Dis-united Kingdoms? What Lies Behind Scotland’s Referendum for Independence by Roger Mason

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Roger Mason is Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research. Professor Mason is general editor of the New Edinburgh History of Scotland, published by Edinburgh University Press. His main publications include Scots and Britons: Scottish Political Thought and the Union of 1603; Kingship and the Commonweal: Political Thought in Renaissance and Reformation Scotland; and George Buchanan: Political Thought in Early Modern Britain and Europe.

"Critically the Scots never suffered conquest and colonization..."
"Whatever the result, the fact that [the referendum] is being held at all indicates how markedly attitudes toward the union have changed..."
"The SNP answer to these constitutional conundrums is simple: independence..."

 On 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland will decide whether to remain within the United Kingdom or to secede from a 400-year-long union with England and form an independent state. It is harder to predict the outcome of the referendum than it is to explain what lies behind it. Before examining its immediate context, therefore, this article surveys the history of Anglo-Scottish relations and reveals some of the historical tensions which have led to the most significant constitutional crisis that the UK has faced since the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1922.

Borrowing from the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s memorable description of his country’s relationship with the United States, Scots often describe their country’s relations with England as like sleeping with an elephant. For Scotland, as for Canada, occupying the same bed as a much larger partner is a challenging experience. The size of that challenge can be illustrated demographically: England has a population ten times larger than Scotland’s. More precisely, of the total population of the United Kingdom, 83.9 percent (53 million) live in England and 8.4 percent (5.3 million) in Scotland, the rest living in Wales 4.8 percent (3 million) and Northern Ireland 2.9 percent (2 million). In terms of population, England dwarfs all three of its smaller partners put together... (purchase article...)