Many people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region and around the world are watching Scotland as citizens take a rare democratic vote on independence on Thursday, Sept. 18.
“There’s a lot of sentiment from outside in support of the Scottish people however they vote,” said local resident John Beaton, who came to Canada from Scotland in 1979.
“There’s a lot of eyes on what’s going on,” he said, pointing to specific independence movements in Ireland, Wales and Spain, along with the heightened interests of the large Scottish diaspora around the world, which is heavily represented in Canada.
“The world’s kind of changing anyway,” he said. “The status of countries or states is shifting and there’s increased pressure for minority people to have more say.”
According to the 2011 census, there are 4.7 million people in Canada, with 15 per cent of the population claiming some Scottish ancestry, making it the third largest ethnic group. In B.C. that number is 20 per cent and is, anecdotally, a bit higher still on Vancouver Island.
And there have been endless influential Scottish-Canadians, from Sir John A. Macdonald and Tommy Douglas to Jim Carrey and Mike Myers.
Canada has experience with independence votes in Quebec, but Vancouver Island University professor of political studies Alexander Netherton said the two situations are quite different.
He said the discussions in Quebec in recent decades have been “more about what a new Quebec should be like — it’s not about unfair treatment by the government of Canada,” he said, pointing to the main argument from the independence side in Scotland.
He also said that unlike Scotland and England, Canada has never gone to war with Quebec and we have a very different history.
He agrees with many experts that the Scottish separatists are drawing on that long history, but are focused on more recent history, feeling marginalized since the Margaret Thatcher era when much of the ship building and heavy industry that made Scotland an economic driver in the union, was sent overseas.
“People in Scotland think of themselves as more social democratic,” Netherton said, adding there was huge opposition to the war in Iraq and the ongoing austerity measures.
Bob Adam, another local resident who came to Canada 47 years ago and runs the local Robbie Burns club, said he agrees that those pushing for independence appear unhappy with the economic and social balance.
“I love London, but there’s a great big sucking sound from other parts of the country. In Scotland, 95 per cent of the taxes go to London and they dole it out as they see fit,” he said.
That said, Adam said: “while in my heart I would like to see independence, in my brain I know it’s not the smartest thing.”
He points to threats from many of the country’s biggest companies to leave if the vote passes, and suggests that while the polls are basically tied, once people get into the voting booths, they won’t vote for such big change.
“Older people don’t want change. To me the only constant in the world is change, but older people are comfortable with what they have and want to keep things the way they are.”
While VIU’s Netherton agrees with the prevailing polls that it’s too close to call in Scotland, he said that either way it is an important vote and may be as much about negotiating a new position in the United Kingdom as anything.
He said the strength of the European Union, which troubles the bigger countries like Britain, is useful to smaller countries like Scotland.
Beaton agrees that it’s too close to call, and like Adam is careful not to give his prescription for how people in Scotland should vote on their own future, but when pushed, he did say “If I was there I would vote a strong yes.”