The Scottish referendum has come to an end with the “NO” vote winning the day. While the outcome makes me sad, it teaches the world a valuable lesson. I am an American who has lived in England, but never had the opportunity to visit Scotland. The British Empire and the United Kingdom have had a history that goes back to Roman times and beyond. Perhaps it’s not fair for an ill-informed American to have an opinion from afar, but I was rooting for a separate Scotland.
9 big questions before Scotland’s big vote on independence, published in the Washington Post, was one of several newspaper articles, television commentaries, and social media blurbs that formed my opinion. That and my experience living in England. Stated perhaps crudely and incorrectly, the best I could glean is that Scotland was the poor stepchild, giving more to the British government than Scottish citizens received in return. With closer ties to the Scandinavian countries, Scottish people seemed to want to aspire to a more equitable and humane form of social democracy.
As an American citizen, it’s hard not to empathize, and think back to what I learned in school about the American Revolution in which we separated from the British Empire. It seems we faced similar inequities. The Boston Tea Party:
The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
(Text of the Declaration of Independence here.)
Then we had our own hideous slice of history, the Civil War (1861-1865). My Italian grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1907, and so my father’s side of the family participated in neither the American Revolution for the Civil War. My maternal great-great-great-grandfather was of German descent and became a naturalized American citizen in 1847. I can’t find any record that he participated in the Civil War, but if he did, he was likely on the Union side since he lived in Indiana.
On my mother’s mother’s side of the family, I seem to be descended from English / Irish / Scot. They lived and farmed in the South, and so would have been on the Confederate side. I don’t know if they went all the way back to the American Revolution. In tracing back my ancestral family tree, there is some slight possibility that my mother’s mother was descended from the brother of George Washington, and if that is true, my maternal forebears most certainly fought for independence from the British Empire.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Countless lives were lost in the American Revolution and in the American Civil War. Whatever grievances the Scottish people had with the United Kingdom — whether separation was better for them or not, whether it was better for the UK or not, whether it was better for the larger world or not — the fact that their revolution was carried out at the ballot box and not by the gun is a wonderful lesson for this war-torn world. With what little facts I can claim to know, I sympathize with their cause, but more so, I am inspired by their dignity.
Now that the votes have been counted, may promises made to the Scottish people be kept, and may the United Kingdom have “a more perfect union.”
Oooops, can’t resist one funny….
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