idea of creating a union and how the situation could have snowballed into a political crisis of extraordinary level. But, in spite of this the Treaty of Unions was signed and came into effect on 1 May, 1707 and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was born.  Queen Anne became the first monarch of the unified British throne with Scotland sending 45 Member of Parliaments to the new House of Commons as well as representative peers to the House of Lords.

Another point in case is that of the Jacobite Risings that occurred between 1688 and 1746 after king James II (most famously James VII of Scotland)  was unceremoniously overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The primary motive behind the uprisings was to reinstate James II as the monarch of England and Ireland and pave way for his descendants of the House of Stuart to the throne. But instead the House of Hanover acceded to the British throne in 1714 and the Jacobites sensing their clout diminish continued with the uprising. Charles Edward Stuart who led the Jacobites in the 45 (The risings were numbered according to the year) was thrashed at the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746 by the Hanoverian armies of Great Britain. Charles Stuart’s Jacobite Army largely consisted of Scottish Highlanders, Lowland Scots and some detached Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment. The war, supported by the French was the final effort at gaining Scottish supremacy over the throne of Great Britain was fought on 16th April, 1746 and it is believed that the British onslaught on the charging Jacobites was so brutal that the war ended in less than an hour.

Scotland continued to a dormant force in the United Kingdom of Great Britain as the political ambitions turned elsewhere particularly India. However, in 1853 the National Association of Vindication of Scottish Rights, a body close to the Tories took the initiative to demand home rule for the Scottish Assembly. 1885 saw the recreation of the post of Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office to promote Scotland's interests and express its concerns to the British Parliament.  After the First World War ended, the Irish fought the British forces in a War of Independence from 21 January, 1919 to 11 July, 1921 and subsequently managed to secede from the British Empire in 1922, leaving behind what remains of Northern Ireland now. The Scottish, however never resisted central rule although the demand for Home Rule was persistent enough.  Till 1960, the debate on whether to grant Scotland home rule was kept out of the British Parliament till PM Harold Macmillan gave his famous Winds of Change speech declaring the end of British Imperialism by decolonizing large parts of Africa.

Post 1960, two devolution referendums happened in 1979 and 1997. The outcome of the first devolution referendum for Scottish independence was negative and the margin figure of 40 per cent was missed by only 0.8 per cent of votes although there were large scale demands for Scottish independence especially after the McCrone report suggested that the oil found of the east coast of Scotland in North Sea could have made the Scottish currency one of the wealthiest in the world. Tories leader and former British PM, John Major also faced an uphill task similar to what David Cameron faces now. In 1997, Major was forced to campaign for 72 hours to keep the Union intact. In 1997, when Tony Blair was elected as the British PM following the Labour Party’s victory, the second devolution referendum happened and the Scottish Parliament came into existence following the ratification of the Scotland Act, 1988 with Donald Dewar assuming the position of the First Minister of Scotland. However, complete independence still evaded the Scots.

British PM, Gordon Brown who assumed office in 2007, castigated Scotland’s choice for holding an independence referendum by 2010 to ascertain its future. However, the consequent victory of Alex Salmond led SNP in the 2011 elections, ensured that the ideals for the Scottish independence had not been lost.

Now that PM Cameron’s efforts at desisting Scots from voting for independence have worked, the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2013 and which received Royal Assent on 7 August 2013, would essentially just be another piece of history. Whether or not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland got their due of being in the Union of nations, is a question which might only come up if the Welsh decide to emulate what the Scots did. Till then,    there is no denying the fact that UK will remain united and the world may not so soon become the fragmented place, it may be willing to become.     
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