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By Babajide Alabi
It all started as a joke, when in mid 2000s Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister brought up again the idea of a Scottish Independence. Although this has always been Salmond’s desire, it was around this time that it really gained momentum. All over Scotland, it was a common knowledge that independence was the propelling “wind” behind Salmond’s existence. It was a badly kept secret of his.
However, this time around, not many of the opposition politicians made anw effort to hide their belly throttle laughter at the expense of Salmond. Many dismissed his plan as outrageous and as a desire of an arrogant and bullish politician desperate to carve an empire for himself.
Scottish people were encouraged to see Alex Salmond, though the First Minister, as a dreamer who needed a rude awakening to reality. This did not deter King Salmond, as some call him. He hung on to the dream and deftly sought the realisation of it. Give it to Mr Salmond, here was a man who did his homework pretty well.
To give momentum to the dream of an independent Scottish country 2007 witnessed the start of what the Scottish National Party (SNP) tagged National Conversation. The idea was to get the Scots talking and also work out the modalities towards achieving the independence.
At the end of 2007, the Scottish Holyrood Parliament kicked the ball rolling by creating a commission to oversee the realisation of this dream. After winning the 2011 election with a convincing majority, Mr Salmond and his co-SNP travellers promised the Scottish a referendum. All the rest were history.
This split the nation into two camps – the Yes in favour of referendum and the Nos against. Yet politicians at Westminster still did not regard the referendum as a threat to the central government. However, the realisation of an independent Scotland dawned on everybody in the country in the last two weeks when opinion polls ‘flickered’ and narrowed the gap between the YES and NO groups.
The Yes group moved so many steps up and almost closing in on the No to Independence campaign. Then there was panic. The politicians in Westminster had to make mad rush to Scotland to allay the fears of the Scottish people. And in the process, there were a lot of concessions that ordinarily would not have been given.
The UK Prime Minister David Cameron had to make a passionate and tearful appeal to the people of Scotland while playing on economic fears on why the union should stay.
Despite these, Alex Salmod did not waiver in his commitment to the cause of Scottish Independence.
He dismissed the Westminster campaign as scaremongering. But at the end of the day, the unionist won the election and Scotland stays in UK. It is a victory for Alex Salmond and the people of Scotland. The general large turn out and the forty six percent that voted YES have sent out notice that its no longer business as usual in Scotland. The vote has signaled a change. A change that I believe will be to the advantage of all.
The most impressive aspect of the referendum was the peaceful manner in which it was carried out. According to a commentator on Sky News, the people of Scotland demanded for their country, not by revolution or by war, but by democratic means. This was really commendable. The banter of ideas on TV, radio, newspapers, pubs, on public buses, trains etc was very encouraging. And if not for a few pockets of protests on the streets of Glasgow on Friday night it was all peaceful.
However as the debate on the referendum was going on, my mind was always on the Nigerian question. Could a successful referendum have taken place in Nigeria? Could a properly organised agitation for separation be achieved in Nigeria? Questions after questions. To be honest with ourselves, the question of whether Nigeria is better as one or broken is usually ruled by our emotions and not by reasoning. Therefore, it has to be stated categorically that Scotland is on a different level when compared with Nigeria. I have lived the two ‘worlds’
My first interaction with the United Kingdom at the turn of the millennium was Scotland. For the first five years of my stay in the United Kingdom, the Scots were my primary contacts. I lived with them, toured the cities, learnt how to understand and speak the accent, involved myself in their sports, education and social life. I saw the UK only through the eyes of a Scot. And within this period I learnt many things.
Coming to United Kingdom through the Scottish gates I have realised gives one a totally different look and feel of the United Kingdom. My first impression on arriving at Edinburgh was a totally different one I have read or told prior to my leaving Nigeria. The taxi ride to the city centre from the airport was a beauty in itself – peaceful and serene environment. Looking out through the taxi window, the cold winter breeze blew gently against my face as I struggle to keep the nose dry.
The Scots are really friendly lots who are always ready to go out of their ways to assist, especially when they realise you have come from a sunny, hot country to live there. They always argued that it was madness for Africans to leave the warm continent to live in the cold of Scotland.
It is the love of immigrants and the desire to populate the nation that at a time most asylum seekers were sent up north to Scotland to settle down. The scheme Fresh Talent was also introduced to encourage more student immigrants to settle down by getting a two year extension to work visa free in Scotland. I can imagine how immigrant-friendly an independent Scotland would have been.
In my interaction with Scots at work, in the University, my neighbourhood etc, there was a point I always get to realise, they do not have kind words towards the English as they do for other ethnic groups. I remember Barry, my Scot friend has as far back in 2001, was always going about the fact that Scotland needed to break away from the UK. To Barry, an aspiring teacher (at the time), there would be so many opportunities for people like him should go Scotland go its own way.
Over several pints of beer, Barry would propound many theories why his life and his family’s will be better off in a new Scotland. He cited the oil fields in Aberdeen as the financial pot for the United Kingdom. He logically or otherwise assumed that a Scottish independence will mean more money for the country.
Several years and especially during the recent campaign, all Barry’s and Salmond’s reasons were thrown overboard the Forth Bridge.
Published in Vanguard on September 20th, 2014