I’m writing this from the international terminal at San Francisco Airport as I wait to board a flight to London, followed by a short regional connecting flight to Edinburgh. The fact that Edinburgh – the capital of Scotland, which would be the 14th wealthiest nation in the world if it was independent and wealthier per head than the remaining UK – is only accessible via a regional connecting flight says volumes about the country I am going to visit.
Scotland holds a special place in my heart. I grew up listening to her music, learning about her history, and going to the annual Scottish Games almost every year with my parents. In truth, only a bit over half my genealogy traces back to those northern reaches of Britain that the Romans never managed to conquer – like most Americans I measure my lineage in fractions. And I don’t particularly like the term Scottish American anyway. My family has been in the United States since before the Revolution and in California since before the Gold Rush; to claim any other nationality would be absurd. In terms of identity, I consider myself a Californian first and an American a distant second… but I still find pleasure in writing in “Celt” whenever a form asks me my ethnicity.
Incidentally, the parallels between California and Scotland are striking. Both have internal political ecosystems significantly to the left of the larger countries to which they are attached. The size ratios are similar too – California’s 30 million are about 10% of the USA’s roughly 300 million and Scotland’s 7 million are about 8% of the UK, but both are radically under-represented in the larger governments. Both also pay far more into national treasuries than they get back in spending and end up subsidizing their neighbors while elites use deficits as an excuse to cut programs that would help their poorest and most vulnerable. Meanwhile, both of them find themselves suffering from neglect as remote national political establishments who take them for granted (Democrats in the USA and Labor in the UK) cater to more conservative swing voters in distant regions. And while their export-oriented economies shore up the otherwise dismal balances of trade for the larger country, both are just different enough to draw derision from the people they are subsidizing. I know that for me at least spending time in the Midwest and South and listening to people talk about Californians was a revelation; and the anti-Scottish bigotry of many in the English political establishment is well documented.
I could keep listing indefinitely, the similarities between Caledonia and California run far deeper than you might at first expect.
There are differences as well of course – one being that Scotland is much older. They were an independent nation for centuries before the maneuvering of a corrupt feudal elite forced them into a political union with their larger more powerful neighbor to the south. The second being that Scotland has a real chance to be an independent nation and take charge of her own future again.
This Thursday, on my 34th birthday, Scottish voters will get a chance to vote for the first time ever on their union with England. The outcome is far from certain – current polls show the Yes and No camps in a dead heat with Yes having closed an almost 20 point gap in the last two months. But all the momentum is on the yes side and the final death of the British Empire may well be in the cards. I’ll be spending the next two weeks travelling around Scotland talking to activists on both sides and trying to understand what is happening and why. And, if fate is kind and the voters of Scotland can resist the scare tactics of the No campaign (commonly dubbed “Project Fear”), I’ll be celebrating my birthday in one of the worlds oldest and youngest Nations.