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Why Maine, and the rest of the US, should care about Scottish independence

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond (L) speaks with Historic Scotland employee Douglas Wilson during a visit to Arbroath Abbey, in Arbroath, Scotland August 18, 2014.
POOL | REUTERS
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond (L) speaks with Historic Scotland employee Douglas Wilson during a visit to Arbroath Abbey, in Arbroath, Scotland August 18, 2014.
Posted Aug. 22, 2014, at 8:21 a.m.

Last weekend I attended the St. Andrew’s Society of Maine’s 36th annual Maine Highland Games in Topsham. As a Scot who lives and works in Maine, I was impressed — although not surprised — with the number of people, from across the United States, who turned out for a day celebrating Scotland.

Since moving to Maine in January, I am constantly reminded of the connection, warmth and interest many Mainers have for Scotland. In fact, I have not visited a state where I have not met a “fellow Scot.”

I was surprised, however, to find that in a field of kilts, haggis and Irn Bru (Scotland’s national soft drink) there was no talk of the Scottish independence referendum that will take place next month.

On Sept. 18, the people of Scotland will decide whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or become the world’s 196th independent country. If Scots vote yes, it will have serious ramifications for the United Kingdom, Europe and also the U.S.

I strongly believe in the importance of American engagement in the debate, and for the U.S. government and citizens alike, to give serious consideration to the implications of an independent Scottish state and a reduced U.K..

You might ask: How can we engage with an independence referendum that is taking place in a foreign country? It is as simple as reading a news report, picking up an academic article or emailing that relative in Scotland whom you haven’t talked to in too long. Simply put, become informed because in doing so you can strengthen the debate that is taking place across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Scottish independence debate is centrally concerned with democracy, political representation and the redistribution of wealth.

Those in favor of independence argue that the U.K. has become outdated and no longer provides Scotland with adequate democratic representation. For example, the Conservative Party dominates the U.K. government; however, out of the 59 members of Parliament who represent Scotland, only one is Conservative. This leads independence supporters to argue that the U.K. government does not have the authority to govern Scotland and is therefore undemocratic.

Scotland also has long been more left-leaning than the rest of the U.K., and independence campaigners argue that, if independent, Scotland could take control of its own finances and build a strong economy, tailored to meet the needs and priorities of Scotland — for example, protecting the National Health Service from privatization and restoring Scotland’s tradition of free education.

Many of you might ask: Why should Maine and the United States care?

First, according to U.S. Census data, 5.4 percent of Mainers identify themselves as having Scottish ancestry, which is the largest percentage for all 50 states.

If we look at the U.S. as a whole, it is reported that as many as 27.5 million American citizens declare Scottish lineage in some form, which equates to more than 8 percent of the total U.S. population. This helps me to understand both my experience this weekend at the Maine Highland Games and that the U.S. is a country of immigrants who still have real bonds with its ancestry. These are important reasons for not only Scottish-Americans, but all Americans, to engage in the independence debate.

Second, there are the possible implications on U.S. foreign policy. Since Word War II, the U.S. and U.K. have both promoted a “special relationship” between the two nations, one that has thrived through more than a dozen administrations on both sides of the Atlantic. The foundation of this Anglo-American relationship is military and diplomatic cooperation, which greatly benefits from the U.K.’s and U.S.’ power and influence on the international stage.

This relationship has assisted the U.S. in promoting and executing its foreign policy; for example, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was only possible with the support and assistance of the U.K. government. If Scotland leaves the U.K., however, will the reduced U.K. command the same level of international influence, and, if not, what implications will this have on its special relationship with the U.S., and the U.S.’ ability to execute its foreign policy objectives?

The U.K.’s nuclear weapons system, Trident, is stationed in Scotland, and the Scottish government has already stated its intention to remove Trident from its territory in the event of a “yes” vote. Some fear that because of the cost of relocation, the U.K. government might choose to scrap its nuclear program. This would mean that the U.S. would lose one of its closest nuclear allies, which would clearly have implications for U.S. foreign policy in Europe and around the world.

In June 2014, President Barack Obama stated that: “ The United States had a deep interest in ensuring the U.K. remained strong, robust and united.” Is this true? Possibly, but I believe that the U.S. has a deep interest in engaging more fully in the debate and developing a better understanding of the issues surrounding Scottish independence.

It is important to note that the president went on to add to his statement by stressing that ultimately, the independence question “was up to the people of Scotland.” But it’s a question that Mainers, and the rest of America, have a stake in, whether you’re Scottish or not.

Darren J. Reid is a visiting research scholar in the William S. Cohen Center at the University of Maine where his research focuses on U.S.-Russian relations. He also is associated with the Scottish research institute Scottish Global Forum, which analyzes and opines on Scotland’s domestic politics, economics and security, and its relations with other states.

 

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