How Scotland Changed My Independence Perspective

Posted in Travel on October 2015

As the overcast sky ensnared the persistent bellowing bagpipes and tethered them to the city, I wandered through the soot covered stone buildings absorbing all its beauty. There is only one place on earth that those tartan, air-filled instruments sing—Scotland. The city was shrouded in excitement and concern during my visit. The dichotomy of two forces roared as separate parades marched in opposing directions, through winding streets, commanding support to their respective causes.

In September of 2014, I embarked upon a vacation to visit Edinburgh, Scotland. As I was planning the trip, American news barely reported on Scotland’s upcoming vote for independence. I was aware of the situation, which added to the excitement. The ability to witness a country’s independence doesn’t happen often, and I would be front row during a pivotal time in history. I should note that my vacation wasn’t planned because of the vote, but it just happened to coincide. My significant other and I wholeheartedly believed Scotland would gain its independence in a landslide vote. There was no reason to doubt independence, right? As an American, we celebrate our independence from the British. Although fireworks and cookouts don’t necessarily correlate with freedom, Americans are ingrained that freedom from another’s rule is crucial. From my point of view, and I’m sure most Americans would agree, being an American and independence are synonymous, which facilitates the idea that every country should be sovereign. However, my view drastically changed upon my visit to Scotland.

While walking through the city, you couldn’t avoid the round stickers that speckled buildings, street signs, and streetlights. There were two: the light blue “Yes” (voting for independence) and the, in cordial British manners, “No Thanks.” When I first began noticing these stickers, visions of young boys running though the streets haphazardly placing these stickers anywhere they reach. Students housed near Edinburgh University placed stickers, Scotland’s flag, and signs in their windows, displaying their choices—mostly for independence. I saw as shirt that read “Scottish Not British” and a sign that stated “End London Rule.” As modern humans do, I heard people at dinner, the bus, and walking on the streets talking with friends about how they would be voting. Many that I overheard were unsure about how to vote. As politics tend to do, scare tactics were employed to make Scots nervous about voting “Yes.” A billboard standing tall emphasized this saying, “Then what?” One late night watching television, there was a debate about the vote. One side stressed that a break from British rule would mean an unstable future and the Scottish economy could crumble.

YesNo Thanks
Scotland Election Stickers

As with most voting episodes, the aftermath was filled with suspicions and talk of rigged elections. Scotland’s independence vote was no different. Scotland has an overwhelming number for British citizens living throughout the country who probably didn’t favor the “Yes” vote. There were many factors and suspicions; but, nevertheless, Scotland voted to stay within the United Kingdom. Before I even stepped foot in Scotland, I knew it would vote to become independent from the United Kingdom. Even though I saw debates on the television, overzealous newspapers trying to sway voters, and Scottish citizens talking about the vote, I still continued to believe it would become a country ruled by its own right. In hindsight, my belief was actually hope. I hoped they would be like America—able to become sovereign, passing each commemorative year igniting fireworks.

What is freedom and why do we struggle to achieve it? Most, if not all, would agree that freedom is the absence of subjection to foreign domination or absolute government. From time-to-time, citizens attempt to overthrow their governments, much like the Arab Spring in 2010—hoping to obtain a better life. Independence from another country or leader might not be the utopia many imagined. An unstable economy and a grab for power can ensue—Egypt’s 2010 uprising, for instances. Scotland no longer wanted to be an overshadowed, subsection of a country, but it’s own entity. As the “No Thanks” opposition sternly questioned: the economy is good, why change it? Scotland’s independence wouldn’t have been a quick breakaway, much like America’s independence. In fact, it would have been a slow transition. Trying to successfully create a new currency might be disastrous. Instead, Scotland probably would have joined the European Union. The “Yes” voters meticulously laid out plans for a slow transition from British rule—not wanting to abruptly disrupt its economy.

My second to last day in Scotland is when I witnessed two parades: one for “Yes” and the other “No Thanks.” Each parade had a seemingly endless line of people. Waving banners, costumes, and a varied display of kilts, engulfed the march. The beauty of traveling is understanding, at least making an attempt, to engage and observe different cultures. Just because a modern country, with people who speak English, might seem like our American counterpart, doesn’t mean their citizens, culture, and ideas are exactly the same. Knowing that the United States was able to escape British rule, automatically created assumptions that others cessation would be similar. One of the biggest eye opening experiences in my life was visiting Scotland before their vote for independence. Consequently, Scotland’s vote wasn’t a landside, but tittered close to a 50/50 vote. My American-centric ideas were changed, for the better, as I tried to comprehend the intricacies of another’s struggle for and against independence.

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