I think I might have been washing dishes when I heard it. Coming through the radio was something exciting, inspiring, even moving. And what’s more, it was coming from a politician. The politician in question was Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, and he was talking independence.
As a Canadian, the very phrase ‘independence movement’ can be chilling. This is because, as an ardent federalist in the Canadian context, I would absolutely hate to see Quebec become independent. I remember the 1995 50.5/49.5% referendum vividly and it really was frightening. I thought (and think) an independent Quebec would be a disaster both for Canada and la Belle Province; as a country, we are much, much greater than the sum of our parts, and, moreover, provide an example to the world of how two distinct societies can work together. While I understand Quebec nationalism, I don’t grasp Quebec separatism. I think Canadian nationalism trumps it, especially given our juxtaposition to the US of A. Equally, though I see the value of giving Quebec powers to keep it happy, I value a strong federal government in Ottawa, although having Tory majority governments in power makes this much less attractive, of course…
One could make the same argument about the UK and Europe, I suppose, but I think the context is completely different. There are plenty of small, successful countries in Europe (Norway being the one Salmond and the SNP refer to regularly) and the EU is certainly not a unified force in the same way the US is. More importantly, and this is what really came out in Salmond’s speech, is the cultural and historical argument for independence. He made a powerful case for Scotland being able to make its own decisions, come what may. In practical terms, this would boil down to less bellicosity in international affairs (no nuclear deterrent in Scottish waters; no waging wars in Iraq) and more socialism, two things of which I am completely in favour.
Even more important, was what Salmond said about confidence. Scotland, as many have argued, suffers from a crisis in confidence. The sick (and fat) man of Europe, crap weather, social inequalities, an often humiliating past: these and many other factors have eroded Scottish self esteem over the years. Salmond argued, however, that Scotland can transcend such lugubriousness, and that a yes vote in the upcoming referendum is how to do it.
I wasn’t 100% convinced about voting yes prior to hearing Salmond’s speech. Again, as a Canuck, we take these things seriously. But he persuaded me. It was the most effective speech I’ve heard since some of Obama’s in 2008, and I think Salmond betters Obama by a long shot now in that category. As a historian, I’m also simply curious to see how we get on. While curiosity might not be the best reason for a divorce, I’m sure it’s been posited plenty of times before. Perhaps I will be persuaded to change my mind. But somehow I doubt it.