Aye, Nay, Mebbe Next Time

When tracing my family history I like to go beyond the names and dates of my ancestors and speculate about what motivated them to do what they did. One of the questions I have tried to answer is; why did they emigrate from Scotland and England and settle in Canada and Québec? They might have had very individual and personal reasons for leaving home but unfortunately I have not found any written sources for what these might have been. What I have discovered is that many, if not most of my ancestors emigrated at times of large-scale socio-economic events that are mostly well-documented in history and that they were not alone in leaving.

The Scottish Independence Referendum on 18 September 2014 is one such big event that could change family histories for generations to come.

I won’t be voting in the “Scottish IndyRef”. My Caledonian ancestors emigrated to Canada a very long time ago (1793). But, at this momentous time in Scottish history “my heart is in the Highlands” and with all those who are confronting a difficult decision about their future. The question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, is certainly short and clear. The optional answers, also short and simple, either Yes or No. The reality of life in Scotland the day after the vote will not be as black or white as the Xs on the ballots however.

I was born in Québec and grew up there in the 1960s, during the so-called “Quiet Revolution”. Like my two brothers and many other Anglo-Québecois, I left the province and moved West. As a non-resident, I could not vote in the “separation” referendum of 1980 or in 1995, but if I had been, I would have voted NO.

When I retired I moved back to Québec to live. The provincial election in 2014 was for me, and many others, like another referendum on separation. I voted NO. I rejected the vision of the future presented by the incumbent government that made me feel that somehow I would not belong in the place where I was born and had chosen to be. A place where my family has lived for more than 200 years.

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Over the last few weeks I have asked myself how I would vote if I were in Scotland. There are many similarities between the quest for independence by Québec and Scotland. But a fundamental difference is that the former was (is?) based on ethnic nationalism that enforces linguistic and cultural uniformity while the latter apparently embraces cultural diversity and is based on socio-economic equality.

The majority of Scots are frustrated with their inability to divert the government in Westminster from its social inequality trajectory. Nonetheless, I think they will vote NO, by a small minority, either from fear or common sense, depending on who you believe can predict the future.  Perversely or strategically, that’s why I would vote YES if I could vote. The closer the final tally is to 50/50, the more difficult it will be to maintain the status quo relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom. It may be playing a dangerous game of “chicken” but, whatever number we wake up to on September 19th, “keeping calm and carrying on” may no longer be an option.

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