Monday 18 May 2015

A Letter from Scotland to America.

Dear friends,

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Even the Native Americans originally came from Central Asia. But then if we go back far enough all of us are immigrants. In the UK even people who can trace their ancestry back centuries are descended from immigrants. Celts came from Central Europe. Anglo-Saxons and Jutes came from Germany and Denmark. Vikings came from other parts of Scandinavia.  Scots originally came from Ireland. We are all immigrants.

People in the United States frequently reflect on where their ancestors came from. Some people call themselves Italian Americans, others call themselves Irish or Swedish Americans. People maintain this identity even if their ancestors left these places a long time ago. It’s good to have roots and it’s perfectly possible to feel two things at once. Someone can feel, for example, both Scottish and American even if they’ve never been to Scotland. Why not take pride in a heritage? Why not celebrate where your ancestors came from?

The United States is defined by two great wars of independence. In the first you gained independence from Britain. When I read the history of the American war of independence, my heroes are the Americans. Thank goodness the Americans won, because they were able to set up the first real democracy. They were able to show that democracy is system of government that can work. They created a nation that welcomed people from all over the world. The world needed the United States in the 20th century. Thank goodness your ancestors won the war of independence that enabled that country to come into existence.

The other war of independence was the Civil War. It is perhaps a little controversial to describe it as such. But that if you think about is what the Confederacy wanted. They wanted to become independent from the United States. I don’t want to go into the rights and wrongs of that conflict too much.  But I can say that I’m mighty glad the United States was preserved as one country. It would have been a disaster if the Confederacy had won independence. The whole world throughout the period afterwards needed the United States to continue to exist. Let us be thankful that it did. I suspect even most people from southern states today are glad that the Confederacy lost. They may be proud of their ancestors, but few southerners today regret that they live in one country rather than in a country that was split.

Did the United States have the right to prevent the southern states from seceding? This was what the war was about. The South thought it had the right to leave. The North said it did not. The issue was decided by war. After that there was no question that a part of the United States could secede. This is the case with most countries in the world. No-one today thinks the Maryland could secede from the United States even, if for some strange reason, the majority in Maryland wished to do so. Likewise no-one thinks Bavaria could secede from Germany or Sicily could leave Italy. No-one likewise thinks that the island of Honshu in Japan could choose to leave Japan. But why not? The reason is that most countries are considered to be indivisible. This is after all what most children in America say about the United States. It is one nation and it is indivisible.

States in the United States used to think of themselves as semi-independent. The reason South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861 was because it thought of itself as having the right to secede. People thought of the United States as a sort of loose federation of independent states with states’ rights.  The Civil War showed that this view was incorrect. The United States is one nation, it is not fifty.

Scotland was once independent, but then again so was each of the original 13 colonies as was Texas. The process of creating the United States was the process of states subsuming their independence into the Union. This too is what happened to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These places ceased to be independent when they became parts of the United Kingdom. We still describe them as countries or nations, but just as with the United States there is only one country. It is called the UK.
Last year we had a referendum on independence. This referendum was very unusual. Very few countries in the world would allow a part to have the chance to choose to leave. I very much doubt for instance that Texas would be allowed a vote on secession, because it wanted a Republican president rather than a Democratic one. Why would Texas not be allowed a referendum? The answer is that Texas is a part of one nation that is indivisible. It matters not at all that Texas was independent in 1845.

Scotland ceased to be independent in 1707. It wasn’t taken over by force and it isn’t a colony.  It has been an integral part of a single nation state for over 300 years. That state, the UK has done some great things. The world would be a very different place if the UK had not stood alone in 1940 against the Nazis.

Exceptionally Scotland was given a referendum on independence. Everybody living in Scotland was given the choice to decide this question once and for all. The result wasn’t close. The Scots who wanted Scotland to remain an integral part of the UK won the referendum by more than 10%.

Just as people in the United States can be both Italian and American, so we Scots can be both Scottish and British. There is no contradiction in this. We can love both Scotland and Britain, just as people in the United States can, for example, love both Maryland and the United States. Just as most people in the United States want their country to remain intact so most people in Scotland want our country the UK to remain intact.

It’s great that so many Scottish Americans remember where they come from. But it’s also worth remembering that most Scots voted last year to remain part of the country, the UK, that has a history stretching back more than 300 years. Of course some Scots disagree, but they lost. Some of them want to continue fighting this battle until they win. This seems to me to be like the Confederates continuing to fight after losing the Civil War. The Civil War decided whether a state had the right to secede. After that the United States was one nation and indivisible. The same can be said for the UK. We had a peaceful debate. But it decided the question. The people who are continuing the fight now are dividing Scotland in a way that is very painful for those of us living here. Please do not support them as you are supporting people who lost democratically but still won’t give up.

In the end it amounts to this. If you do not want your own country to break up, why would you want to break up mine? If an Italian American would neither want Italy nor the United States to break up why would he want to break up a country that has existed for longer than either Italy or the United States?  The United States and the UK have a history of friendship and helping each other. Please continue to support this friendship by supporting the majority view. The overwhelming majority of people in the UK want the UK to continue and so do most people in Scotland. If you consider yourself to be a Scottish American you should support us too. We need your support and would be very grateful indeed to receive it.

Best wishes,

Effie Deans

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