Britain Could Easily Have Prevented Scotland From Going Independent

Margaret ThatcherREUTERSFormer British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

If Scotland goes independent, it will be all Britain’s fault. Separation has been a long, slow process, decades — even centuries — in the making.

Scotland and England were united in 1707. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and one government was established in Westminster. Although there’s always been some resistance to the union, the merger was initially advantageous from an economic perspective. It provided the Scots with access to overseas markets, while allowing the once-independent country to maintain a large amount of control over its own society. Scotland kept many of its own laws, banks, and financial services.

But the union between Scotland and England was rapidly undermined after 1945, says Murray Pittock, a professor at the University of Glasgow. That’s when Scotland’s global influence started to crumble alongside the collapse of British imperial power at the end of World War II.

Signs of Scotland’s presence in world markets gradually disappeared and a feeling began to take root that Scotland was being cut out of the national discourse.

“Scotland has one of the recognisable brands in the world, but the U.K. stopped promoting it,” said Pittock. The change in attitude prevented Scotland from “accessing its potential in exports.”

Today, for example, “Quebec can promote itself overseas as part of Canada,” said Pittock. “Scotland isn’t in that position.”

The issue of independence came onto the agenda in full force in 1967, when the Scottish National Party (SNP) finally won representation in the Westminster Parliament.

The level of distrust for the London government reached a peak in the late-1980s, when Margaret Thatcher imposed the poll tax — an equal tax levy per head, without regard to income, and your vote was taken away if you didn’t pay it — in Scotland before England. “Scots were used as a lab space,” said Pittock, “they weren’t being treated equally.”

Thatcher can’t be blamed for the situation today, but “she will have played a role in the long-term,” says Pittock.

“A lot of the assertions that the U.K. makes about the strength and importance of a big country would be more plausible if they were actually promoting Scotland,” said Pittock.

Now, the U.K. is seriously at risk of losing Scotland forever.

The final verdict will be delivered next week on Sept. 18 when Scots head to the polls to decide their future.

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