Global Politics

Scottish government pushing for referendum on independence from England

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The flag of Scotland, center, flies between the Union Jack of the United Kingdom and the flag of the European Union. If some Scots have their way, Scotland would become an independent country, separate from the U.K. (Photo by Calum Hutchinson via Wikimedi

Many Scots raise a glass on Jan. 25 to mark the anniversary of the birth of the country's national poet, Robert Burns — an advocate centuries ago for Scottish independence. 

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But now, the Scottish government is raising the stakes in a bid to gain independence from Britain. But there are mixed feelings among the populace.

James Beaton has been playing his beloved set of bagpipes for 40 years. The Project Manager of Scotland’s National Piping Center is a proud Scot and a natural performer.

For Robert Burns’ season he likes to play a tune called “A Man’s A Man For A’ That” a tune that is generally played at Burns suppers.

Funny that he’s choosing a Burns tribute to unity at a time when much of the talk in Scotland is of separation.

Beaton knows his history and heritage well.

The pipes were played by Scottish warriors as they went into battle against the English. But for three centuries both nationalities have shared a government.

So, while Beaton may feel separate and distinct as a Scot, particularly when it comes to his country’s cultural heritage, he’s not so sure about standing completely alone.

“Yes, I am a bit torn,” he said. “ I think culturally yes but certainly the economic uncertainty with the way the economic situation is at the minute it’s quite, quite difficult.”

Those promoting independence have long argued that revenue from the oil that’s being pumped out from under the North Sea will cushion any economic blows.

There was also once talk of joining with Ireland and Iceland in some way, or of joining the eurozone, but those ideas have been put aside as currencies and countries have crashed.

And yet, there is still lively debate across Scotland about the idea of going it alone.

At Mr. Singh’s, a popular Indian restaurant in Glasgow that serves Indian food with a Scottish twist, the restaurant is bustling. The waiters wear turbans and kilts. On one recent night, a chef is teaching a group of guests how to make one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: haggis pakora.

That’s haggis, deep fried in a coating of Indian spices and served with a dipping sauce.

Satty Singh, the third generation self-described Scottish Sikh who runs the restaurant, understands the emotional attraction of independence.

His father and grandfather still recall the celebrations that marked the end of British colonial rule in India.

And yet, Singh doesn’t want to let go.

“I’m just a big believer in ‘don’t mend something that’s not broken’ and for 300-odd years it’s happened, because it’s one island,” Singh said.

And among aspiring haggis pakora makers in the restaurant, there’s a big split.

“When it comes to the independence vote, I’ll be voting for independence. I mean look at the natural resources we’ve got here. The will to win and the determination to make it a success I think would boost Scotland forward," one customer said.

“Personally I really like being part of the bigger picture of the whole UK side of things and I reserve judgment as to how the whole independence is going to go as a state. I always think it’s always nice to have big brother there as well,” said another.

“I’m as yet undecided. I think you’ve got to weigh up the pros and cons and I do think there will be a lot of pros and cons with it,” a third said.

The debate will continue here and across Scotland perhaps until the fall of 2014 when the Scottish government wants to hold the vote. The U.K. government, however, is pushing for an earlier election.

Public opinion polls have consistently indicated support for independence is frozen at about 35 percent.

That’s why the government is talking about giving voters a third choice — one that would give Scotland autonomy in all areas except foreign affairs and defense. But British Prime Minister David Cameron is adamantly opposed to that idea.

This day that’s dedicated to Scottish pride, poetry and cuisine, now also marks the date that the debate over Scotland’s future begins.

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