The referendum in Scotland resulted in a vote against independence, and the positive that is being brought out is that it was a peaceful and democratic way of dealing with matters. However, this view does not reflect two things. First, the crisis in nationalism. Second, the fact that the Union itself was achieved by methods that would not be considered acceptable in today’s world.

The Scottish referendum might be a product of history, but it is also a reflection of how the country where democracy itself was first practiced, deals with the potential of democracy for break-up. It should not be forgotten that the UK was created by the joining of England and Scotland, back in 1707, and what had been two countries, embarked on the colonial enterprise together. Scotland was never counted as an English colony the way Ireland was. That might explain why the independence of Ireland, which had acceded to the UK in 1800 in roughly the same way as Scotland, led to the partitioning of the country with Northern Ireland remaining in the UK, and Eire becoming the Irish Free State.

Before 1707, England and Scotland were in a dynastic union, which had taken place in 1603, when the King of Scotland became King of England too. Though the inheritance was according to the laws of dynastic succession, and took place because the Tudors died out, it was not really a success. The troubles of Charles I owed themselves at least partly to the attitude of a monarch who could not grasp why his two kingdoms had to be so different. He was beheaded. Union took place when the last of the Stuarts, Anne, was an old woman on the throne, without a direct heir, except the King of Hanover, a descendant through his mother of an English King. George I was the first monarch to inherit a single unified throne, not that of two separate kingdoms.

Apart from being on the same kingdom, England and Scotland had in common their original conquest by the Normans, who parcelled out both Kingdoms amongst themselves. However, Scotland was divided into two parts: the South, called the Lowlands, and the North, or Highlands. The former were taken over by the Normans, but the latter continued as the strongholds of the clans. The English made several efforts to take Scotland over, most notably when Edward I led several campaigns in the 13th and 14th centuries to do so. He brought the Stone of Destiny, on which Scottish monarchs were crowned from Scone to Westminster, and he won the title ‘Hammer of the Scots,’ but failed to win from the Scots their independence.

There were two languages in Scotland. In the Highlands, Gaelic, with its affinities to the companion Celtic language of Erse held sway, but in the Lowlands, there was a language developing there, somewhat like English, but different. It was Lalans, which was not merely English in a Scot accent, but at least a dialect on its own. When the Union was mooted, the mechanism had to be fixed. It was agreed that the two Parliaments would pass the same Act of Union, in which (primarily) Scottish Parliament would abolish itself, and Scotland would be represented in Westminster. The benefits to Scotland were supposed to be many, and were supposed to include the right of Scottish merchants to take part in the East India Company. Scotsmen thus began their association with the Indian Empire, which began their association with the Empire. Scotsmen did well. Since the 20th century, such Prime Ministers as Ramsay MacDonald and Alec Douglas Home, were Scotsmen, not to mention Gordon Brown, while the names of Tony Blair and the incumbent David Cameron indicate their Scottish ancestry. But apart from Prime Ministers, Scotsmen played a full role in the Empire, as soldiers, administrators, engineers, ship captains and slave overseers.

After the Union, legislation was obviously done by Westminster, and executive authority was exercised by a separate department headed by a Cabinet member. At the time of the devolution of power, that department’s functions formed the basis of the powers transferred to the regional government, which happened for Northern Ireland and Wales, with the latter getting an Assembly of its own too, after the yes votes in the 1997 referendum. The Scottish Nationalist Party has pressed for independence, and has been elected to power, winning in 2007 and 2012 elections. The holding of a referendum was a result of these wins, and the result may owe something to the SNP administration now suffering from voter fatigue.

The original Union was very different. There was no referendum, and the Scottish Parliament abolishing itself was even more narrowly based than the English Parliament that absorbed it. There was massive corruption involved, as votes were bought and force was used. The same pattern was used at the abolition of the Irish Parliament in that country’s union in 1800.

Nations worldwide have been threatened by the Scottish referendum as it provided an example of how separation could be achieved peacefully. However, union was not so peaceful. There were two major rebellions, in 1715 and 1745, when the Highlands rose against three things: Lowland domination, the Union and the Hanoverian succession. The second rebellion was followed by a military occupation and a policy of forcible Anglicisation of the Highlands. The clan chieftains were bought over or deposed. That was the first time the Final Solution was tried, but by no means the last.

There has been a comparison drawn between the Highlanders and the Taliban, especially after the Scots, under the preaching of John Knox, became virulently Protestant. Perhaps the Afghan nation cannot be reformed unless it is treated as brutally as the Scottish Highlanders are treated. However, the Scottish story is probably not over. From the founding of the SNP to the recent referendum, it has been half a century. But it is not impossible to see that the movement for independence will continue.

The Union was part of the creation of the concept of nationalism. However, with it were also sown the seeds of the critique: nationalism, taken to an extreme, would mean a separate nation for every person. Once Scotland was independent, why not break it down further? Into Lowlands versus Highlands for example. The Scottish example should make people wary about the logic of nationalism. It is more likely to be divisive in the Third World, where national identities are too often hastily cobbled together and imposed by the colonial power just before its departure.

 The writer is a veteran journalist  and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

maniazi@nation.com.pk