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Scotland's brave quest for self-determination


Child with Scotland face-paintAustralia seldom appears in the British media unless it is about cricket or a shark attack but Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s remarks on the Scottish independence debate were front page news. His comments consisted of how the world would not be helped by an independent Scotland and those in favour were not friends of justice or freedom. They were widely lampooned, not least by Australians. 

If Mr Abbott had actually visited Scotland rather than follow the advice of the British PM, he would have seen that the whole debate had centred on the kind of society we wanted – not, as at present, the world’s fourth most unequal society, but one where social justice is paramount, our National Health Service is not privatised and rights are built into a written constitution.

He would have learned of the desire to remove the two hundred nuclear bombs from Faslane, twenty-five miles from Scotland’s most populated centre, the Glasgow conurbation, and to become a non-nuclear nation within NATO. He would have learned of a defence and foreign policy not allied to a shameful colonial past and participation in illegal wars but ones designed to promote peace and solidarity, especially with the world’s poor.

He would have noticed people who never voted before, especially from our more deprived areas, queuing up to register. He would have seen a vigorous but peaceful debate between many people, who, contrary to trends elsewhere, were now filling the halls throughout the towns and villages of Scotland in an amazing flowering of participatory democracy.

Of course, Tony Abbott has, in common with the ‘No’ campaign, a taste for the complete negativity we all lived through when I was resident in Australia during his time in opposition. From the Unionists, it has now gone into overdrive in an attempt to emulate Mr Abbott’s success.

If Scotland votes yes, it will be, according to the Westminster elites and their cronies, Armageddon. Lloyds Bank will move their HQ to London we were told by the BBC when, in fact, it has been based there for many years. Jobs would go from the Royal Bank of Scotland yet the CEO in a letter to staff stressed it would be a technical matter and jobs and operations would remain in Scotland. Australians will be used to this style of 'campaigning'. Tell a lie often enough, collude with the mainstream media and people might believe it. A victory based on deceit is pyrrhic.

If I look at the European countries which have become independent in my lifetime (such as Estonia, Slovenia or Latvia – with the fastest growing economy in the European Union), not only have none collapsed but they have become innovative, democratic and prosperous countries while coming from a much lower economic, social or democratic base than Scotland.

If I look at the nations which became independent in the early 20th century despite their poverty, some are now, on a per capita basis, economic giants – Norway and Finland particularly.  Even little Iceland, with a population the size of Edinburgh, overcame its economic problems without destroying the social fabric of the country and is on track to breeze past most countries in economic performance while maintaining an equal society.

This is what those of us voting Yes on 18th September desire for our ancient nation. We do not expect the support of those leaders who have intervened such as Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain nor President Putin of Russia nor Xi Jinping of China since they all have their own submerged nations wanting independence and two are dictators. We expected more of the Australian Prime Minister but know that he does not represent the views of Australians in general.

One thing is clear. No matter the result on Referendum Day, the process we have undergone for a peaceful movement to self-determination will have a lasting effect on the life of the nation and far beyond our borders, acting as an inspiration for democratic change through talk.


Duncan MacLarenDuncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University and former Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis. A former research and press consultant for the Scottish National Party (SNP), he returned to Scotland in December 2013 to participate in the referendum campaign for Scottish independence.


Image by Phyllis Buchanan, via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence. 



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Existing comments

I wish the Scots well whichever way it goes and wish our "dual citizenship" PM had kept his nose out of the Scots affairs

John | 16 September 2014  

And I doubt if an independent Scotland would rush into the quagmire that is Syria and Iraq the way Abbott has done. Having our PM support the No cause should be a good reason for Scots to vote Yes.

Frank | 17 September 2014  

Professor MacLaren says that a ‘victory based on deceit is pyrrhic’, referring to the negativity of the ‘NO’ campaign in the Scottish Independence Referendum and also to Tony Abbott’s bitter election campaign. According to Wikipedia, the phrase ‘pyrrhic victory’ is named after Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War. Given the growing opinion that an ideology (ISIS) cannot be bombed out of existence, it is likely that Tony Abbott’s ill-conceived rush to war alongside the US in Iraq (again) will notch up yet another ‘pyrrhic victory’ for him/us - at the cost of a great many lives.

Richard Heggie | 17 September 2014  

Perhaps Mr Abbott is frightened that an independent Scotland might cause more Australians to want their own independence. An Australia with its own head of state, rather than a British queen whose allegiance is to Britain is well overdue.

Dominic Melano | 17 September 2014  

Thanks. The best piece I've read on this issue.

Peter Goers | 17 September 2014  

As far as I can see it, there are good cases for both the "Yes" and "No" vote. Many issues are muddied by sordid politicking from both sides. Robert Fisk thinks that, if Scotland goes its own way, the denouement will be very similar to what happened with the Irish Republic. Ireland has had its troubles but is no basket case. Far from it.

Edward Fido | 17 September 2014  

I do hope Scotland chooses to vote "Yes". The issues of fairness and inclusion are so important for any society and used to be integral to how Australians once viewed their society. And we don't wish to be involved in fabricated wars which keep killing so many of our people for the sake of political kudos. It is time to trash the Thatherism and Abbotism views of society and allow true democracy to operate. Let's hear it for "Yes".

Laurie Sheehan | 17 September 2014  

One would have thought that the Conservatives South of the Scottish Border would really be supporting a "YES" vote with alacrity. The loss of 40 Labor members of Westminister Parliament and only one Tory is a great gift for their ongoing power-base.

jonno | 17 September 2014  

What a great commentary! We should not pass judgement on other countries - Mr. Abbott is dead wrong! The Scottish people are certainly an inspiration.

Peter | 17 September 2014  

Interested to learn that "Australia seldom appears in the British media" but can't recall Scotland ever appearing in any media for any contributions to the world other than Sean Connery whose major contribution was a fictional British secret agent and a foul-mouthed alleged comedian whose name escapes me.

Name | 17 September 2014  

Nicely written, Duncan. Actually, the best summary in 800 words of the case for Yes I have seen anywhere. Coolly reasoned with strong emotion held in check. That's just how I think of the Scottish nation. Tomorrow, I fervently hope for Yes. I hope ES readers will send your fine piece to undecided friends in Scotland. It's neck to neck but i feel Yes will win on Thursday. Scotland the brave!

Tony Kevin | 17 September 2014  

AS I am not a Scot I'm a bit hesitant to enter this debate, but as our PM has jumped in wearing his army boots I feel justified. I'm currently reading a fictional interruption of how the two countries were joined way back when. The book "The Patriot" tells the tale from the point of view of Andrew Fletcher, who conducted a lonely if not completely lone opposition to the amalgamation. It seems, if author Nigel Tranter is to be believed, that it came out because those voting were variously bribed or bought to ensure hey voted (only the ruling class of course). So economic advantage or fear of loss won the day. I suspect the same thing will happen again.

Vincenzo Vittorio | 17 September 2014  

Duncan's aspirations and ideals of an independent Nation of Scotland are truly liberating and right. Furthermore a nation based on self-determination, social justice, equality and ‘true’ democracy as articulated will go on to achieve much more. Self-determination allows the human person, societies and nations to flourish. We are far behind in Australia. A republic debate is no longer on the agenda. There is a silence in this but a deeper and entrenched silence and stain in our own Nation’s colonial foundation which causes great inequality . Australia is yet to deal with the injustice of past ‘and present’ colonial and paternalistic mindsets that remove/d control from First Nations Peoples. This continues particularly in remote areas where land control is gained by our Nation state. Nearly 230 years later First Nations Peoples are denied self-determination. Their calls for this and liberty continue. Please view this 8 minute you tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU_H0oIQy60 Australia is the only post-colonial British Nation in the world not to have formed a treaty/ies with her First Peoples. It is time we reengage with the people in this. Recognition must allow self-determination and pave the way for treaties. I wish Scotland well tomorrow.

Name | 17 September 2014  

Tony Abbott fails badly in world history and does not make an effort to know the real issues of Scots desire for independence. You should send him a copy of this article so he will be informed.

Jan | 17 September 2014  

Great article, I had little knowledge of the real reasons for this referendum, I now feel better informed and wish the Scots well with their decision.

Debbie Mannix | 17 September 2014  

Good to read such an intelligent critique. It's worth remembering that over the centuries Scottish interests have been consistently betrayed by its ruling classes — who are tending to support No.

Joanna | 17 September 2014  

Hear Hear! Thankfully the scots have the intelligence and good grace to realise that Abott does not represent Australian values, more so the destruction of them.

alistair stewart | 17 September 2014  

O dear - another Abbott hate article. Why didn't Professor MacLaren attack President Obama or Canada's PM, Stephen Harper, for their respective on-the-record support for the No case.

Michael | 17 September 2014  

There is no denying some Scots (Traders and the Presbyterian Kirk) did very well out of the Acts of Union (1707 & 1800) but others found themselves relegated to the status of second class citizens. Migration and/or joining the British army, as they were for the Irish. were twp main ways for fit young men to give themselves a shot at a higher standard of living. Sir Walter Scott summed up the emotion pull Scotland had for these young men in The Lay of the Last Minstrel "Breathes there the man, with soul so dead Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned As homeward his footsteps he hath turned From wandering on a foreign strand!" If the YES vote for independence wins the day it will be because enough Scots have said in their hearts - this will be my own, my native land, again. 214 years of de facto subordination to perfidious Albion must come to an end.

Uncle Pat | 17 September 2014  

It takes an independence vote for England and the rest of the world to look seriously at Scotland. Economically, they are probably better off staying in the Union, but that is only one consideration and not necessarily the most important one. Good luck to the Scots, whichever way it goes.

Brett | 17 September 2014  

Thanks Duncan for a thoughtful a contribution that reveals facts why Scotland should vote Yes. Support for your view show Abbott dose not speak for Australia on this issue and by the way on many other issues..

Reg Wilding | 17 September 2014  

A lovely analysis Duncan and a great way for all of us living in Australia to see what could motivate our political debate but is so often lacking

Jack de Groot | 17 September 2014  

Living in Scotland I have been profoundly saddened by the atmosphere that pervades the country just now. It isn't all respectful debate, each day I drive past defaced signs and along streets with No signs in one window and Yes signs in the next and hear anecdotal evidence of folk who feel bullied and whose relationships with their neighbours has been damaged. I just hope that whatever the outcome that communities will be able to rebuild a sense of togetherness. With the likely outcome very close it seems that half the population will be unhappy whichever way it goes and I fear it make take a long time to get over the divisive nature of this campaign. Which I'm sure wasn't at all the intention of any of the main players when this all started.

Margaret | 17 September 2014  

I support the Yes vote for Scotland, the home of my Kennedy forebears.

Patricia Kennedy | 18 September 2014  

Gee, there is a lot of naivete in that article. I'm totally uninformed and agnostic, but that article seems to preach that independence is the catalyst for so much change and pays no attention to the fact that independence can't ignore the unpleasant realities of the world and therefore a lot of change is probably just as hard if Scotland was independent, compared to remaining within the UK.

Adam | 18 September 2014  

Duncan, I have been thinking about you with all this press on the Scottish vote. More than a decade ago, when CIDSE and Caritas groups met in Edinburgh you gave us a delightful tour with plenty of nationalistic commentary, to the edification of all. Sending good wishes to the Scots fighting for self-determination tomorrow!

Kathy Selvaggio | 18 September 2014  

Duncan McLaren's succint and logical support for Scottish independence highlights above all, that there are so many higher principles at stake than only focussing on economic considerations. A pleasure to read.

Chris | 19 September 2014  

As the descendent of Scots-Ramsays and McDonalds-who arrived in Australia in the early 1800s, I found the referendum in Scotland inspiring and fascinating.Thank you for Professor MacLaren's article.

Anne.ramsay | 19 September 2014  

Agree with you about how preposterous Abbott is, but Salmond was selling economic snake oil. This whole episode brought forward some important stuff in UK.

Eelboy | 19 September 2014  

actually I think ireland, with a current annual growth rate of 7.7% is once again the fastest growing EU member state.

Kenneth Gyles | 21 September 2014  

"If Scotland votes yes, it will be, according to the Westminster elites and their cronies, Armageddon. " That sentence pretty well nails the case. I'd suggest the entire referendum isn't about Scotland leaving the UK, but relieving itself of the carbuncle s that are Westminster and the City of London. I'd even say that, if the referendum was offered to all areas of GB outside of Westminster and the City, the answer would have been a resounding "Yes".

David Arthur | 23 September 2014  

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