Effects of Scotland’s independence campaign felt on campus

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On Sept. 18, the people of Scotland decided to reject secession from the United Kingdom by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

Had Scotland voted in favor of the split, the country would have been the world’s newest independent state after three centuries of unification with England. While the world watched as votes were counted into the early hours of Friday morning, some campus community members had closer ties to the issue.

Ian Duncan, a campus English professor who was raised in Scotland, was in Edinburgh two weeks before the vote and found the public excitement over the referendum “striking.”Though Duncan could not vote in the referendum, he said he supported independence and noted that neither anti-English feelings nor sentimental nationalism drove the movement.

“This issue wasn’t on a level as trivial as that of kilts and bagpipes,” Duncan said. “What was at stake was a shared democratic process for representation of the people.”

Some supporters of Scottish independence said they wished to secede from the United Kingdom, raising complaints with the conservative English Parliament and the threat of budget cuts to health services, among other issues.

Duncan cited the high voter turnout — about 84 percent — as an indicator of the significance the people of Scotland placed on the issue. UC Berkeley juniors Nicole Restmeyer and Lillian Fan, who are studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh this fall, said they were also struck by the high levels of interest locals had in the topic.

“One of my history professors made students go around and see how their home district voted,” Restmeyer said. “Not only did people know the answer, they knew the percentage breakdown too. That’s a lot different from the political culture I’m used to at home.”

Fan and Restmeyer found divisions in opinions among their Scottish friends. Restmeyer said many of her Scottish friends were concerned about economic issues, including whether Scotland would keep the pound as its currency, or questions of joining the European Union.

Jason Wittenberg, a campus associate professor of political science, said the potential costs of separation left many Scottish voters feeling uncertain about independence.

“What the outcome showed was that the pull of independent statehood was outweighed by the fears of a leap into the unknown,” Wittenberg said. “The ‘no’ vote bodes well for the future of the United Kingdom as an entity as it is now.”

UC Berkeley sophomore Rowan Mckellar, who was raised in Glasgow, shared these concerns about whether independence would have been the right choice for Scotland at this time.

“I do agree that Westminster may not be best for Scotland,” Mckellar said. “But there wasn’t enough evidence to say Scotland would’ve been fine on its own at this point.”

UC Berkeley junior Damini Satija, who was raised in London, was also in support of unity, not only because of the economic risks Scotland would have to face if they became independent, but also because of the destabilizing effect Scotland’s secession would have on the United Kingdom.

“Because the economic and political ramifications would’ve been greater for Scotland, I think the biggest concern for me was the question of British identity,” Satija said. “The idea of an international border was upsetting to me because I think of Scotland as part of the British identity.”

Although Satija is relieved by the outcome, both she and Duncan believe the vote will have a lasting effect on the relationship between the two entities.

As of Tuesday, thousands of proindependence supporters have signed an online petition demanding for a recount of the votes in response to suspicions that votes were rigged.

“I think people who wanted independence are hoping the democratic awakening in Scotland won’t stop here,” Duncan said. “My hope would be that we don’t go back to where we were. Regardless of the outcome, the game has changed.”

Chloee Weiner is the lead campus life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_chloeew .