Time to decide
This week, a momentous decision will be taken. And the consequences of this decision will be felt for many, many years.
Apologies to those of you who are bored with the subject, but the referendum in Scotland is the biggest game in town for someone like myself who comes from the United Kingdom. Scotland will vote on Thursday, 18 September on whether or not to stay in the UK.
For outsiders (and often for insiders, too), the UK is a strange place — and impossible to understand. For example, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are (currently) all part of the UK, yet each has its own separate football team.
At the Olympic Games, on the other hand, these countries compete together as Team GB, which includes athletes from Northern Ireland, even though that isn't part of Great Britain. And the England cricket team sometimes plays its home games in Wales and has had captains who were Scottish and Welsh.
Yet most people in Britain/UK have little problem living with their multiple identities. In my case, I am English (for football, cricket and rugby), British (Olympic Games), a member of the UK (passport), European (modern identity) and have lived in Bavaria/Germany for 25 years. Where's the problem? There isn't one.
Thursday's referendum looks like going to the wire. According to the opinion polls, roughly half of the voters in Scotland want to maintain their double Scottish/British identity; the other half want to be independent and take their destiny into their own hands. Both viewpoints are entirely understandable.
Much of the referendum debate has focused on economic issues, such as which currency an independent Scotland would use and whether it would be richer or poorer. But neither side has been able to deliver a knock-out blow on these subjects.
There are economic (and political) risks for Scotland both from staying in the UK and from going independent. But there is no reason to assume that either scenario would lead to disaster. So, as the referendum moves into the home straight, my guess is that gut feelings of identity will play a key role with undecided voters.
If I had to bet — something that Brits hate to do, of course — I would put my money on a victory for the "No" campaign: that is, those who want Scotland to stay as part of the UK. But I wouldn't be wagering a very large sum.
And whatever the result, as The Observer newspaper commented, the UK will never be the same again. At the very least, it will become a less centralized country with a more federal structure. And that is a thoroughly good thing.
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