Tag Archives: Scottish independence

“Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled. . .”


As a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce (as are all of us who bear his last name, don’t you know), I wonder how I would vote – were I real Gael and not some poseur separated from the mother country by seven generations of Canadian rock farmers – in this week’s referendum for Scottish independence from Westminster.

Would I be sensible and prudent (like a true Scot) and vote with my head, realizing that that a break from the United Kingdom would, in all probability, result in my reconstituted nation’s immediate economic duress and, quite possibly, social dislocation?

Or would I be passionate and adventurous (also, like a true Scot) and vote with my heart, believing that the challenge of charting the undiscovered country that is sovereignty is just the tonic that five million souls need to engineer a new political and socio-economic order?

Certainly, Spain’s Basque and Catalonian separatists are watching events unfold in Edinburgh with keen and partisan interest. Their sympathies are clear: Be bold, Scotland, and go your own way after more than 300 years under the yolk of British rule; and, while you’re at it, show us how to do it without spilling the blood of innocents.

We, in Canada — where more people claim Scottish ancestry than there are actual Scots  living north of the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall — are somewhat less impressed by the prospect of waking up on Friday only to find a new applicant to the G-20 assembly of nations.

Oh, Albans, are thee mad? So beseeches the Globe and Mail.

“Dear Scotland. . .You made us,” last Saturday’s lead editorial states both unctuously and presumptuously (a strange, oddly affecting, combination that this newspaper has been perfecting for decades). “As a gesture of thanks, we’d like to offer some advice on how to avoid unmaking yourself. This bit of history you are living right now? We’ve already been through that. We may be a young nation but we have far more experience than you on this issue. We nearly tore our country apart. Twice.”

Talk about hubris.

Clearly, the writer forgot that Scotland is, already a “devolved” government within the United Kingdom, with its own First Minister, its own system of education and health care, and a long history of steadily, if incrementally, separating itself from London’s parliamentary influence with, one might add, Britain’s compliance and, oftentimes, complicity.

To compare the predicament that this country (and it is, in fact, just that) faces with Canada’s constitutional wrangles with the province of Quebec in 1980 and 1995, is to juggle apples and oranges and wind up with bananas.

More bananas, courtesy of the Globe: “Dear cousins from across the seas, here is our advice and our plea: Stay in the United Kingdom. Let time pass and passions subside. Make changes happen but within the U.K. And meet us back here in, say, 2040. You can take the U.K. apart then, if you still want to. We think you will not. And we know this: If you take it apart, you can never, ever put it back together again.”

Sort of like Humpty Dumpty, which, as it happens is a figure from a children’s verse, the authorship of which has been attributed to a Scot. . .Just saying, is all.

Ultimately, the Globe – which thinks with the many heads it employs to staff its editorial board – is probably right. Nothing sensible can come from Scotland’s secession from the union of British states, which also includes Ireland and Wales.

And there’s certainly nothing efficacious about becoming what George Will, a Washington Post columnist, recently warned “the 16th among what would then be the 29 nations of the European Union” in terms of GDP.

Still. . .

Somebody, somewhere must have told Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (a Scot) that he was insane to attempt to forge an independent nation from a collection of British colonies. That particular somebody must have thought him downright certifiable when he proposed linking the nation’s two coasts with an intercontinental railroad.

As legend goes, my putative forebear, Robert the Bruce, split the skull of an English general while on horseback at the battle of Bannockburn, during the original war of Scottish independence in the 13th Century.

I am, like most descendants of Alban adventurers, made of less sterner stuff.

But, if I were a true Gael, I’d vote with my heart come Thursday.

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Shooting the messenger at election time

Leaves of grass for NB's labour market

Few in these jaundiced times espouse an unshakeable faith in much of anything. But those handful who do believe in the primacy, if not permanence, of polling numbers might be disappointed in events presently unfolding in Scotland.

There, the Scottish National Party, under the spirited leadership of Alex Salmond is rallying it supporters of independence before next week’s historic referendum, the outcome of which could redraw the map of Great Britain both figuratively and literally.

According to Griff Witte, writing this week in the Washington Post, “The once-unthinkable prospect that Britain could be ripped apart this month with a vote for Scottish independence became bracingly real Monday after the campaign to keep the three-century-old union together was accused of panicking amid polls showing the referendum in a dead heat.”

Indeed, “Just 10 days before the vote, the new surveys depicted a dramatically tightening race after months in which the ‘no’ side appeared to hold a comfortable lead. Although both sides have questioned the accuracy of the Internet-based polls, the pro-independence camp immediately claimed the momentum.”

In fact, until last month, Scottish naysayers (those who wish to remain in the United Kingdom) accounted for between 60 and 70 per cent of intended voters. The ‘yes’ forces, in contrast, had trouble breaking above 40 per cent. Now, it seems, those in favour of Scottish independence are nudging the 52 per cent mark.

This is why those of us who know a little something about statistics, approach all numbers meant to startle, scare or otherwise provoke only warily.

Still, election polls are notorious, not so much for their inaccuracy but for their unreliability from one day to the next.

For this reason, they’re also the source of some of the most heated debates, sometimes eclipsing all other, more relevant, issues, as candidates desperately fear being trampled by the herd mentality on voting day.

Indeed, when the circumstances are ripe, even some pollsters will wade into the fray. Witness, for example, Corporate Research Associates chairman and CEO Don Mills last week instructing his lawyers to fire off a stern missive to New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward regarding some unfortunate wording the latter deployed during one of his many stump stops around the province.

“CRA has been great over the years at playing games,” Alward had told an audience of supporters, following the release of its latest polling data showing the Liberals ahead of the PCs in popular support (49 versus 29 per cent). 

“You only have to go back to the last election when in the weekend leading up to the voting, they were saying it was too close to call or even that we were behind. In reality it was a 42 to 13 landslide.”

In a statement, Mr. Mills retorted: “Through hard work and diligence, CRA has built its reputation as a non-partisan public opinion polling company since its founding in 1978. Comments attributed to Mr. Alward impugn that reputation and imply bias in our work.”

If they do, it wouldn’t be the first time a frustrated politician has shot from the hip at political pollsters.

“Gov. Chris Christie wasted little time in taking aim at pollsters during his latest town hall event just as a recent poll found the governor’s job approval rating is plummeting amid the ongoing George Washington Bridge controversy,” reported PolitickerNJ last winer.

“The governor started the event discussing the weather, telling residents on another snowy day in the state that there are people in two professions who continue to get paid despite getting it wrong time after time. Meteorologists? Of course, he said. But according to New Jersey’s governor, there’s another group of workers in the same pool: Pollsters. ‘They don’t ever have to have it right,’ Christie said to laughs from the crowd.”

At best, political polling is an accurate snapshot of people’s opinions and attitudes at the time of asking. They can, and do, suggest longer-term trends. But the reliability of those trends is in direct proportion to the number of people who will never change their mind – who will, with an unshakeable faith in their own world view, vote as they say they will regardless of sound facts and arguments that militate for alternatives.

Fortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. Just ask the Scots.

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