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Editor at ReformerMag, Writing on Governance, Institution, and Liberalism.

On Scottish Independence

An open letter to Nicola Sturgeon

Dear Ms. Sturgeon,

I know you are used to receiving these types of letters from constituents and Scots, so I hope that you are able to entertain the novel situation of having a Lebanese/Canadian write you.

I have been living in Scotland for a bit over two years now. This is the first place outside of Beirut that I call home. I moved here in 2014 as the nation geared for its independence referendum. As a newcomer, I vividly remember roaming the streets of Edinburgh in search of a pub to watch the results on the 18th of September with the same excitement I had when I watched the “Arab Spring” unfold from Lebanon a few years before.

Back then, even being a novice at UK politics, I was a staunch YES supporter. So once the results came in you can imagine I was as disappointed as the rest. Looking back now, I can say that unfortunately, my views to the first independence referendum, just like those I held toward the Arab spring, were naïve.

Today, less than two years after the first referendum, the question of Scottish independence has come up once again—worth mentioning after promises of it being put to rest following the first.

Of course, with Brexit in the backdrop, which an overwhelming 62% of Scots voted against, there is a valid democratic cause calling into question why devolution alone is not enough to save Scotland from being dragged along, against the will of its people, with decisions made by Westminster. Decisions that Scotland’s government continues to have little ability to influence.

For me this has brought up several questions, personal and political, and I wish not to be as naïve as I was in 2014. And indeed, I wish to ensure that the many questions that a second independence referendum brings are answered for my sake as well as that of the public.

The greater good

Scotland is the first place I identify with away from my “Arab” roots. While living here I have seen the warmth of the Scottish people, and the passion they bring to issues of global affairs; be it their pursuit of an end to the occupation of Palestinian, how they have welcomed refuges, or their rejection of bombing campaigns and interventionist politics.

Scottish policy on the national front has, for the most part, been in line with my own. An emphasis on building strong social fabric through direct support, an investment in public services from the NHS to free museums and higher education tuition fees, to the role it plays in fighting climate change, leaves little to disagree with.

This makes me an initial strong supporter of Scotland remaining in the union. Not only does Scotland have the liberty to pursue its own policy, but the country as a whole provides a strong counterbalance to an otherwise economically neo-liberal England, currently suffering from (and hard to see a change in this situation soon) the absence of a strong opposition.

With this it seems rather counter-intuitive that Scotland would want to limit itself, and its influence, to smaller boundaries with limited experience of presenting itself on the stage of global politics. This means that not only will an independent Scotland need to reinvent itself on the national front, but also on a global level, having to make many difficult decisions that could nullify its presence as an active voice of opposition.

Having said that, and in light of the Brexit result, it now seems that the very principles that make Scotland an effective counter-balance are under threat of being overpowered, and in the long run, annulled as the UK economy continues to slip, and an even more aggressive Conservative government continues to posture in the face of an EU looking to set an example that they are not ones to take goodbyes well. Devolution alone seems to provide no escape.

Although this discourages me from voting No (a privilege I hold as a commonwealth citizen) when and should Indyref 2 come around, it is still a long way from providing concrete answers as to why I, and many others should vote Yes. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as saying that unless those questions are answered and clarity is instilled as to what an independent Scotland would look like, a referendum would pose a democratic danger.

Muscle flexing

I understand that at this stage a second independence referendum remains a “card on the table”. With two years of negotiations to go starting March, considering Article 50 is triggered within the intended timeline, there remains large room for manuverablity, and this is where the first questions on independence come in.

It is certainly understandable that the Scottish government, and in turn your party, sees cause in taking offense at the Brexit vote, but what remains unclear is the official government stance. If it was indeed to protect the voice of Scottish voters then shouldn’t the gears towards a second referendum be fully turning? This doesn’t seem to be the case, and although legislation is being pursued to ratify a second referendum, the proverbial line in the sand makes it seem as if this talk is the same posturing that Theresa May continues to practice in front of the EU.

In this case, the question automatically becomes what would it take for Scotland and your party to accept remaining within the union? The line in the sand seems to then become remaining within the European Economic Area. This conveniently places Scotland in a reactive mode, with pressure placed on Westminster to tread diligently as they push forward with negotiations. No doubt, a winning strategy for the SNP, allowing it to remain capable of presenting itself as the moral sound of opposition, but paradoxically also stopping it from being able to present itself as the true representative of the voice of the people, a play that could potentially backfire come next election cycle.

Ultimately though, the Scottish government’s failure in plotting out a clear path forward leaves it perpetuating the same un-clarity of which it accuses Westminster.

Moving forward however, and assuming that a certain line in the sand is crossed, the government has yet to answer hefty economic questions. Firstly, in terms of the large deficit Scotland faces, and secondly, in relation to what remaining in the EU as an independent nation might mean. Seeing how the EU has dealt with the likes of Greece paints a grim image of whether or not the EU would show the same regard to the Scottish social system as us, should our deficit issues not be resolved.

The role of Scotland on a global level, from memberships in international agencies and a clear foreign policy, is one that has remained un-discussed outside the role of domestic opposition. These are all issues that political parties in Scotland have been able to avoid in their manifestos which dealt exclusively within the borders of devolution.

With these questions gone unanswered, how is it that the government wishes its citizens to vote the country into even further uncertainty? Or is it content in leading the path with nothing but a moral mandate, an act of opposition, leaving it no different than those claiming to “take back” their country?

National Politics

On a more political level, the SNP has largely run on its manifesto of being THE Scottish national party promising to deliver independence. The SNP has been able to pursue its agenda aggressively and, at times, even authoritatively almost unchecked within parliament against other political parties. While the other political parties in Hollyrood operate largely as extensions of English parties, and are therefore limited in what kind of promises they can provide to the Scottish people should they contradict an English agenda.

The question here is what happens, after a Scottish independence, when all parties operating in Scotland become “Scottish National Parties”, and indeed what will happen to the SNP itself? Having met its mandate of an independent Scotland, what will its mandate look like?

Finally, and beyond questions of party politics, there is scope for larger national politics. Scotland’s parliament has continued to exist in the shadow of devolution its very formation triggered by an allowance from the United Kingdom With independence possibly on the horizon how far should we go in reimagining Scottish parliament and the representation formulas it currently operates under?

These issues raise major concerns when it comes to the access of diverse representation within a potentially independent Scotland. Combined with the uncertainty propagated by a reactionary stance, the SNP is able to keep both the people and its political opponents in check positioning itself as the only option, certainly undermining the democratic liberties it claims to stand for.

Democratic fervour

It seems that the Scottish government is leveraging nothing more than a reactionary stance to the entire Brexit debacle. I believe that that this is hypocritical, and that Scotland should rise above this sort of hypocrisy. We cannot continue to blame Westminster for leading us into uncertainty without taking the necessary steps to ensure a solid plan for the Scottish people. If you are to hold yourselves as a party, and as the leaders of the government, accountable then let us pursue our next steps with the democratic fervour we accuse others of lacking, and let us create clarity in this sea of confusion by first identifying where the demarcation lines lay, and what the proposed solutions are. Let us project an independent Scottish state not where we are just escaping from a lack of representation in the UK, but where we are reaching out to the world to represent ourselves as the global citizens we claim to be.

Not only will a clear path help create more pressure within the UK and better influence the Brexit process, but it will also reanimate democracy within Scotland and allow different voices to be heard.

On a more personal note, it would also help me understand if I will be needing to make a decision on becoming a Scottish or UK citizen within the next five years.

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