Story Publication logo August 10, 2013

Who Are the Scots?

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For more than 300 years, Scotland has been a loyal member of the United Kingdom. But in the fall of...

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A shop in Edinburgh proudly displays the flag of Scotland and traditional tartan kilts in a city not afraid to flaunt its Scottish pride. Photo by Henry Molski. Scotland, 2013.

Some say the question of Scottish independence has been around for centuries while others think the issue has been around only for a few years. To best understand the current sentiments about independence, it is easiest to listen to the voice of the people.

No citizen would deny the fact that Scotland has been on historians' maps since the 9th century. However, Scots spent hundreds of years in conflict with English rule before passing the Acts of Union in 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Now, in 2013, the issue of independence permeates all aspects of everyday life throughout the Scottish lands. Seemingly every morning you pick up a newspaper in Scotland, there is a new headline and issue to debate over the 2014 independence referendum.

As September 18, 2014, the date of the final vote, grows closer, there is a sense of urgency in the blustery Scottish winds. A major ad campaign won't launch until the 16-week-long period leading up to the vote.

Yet, this doesn't mean that the people aren't talking.

After spending a week in London, the bills in my wallet were all issued by the Bank of England, which technically are not legal tender in Scotland. But after three weeks in Scotland I have not yet met a vendor who wouldn't accept the bills.

"Use them while you can, ay?" said Scotland-native Sean Shaw, working the cash register at a Starbucks in Edinburgh after I asked if my notes were acceptable.

Surely Shaw wasn't talking in jest about the vote that recently reflected an approval rate of a meager 33 percent? Indeed he was.

"I'm a patriot, not a nationalist," said Shaw after I asked if he was referring to the independence vote. "I don't have any problems with this country now, so why bother?"

A person doesn't have to spend much time in Scotland, or England for that matter, to feel that Scotland is its own entity. From the second I stepped off my train in Edinburgh the flag of Scotland rarely left my sight. It flew outside seemingly every building and was attached to more advertisements than one could imagine.

When you take into account that Edinburgh is the tourist and political capital of Scotland, the fervent show of patriotism makes a bit more sense. Bagpipes echo throughout the city. Tartan patterns hang in dozens of shop windows. Each Scotch whisky store claims it has a more expansive collection than the last. While the density of such shops is undoubtedly higher in Edinburgh, this kind of Scottish character can be found throughout the country from bustling city streets to the remote towns of the highlands.

The ballot question that Scotland will put to its population of nearly 5.3 million next year will be: "Should Scotland be an independent nation?" You might think this loaded language would induce the Scottish populace to vote "yes." Yet two-thirds disagree. Why is this?

As I travel through the country, I find Scotland constantly begging to act as its own nation. On the other hand, I also am in a place that feels dependent on the rest of the United Kingdom. From the currency I use to the royal crown, I see a bond of different nationalities as strong as those in my homeland of the United States.

In England, the entire country celebrated the first "British" male to win the Wimbledon championship in 77 years when Scotsman Andy Murray grabbed the title.

In Scotland, at the Open Golf Championship (often referred to in America as the British Open), crowds shook the hallowed grounds at the Muirfield golf links in support of Englishman Lee Westwood, who led going into the final round of the tournament. (American Phil Mickelson was the eventual winner.)

On the morning after Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a future king, newspaper stands in Scotland celebrated the baby as one of the country's own. Headlines boasted "Born to rule" and The Scottish Sun playfully changed its header to "The Son."

Scottish pride beats strongly in the heart of its people, and there is no question that Scotland has the heart to beat on its own, but can it survive without a British soul?

(Due to an editing error, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was mis-identified as the Duchess of York. This story was corrected on August 13, 2013.)






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