Scottish voters were faced with the pivotal decision yesterday of whether to break up the United Kingdom after 307 years. On Tuesday, Sept. 16, the University History Department hosted a multiple-department panel on Scottish independence and what this historical vote could mean for the U.K.
“Today is the day where we choose whether to break off or stay together, and that’s the next chapter in the U.K. or [in] the history in England and Scotland,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of History and panelist Alice Kelly. “However we want to say it.”
Chair of the History Department and organizer of the event Magda Teter explained how the vote shows the importance of history in today’s world. She stressed that current events cannot be fully understood without a historical context.
“Scotland’s vote may be about oil and current economy, but it is also about history and identity,” Teter wrote in an email to The Argus.
Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, another one of the panelists, said she believes that University students are generally interested in international current affairs and that the talk gave students the opportunity to learn more about the vote beyond what the media offers.
“The referendum raises broader questions about resource allocation and political representation in democracies that are of interest to many here at Wesleyan,” Tucker wrote in an email to The Argus.
In addition to educating students, the panel aimed to help professors question and analyze their own beliefs. One of the panelists, Professor of Government Peter Rutland, said that one question asked during the panel challenged him to further question the true benefits of secession.
“The problem is really the procedure, not the actual content of the decision,” Rutland said. “What a haphazard way [to decide] without any clear program to vote on. Just an up in the air, yes or no, independence or not, without having a document that really spells out what is agreed and what’s not agreed.”
Tucker spoke further about the questions that will be raised if Scotland does vote for independence. As there is no established constitution for Scotland should it vote for independence, these questions will not be able to be answered unless the referendum passes, further augmenting the significance of the results.
“The debate of Scottish independence raises a series of questions that will only be answered after the referendum: Will Scotland…continue to have access to the pound sterling? Will Scotland become a member of the [European Union] in its own right? Will Scotland control oil in the North Sea within Scottish waters? If Scotland becomes independent, can Scottish voters enact a more social agenda than it can currently?” Tucker wrote.
Kelly also spoke about the significance of an independent Scotland to the rest of the world. She said it is unclear what kind of global impact a secession would have.
“We’re not yet sure whether they’re going to be huge ripples or…just small ripples in the pond,” Kelly said.
The panelists spoke about the different tactics used by advocates on each side to sway undecided voters. They described pro-secessionist methods as taking advantage of the role of history, as well as potential benefits such as free health care, to persuade voters. Pro-Unionists have been using a scare tactic, telling voters that the future of an independent Scotland would be uncertain, especially since it is unclear whether the European Union (EU) would allow Scotland to join.
Rutland spoke further about the EU and its importance, but noted that as the EU loses its significance in current events, it becomes less important in the debate.
“The carrot is looking less juicy, but can still be used as a stick,” Rutland said.
Kelly felt that the tactics the pro-Union supporters were using, such as videos with celebrities holding up signs reading, “We love you, Scotland,” were only giving the pro-separatists more momentum.
“That incensed Scottish nationalists more, because it’s further compounded the idea of them not being taken seriously in their wish for independence,” Kelly said. “It’s only now they’re being taken more seriously. “
Chloe Jeng ’15 said she felt that the discussion of the propaganda brought up points that she had not previously considered.
“I was most interested in Professor Rutland’s explanation of the clever branding of the ‘Yes’ campaign for secession, which repaints the independence movement as not just an issue of romantic or ethnic nationalism but as a civic rights and social welfare cause,” Jeng wrote in an email to The Argus.
Whatever the outcome, the three panelists stated that they believe that history is in the making and that students should understand the significance of such an event.
“It might not feel so here, but it’s enormous,” Kelly said. “It’s a history-making day.”