The first time pengovsky really went abroad (yearly summer migration to Croatia notwithstanding) was Scotland. Looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was, catching the last train from Prestwick to Glasgow on account of Ryanass flight being late and then walking alone in the middle of the night down the streets of Glasgow, map in hand and two backpacks on me, looking for a hostel which seemed pretty close on the map, but really wasn’t… Well, let’s just say I could have been an easy target. But instead this guy Ian came up to me, moderately inebriated, and asked me if I was lost. Since he was satisfied that I wasn’t, he proceeded to ask me where I was from. And upon hearing my country of origin, he broke into wild cheers of “SLOVENIA! ZAHOVIC!” and then decided my hostel of choice was “shite” and personally took me to “this other place”, which was cheaper and nearer. And sure enough it was. Run by Iggy Pop‘s long lost twin brother (or so it seemed), it was a shabby place which could only provide a mattress for the night, but since I was off to Edinburgh the next morning, it didn’t really matter. And I got a discount. But I digress. Point is, my first encounter with Scotland was bizarrely pleasant which is why the whole Scottish Independence Referendum Thing perks more than just my political sciences side.
In the words of John Oliver: Nothing screams Scottish freedom more than a millionaire Australian anti-Semite on horseback (source)
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, freedom has no price. That much should be taken for granted. And in a few hours you, the good people of Scotland, will decide. There is no wrong answer here. But living in a country that did in fact pull off a relatively smooth independence (especially when one takes into account the bloodbath that followed in ex-Yugoslavia), pengovsky feels he is in a position to give some qualified unsolicited advice, should tomorrow come to a “yes” vote.
First thing you will notice once the will of the people is enacted for real is the border. There hasn’t been a proper land border in your area for the last three hundred and seven years and I’m sure none of you remember how it was before then. And I can tell you it will be much more of a hassle than you ever imagined. Especially if you commute regularly from Scotland to England (or vice-versa, for that matter).
Now, I’m sure that should you vote in favour of independence, both countries will try to make border crossings as painless as possible. But some hassle is unavoidable. And whenever there’s a terrorist scare or even a problematic football match, borders tend to become much more tightly guarded. Really, if you’re not used to it, it’s not pretty. And since England or “rest of the UK“, as Whitehall apparently calls it, will probably join the EU Schengen border agreement on the Saint of Never, you’ll be pretty much stuck with that for the forseeable future. And just to give you an idea of how much that sucks: after Slovenia entered the Schengen system and we started thinking of our borders with Italy and Austria and most EU airports as glorified toll-booths, it came as a real shock to me when, visiting the US for the first time, I had to stand in line for two hours just to get past customs.
Second, and I sort of hate to bring this up since it is much too late in the game, is the legitimacy of your decision. Again, whatever you do decide is fine, but you might take a moment and a deep breath, because you’re not just fulfilling a dream of a generation(s) of Scots but also setting the environment for your children and your children’s children. And I was startled to learn that only a simple majority is required for a “yes” vote to win. In real life this means that in an eighty percent turnout, a fifty-one percent vote in favour of independence would actually mean that minority of Scots voted “yes”. Somehow, that don’t really fly, don’t you think?
You see, when Slovenia was putting together its rules for the independence referendum, the issue of a majority was a tricky one, too. Most of the right-wing wanted a simple majority rule, while most of the left-wing wanted a qualified majority of all eligible voters. The argument being that if you can’t trust your own people to support you, who can you trust, then. And the argument prevailed. Not only did more than half of Slovenians of voting age vote in favour of independence, the “yes” vote gathered as much as 88,5 percent support. Which is about as unanimous as you can get in a democracy. Henceforth legitimacy of Slovenian independence was not a question anymore. It was only a matter of convincing others of that fact and, well, executing it.
Because once you go for it, there’s a shitload of stuff that needs to be done. Take currency. I take it you’ve realised by now the English will not let you keep the pound. Which means you’ll have to issue your own and back it up. Now, having your own currency is expensive. Although it is probably even more expensive (as things stand now, at least) to adopt the euro, which you’ll have to do if you decide to join the EU. So that kind of sucks.
Next up it’s the constitution. You might think it is simply a matter of upgrading current legislation, but it is much more than that. With the constitution, everything is up for grabs. You can do what ever the fuck you like. But since I doubt Bonnie Prince Charlie has any legitimate successors and any claims to the Scottish throne will in all likelihood be fake, you’ll probably form a republic. Will you be a parliamentary republic or will you go for a more presidential system? Does the PM appoint ministers or does the parliament do it? You see, Slovenia was sort of in the rush when we adopted our constitution and just copy/pasted some silly German provision which haunts us every time a new government is being formed. So don’t make the same mistakes we did.
Then there’s the army. I know you guys have a long and proud military tradition and I know you want those nuclear missiles gone. But you’re not maintaining your army directly. And that’s one fucking expensive toy, I tell you. But you can’t really afford not to have an army. Sure, no-one expects Norwegian raiding parties to land on your shores, but you’re probably not want to throw away all those regiments or worse, give them to the English.
And trust me, there aren’t going to be any more jobs just because you got independent. Slovenia may be an extreme case since we lost about 90% of our market once Yugoslavia fell apart, but any way you look at it things are bound to go pretty bad pretty quick. And while patriotism may make you forget you’re hungry it won’t put bread on your table. Slovenians learned this the hard way. Looking back, in my opinion it was still worth it, but ours was an alternative of a Balkan carnage and/or an autocratic regime, so the choice wasn’t really hard.
As for you, Scotland, I’m in no position to judge. I just thought you might want some first hand experience from a country that gained its independence relatively recently.
Now go and do you your thing.
Related articles across the web
September 17th, 2014, posted by pengovsky