My first brush with Scottish nationalism took place in a movie theatre in London’s West End. The year was 1995 and I was working as a parliamentary intern for Jimmy Wray, a Labour MP from Glasgow. Jimmy was a large bear of a man without any pretensions and he didn’t think it beneath him to invite an overseas parliamentary intern to see a movie with him.
On this particular night, Jimmy and I went to see Nobody’s Fool starring Paul Newman. What I remember about that night wasn’t the feature film, but rather one of the coming attractions. The coming attraction in question was Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Near the end of the trailer, when William Wallace was leading the charge, four young men at the front of the audience leapt to their feet and cheered.
I am sure these same young men, now nearly 20 years older, will leap to their feet and cheer should there be a yes vote in Scotland’s referendum this week ending more than 300 years of Union with England.
If there is a yes vote it can be traced back to events that took place in 1995. It was the year Tony Blair put his stamp on the Labour Party. By this time, Labour had been on the opposition benches for more than fifteen years. The calling cards of New Labour were jettisoning Clause IV (a provision in the Labour Party’s constitution that supported common ownership of the whole economy), being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and for devolution.
For New Labour, devolution meant the establishment of regional assemblies in both Scotland and Wales. During his remarks to the 1995 Labour Party Annual Conference in Brighton, Blair stated:
Scotland shall have its Parliament; Wales will have its Assembly. They will be legislated for in the first year of a Labour government and people will then have a say over how their health, education and law and order services are run.
During my tenure with Jimmy Wray, I attended meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee. It is a parliamentary body that consists of all Scottish MPs discussing matters exclusive to Scotland. The Criminal Justice Act that was passed by the Tory government the previous year applied only to England and Wales so it was left to the Scottish Grand Committee to deliberate over the Criminal Justice Act of Scotland. Doesn’t it make more sense for Scotland’s criminal justice system to be debated by a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh than by the Scottish Grand Committee in London? After all, conservatives in this country prefer decisions about health care, education, law and order, and most other matters to be determined at the state and local level rather than in Washington, D.C.
But, of course, this proposal also made a great deal more sense to the self-interest of the Labour Party. Both Scotland and Wales were Labour strongholds and were sure to control these newly established entities. Not surprisingly, devolution was a high priority when Blair led Labour to power in 1997. Within months of taking office, Scottish electors voted in favor of establishing a Scottish Parliament and the following year the Welsh Assembly would be established. The first elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly took place in 1999, with Labour predictably winning both elections (although because of the mixed proportional representation system Labour would lead coalition governments in both elections).
What seemed obvious to me at the time was that if the Scottish National Party or Plaid Cymru ever took the reins of power in Scotland and Wales, there would be a referendum for independence. Only a few months after I returned to Canada the second Quebec Referendum took place. By a margin of slightly more than 50,000 votes, the Quebecois chose to stay in Canada. Unlike Canada, where the provinces enjoy considerable powers (including control over natural resources), the powers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are derived from the British Parliament and their decisions can be rendered null and void by Westminster. This is a recipe for an independence movement. But when I would tell people at Westminster about this scenario, they dismissed it out of hand. Well, they can’t dismiss it now.
While Labour remains in control in Wales, the SNP took power in 2007 and in 2011 managed to win a majority government, an astonishing feat where proportional representation is concerned. Under these conditions, it was only a matter of time before First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader Alex Salmond would trigger a referendum and that time has come. The Yes forces have been galvanized since Salmond’s dominant performance last month in the second referendum debate against former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. Salmond has come a long way from when he was among a handful of SNP MPs and his broom closet-sized office a few doors down from Jimmy Wray’s.
But even if Scottish voters choose independence it won’t matter in the long run. The fastest growing population in Scotland, as in all of the UK, is the Muslim community by virtue of both immigration and high birth rates. As of 2010, newborns in the UK are more likely to be named Muhammad than Jack or Harry. Far more alarming is the fact that more UK-born Muslims signed up last year for ISIS than for the British Armed Forces. It was a British ISIS member who not only executed American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, but British aid worker David Haines.
Earlier this summer came the news out of Scotland of not one, but two Muslim pedophile rings on non-Muslim girls and the unwillingness of Scottish authorities to bring these men to justice for fear of being called racist. Although Muslims represent less than one percent of Scotland’s population (as compared to just over five percent of the entire population of the UK), there are Sharia-controlled zones in Glasgow just as there are in London. Scottish authorities legitimized Sharia-controlled zones earlier this year by threatening to arrest those who wished to leave flowers in honor of Kriss Donald, a teenager murdered by Muslims in Glasgow in 2004, on the grounds that it would incite racial tensions. Singled out by a Pakistani Muslim gang because he was white, Donald was kidnapped, stabbed repeatedly, and burned alive.
If there are Sharia-controlled zones in Scotland that are this powerful with a Muslim population that is less than one percent, then imagine how powerful they will be when the Muslim population reaches 5 percent. Or how about 10 percent?
In 1995, devolution and a Scottish Parliament existed only on paper. In a matter of days there might be an independent Scotland. But how independent will Scotland truly be? What will Scotland look like in 20 years from now?
As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a few years ago, “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” (13) And with Islam comes Sharia law and that’s it. If and when Sharia law comes to Scotland, it won’t matter if Scotland votes yes or no on Thursday.