Boris Johnson hailed “the dawn of a new era” and Nigel Farage congratulated himself for having “transformed the landscape of our country.” 

But at 11pm on Friday, 31 January, as Britain finally and officially exited the EU, the mood among the 1500 or so people who had gathered outside Holyrood to mark the passing of their European citizenship was funereal rather than festive, the rhetoric sombre rather than celebratory. 

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Glasgow, Scotland—In the British general election on Dec. 12, 2019, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a resounding mandate from its constituents, taking 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the U.K. House of Commons and 45 percent of all ballots cast by Scottish voters. A week later, on Dec. 19, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon sent a letter to Britain’s newly reelected Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson requesting the power to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. (The first referendum, which took place in September 2014, resulted in a 10-point victory for the Anglo-Scottish union.)

On Jan. 14, the prime minister delivered his answer. “I cannot agree to any request … that would lead to further independence referendums,” he wrote in a formal memorandum to Sturgeon. “The people of Scotland voted decisively on that promise to keep our United Kingdom together … The U.K. government will continue to uphold the democratic decision [made in 2014].”

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The late Alasdair Gray is widely believed to be the author of the unofficial slogan of Scottish nationalism: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ In fact, the line was paraphrased from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, who wrote in his 1972 poem Civil Elegies: ‘And best of all is finding a place to be / in the early days of a better civilization.’ To be fair, Gray never tried to disguise where the expression had come from. ‘I have always attributed it to [Lee],’ he once said. ‘But people started quoting it as if I had invented it’.

In The Literary Politics Of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation, Scott Hames — a lecturer in English Studies at Stirling University — examines how Scottish cultural luminaries like Gray have shaped our national political discourse, both consciously and unconsciously, over the past half century.

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STIRLING, Scotland—The constituency of Stirling sprawls across central Scotland, stretching from the Trossachs National Park in the west to the village of Fallin, at the tip of the Firth of Forth, in the east. An old adage dating back to the 14th century and the Anglo-Scottish Wars, states: “He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland.”

In 2019, that may still be the case.

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Subtle it wasn’t. At the Scottish National Party’s conference in Aberdeen in October, the yellow stars of the European Union were projected onto a giant backdrop of the party’s initials, flanked by two Scottish flags.

The party’s in-your-face Europhilia is not just a signal to Scottish voters — who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU — that membership of the bloc is part of its vision of an independent Scotland. SNP leaders have been aggressively courting their counterparts across Europe, laying the groundwork for the next time the nation holds an independence referendum.

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Edinburgh, Scotland—Five years ago, when Scotland voted in a landmark referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, the issue of North Sea oil—who owns it and how it should be administered—was a key feature of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) independence platform. If—as seems increasingly likely in the context of Britain’s ongoing scramble over Brexit—Scots vote again on the future of their union with England, the heavy winds and tides that buffet Scotland’s coastline will play an equally critical role in the next campaign.

By some estimates, Scotland has 25 percent of Europe’s total offshore wind and tidal resources and around 60 percent of the U.K.’s onshore wind capacity. Renewable energy is worth nearly 6 billion pounds (about $7.5 billion) annually to the Scottish economy—and green electricity exports are rising every year. But in the face of an accelerating global ecological crisis, both advocates and opponents of Scottish independence think the country can go further in embracing alternative energy sources—they simply disagree on whether Scottish independence would help or hurt that goal.

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If there’s one thing that Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely consistent about in recent years, it’s that the Tories’ spending cuts are not, as the right monotonously insists, economically necessary, but instead form part of a broader ideological project to shrink the public sector and destroy the welfare state.

“Parliament can feel like living in a time warp at the best of times,” the Labour leader wrote in 2015, “but this government is not just replaying 2010, but taking us back to 1979: ideologically committed to rolling back the state, attacking workers’ rights and trade union protection, selling off public assets, and extending the sell-off to social housing.”

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2017, it seemed, should have killed the campaign for Scottish independence stone dead.

At the UK general election in June, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a third of its Westminster seats, forcing SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to “reset” her plans for a second independence referendum. Then, in August, new analysis showed that an independent Scotland would face a projected budget deficit of 8.3 per cent – the largest of any EU state. And on top of that, major splits have begun to emerge within the ‘Yes’ base, as younger, more radical activists sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have clashed with older, more conservative nationalists loyal to the SNP. 

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On 17 September last year, the day before Scotland voted by a 10-point margin to remain part of the UK, I attended the SNP’s final referendum campaign rally at the Concert Hall in Perth. The event began smoothly enough—saltires were unfurled, the PA system played nationalist pop anthems (such things exist, by the way), and activists gradually massed in front of the main stage, waiting for Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon to arrive.

About 25 minutes in, however, the mood suddenly changed. A BBC News team, led by its political editor, Nick Robinson, had appeared in the gallery and a section of the audience had started jeering. SNP officials gestured frantically for the heckling to stop. Moments later, Robinson and his colleagues left.

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