On 18 September some hundred Somerville alumni will vote on whether Scotland should become an independent country. There is a range of opinions among College alumni over whether Scotland should leave the 307-year union of the United Kingdom. In recent weeks, polls have shown a remarkably tight race, with an exceptionally high level of voter registration. We wanted, therefore, to represent some of those opinions here, by asking Scottish alumni to give us their reasons for voting yes or no. Somerville College itself was named after a Scottish science writer and intellectual who was born in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, grew up in Burntisland, Fife, and studied art in Edinburgh; all the more reason not to allow this historic event to pass unremarked.
Below are the views of several alumni who have been kind enough to respond.
I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ but I wasn’t always a ‘yes.’ Living with a Scot for 13 years and living in Scotland for five of those has been enough to convince me that Scotland is not just a region of the UK, but a country with its own distinctive character which deserves to decide its own affairs to a far greater extent.
The ‘Yes’ campaign is a broad church, not a Salmond fan club – ‘Radical Independence’, the Scottish Greens, ‘Labour for Independence’, ‘Women for Independence’ and ‘English Scots for Yes’ are all involved. This has been a campaign of mass engagement – in cafés, pubs, work canteens and on the bus people are talking about politics and what sort of society they want to live in. It is not nationalism but devolved powers and the chance for a new social contract that most appeals.
Contrary to media reports, the campaign has been remarkably calm and well-reasoned, given what is at stake. It’s tremendous that 97% of those eligible to vote have registered. Whatever the result, it’s been a privilege to witness this process and I hope to call Scotland ‘home’ for years to come.
Helen Rice (PPE 1995), researcher, Renfrewshire
I shall be voting ‘No’ because that I feel that being a part of a united group of countries (albeit countries with very different systems and values) is the rational, sensible decision, but I do understand those people (many of my friends included) who will be voting ‘Yes’. Like most people I know, I would definitely have voted for greater devolution if David Cameron had allowed that as a third option on the ballot paper. The devolution we already have has worked really well and allowed Scots to alter some things to suit our own needs, values and priorities. It is my experience that it is not that the Scots don’t like the English or want to cut themselves off from the rest of the UK peoples, but they do feel that Westminster is very remote and doesn’t understand Scotland. The sudden (panic?) promises in this last week of more devolution if we vote ‘No’ have rather confirmed that view. One thing I would like to stress is the almost complete lack of animosity between Scots with differing voting intentions. We have all remained friends, at all levels. I just hope and pray that this will continue if the vote is as close as it looks likely to be, whichever way it goes.
Judith Goldfinch (1964, Mathematics), retired university lecturer
I will be voting ‘No’ on Thursday. I am not a risk taker and I like to make decisions based on facts, not hopes. We can all hope for a better society, but a major constitutional change from which there is no going back cannot be based on the gamble that major decisions in which we will not have the final say (like having a currency union and retaining the head offices of major financial service providers) will be in our favour. Alex Salmond and his supporters might have some worthy aspirations, but whether they are achievable is at best uncertain, and to respond to every proposed threat to independence as being scaremongering or bluffing inspires no confidence at all. What about a considered and balanced response? Worryingly, many people seem willing to vote ‘Yes’ with the view that we won’t know if we don’t try. We won’t know what it would be like to jump off a cliff either, but most people would be unlikely to risk it! Unfortunately, whatever the outcome, it seems that half the country will be happy and the other sad – and previously unknown divisions between friends and neighbours will be difficult to forget.
(Published on condition of anonymity), St Andrews, Fife
The question posed on Thursday’s ballot is a simple one: should Scotland be an independent country? I will vote ‘Yes’. I will do so because I believe that the principle of self-government is a good one; that a nation should be responsible for electing its own governments, which should in turn be responsible to the people who elect them. But I will do so with regret, because I value much of what the union between Scotland and England has brought about, through the closer personal and institutional associations it has enabled for the peoples of this island. Ironically, the Union (whose tercentenary in 2007 passed in stunning silence) has been more cherished, in the past, in Scotland than in its larger, more populous neighbour, where it has been too easy to think of Britain as synonymous with England. Only in the last few weeks, as that Union appears to be poised on the brink of dissolution has it become the object of much southern interest – too little, necessarily too superficial, and perhaps, now, too late. Many people regard with dismay the apparent drift of the United Kingdom toward the condition of an oligarchical state whose citizens are distracted – or disaffected – by a hysterical media politics of xenophobia and scapegoating. In Scotland, the referendum gives us a chance to make a better politics, and a better nation.
Lorna Hutson (1976, English), Berry Professor of English Literature, University of St Andrews, Fife
I shall vote ‘No’ for various reasons. Although the ‘No’ campaign has been negative, it was bound to be so, as three parties at Westminster cannot speak with one voice on what they can offer (though they have come nearer to doing so than ever before on any issue!) and the main argument (correctly) is over what Scotland will lose with independence, not what it should be offered to remain British. I am aware that Wales would feel very bitter at Scotland getting such bribes. The ‘Yes’ campaign has not done its economic homework – its sums simply don’t add up – and the prospect of losing shipyard work for the Royal Navy, plus the prospect of many businesses, especially financial ones, moving south, is depressing. The EU and IMF and NATO must all be very negative in their attitude to an independent Scotland. Representing as I do an academic family, I fear the prospect also of Scottish universities and their research projects cut off from their partners elsewhere in UK. Many of the voters, especially the 16-year-olds allowed to vote on this one occasion, lack a real understanding of politics and the issues at stake. Most of all, I feel there is a moral issue. Compared with, for example, the Kurds, Palestinians and minorities in other countries, Scotland is NOT a victim in any sense, and this struggle is damaging not just to Scotland but to the rest of the UK also. In the current world unrest, especially in the Near East, Britain has an important part to play and a voice that is respected in the UN; the energy that is being spent on the Referendum ought to be spent on finding a solution for those problems which are desperate and costing lives.
Katie Thomson (1970, Classics), retired teacher of Classics, Killearn, Stirling
My husband and I have already cast a postal ‘No’ vote. He is a Scot; I am English in origin. We both feel that the Union has been most valuable for Scotland and will continue to be so. It is to be hoped that the result will not engender more of the bitterness that has already been disgracefully displayed in the campaign.
Lady Margaret Elliot (1945, Lit Hum), Edinburgh
The Independence Referendum, now two days away, has certainly become an overarching concern to us. I am English and spent my working life in Oxford which is where I met my Scottish husband. Our holidays were always spent in Scotland for which I have developed a great affection. We have lived happily in Gairloch (north west Scotland) since our retirement.
I strongly support the Union. The Independence campaign has whipped up a disturbing nationalistic feeling, playing down the undoubted problems of separation and tempting supporters with empty promises and downright fibs.
Gairloch is quiet on the surface but this may hide deep divisions. There are quite a few ‘Yes’ posters around, fewer ‘No ‘. Our own ‘No, thanks’ poster was turned round in the night by persons unknown. The Better Together (‘No’) campaign is much the more polite – and more logical. I fervently hope it prevails.
Hilary Brown (1954, Zoology), retired Physiologist, Gairloch, Ross & Cromarty
I have a postal vote, and I voted ‘Yes’ as soon as the ballot papers arrived. This was rather too early, because the game has recently changed. Like many Scots, I wanted ‘Devo Max’ rather than total independence, but Cameron refused to allow that as a third option. He probably thought that if the choice was either independence or the status quo, the latter would win. When the polls showed that ‘Yes’ might win, Cameron changed his tune and promised that a No vote would bring further devolution. Other Unionist leaders agreed – perhaps too late! I don’t expect them to offer much.
Helen Ross, Honorary Reader in Psychology, University of Stirling
Scottish citizens across the country are debating their future passionately and (for the most part) respectfully. We have a really engaged civic society that cares deeply about this country. I see independence as a repeal of the 1707 Act of Union, not wilful separatism. Although the call for independence is partly a revolt against the Westminster establishment and over-centralisation (cf. the BBC weather forecasts which routinely say ‘And finally, to Scotland’), for me the compelling reason to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum is the power to build a better Scotland, nuclear-free, fairer to all its people, and confidently co-operating with other nations in the cause of justice and peace.
Alison Peden (White 1971), priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, Callander, Stirling
I have lived in Fife for the last 26 years. I am voting ‘no’ because, although the idea of freedom from Anglo-centric Westminster policies is very tempting, I think the risks of inadequately thought-out independence are too great.
Irene Anderson, retired social worker, Fife
Gordon Brown is our MP for Kirkcaldy and my views on it are influenced by his, although my gut feeling was already with the Better Together side. The chief reason for a ‘No’ vote is the practical one, that the pooling and sharing of resources from general taxation and National Insurance gives citizens of each nation exactly the same benefits and rights to pensions, healthcare and basic employment, with resources being allocated at the point of greatest need. Another good reason is that the UK has much more influence on the international scene than a separated Scotland and England would have. Frances Walsh’s extended family are also all voting No!
Jane Khin Zaw OCD, Carmelite nun, Dysart, Kirkcaldy, Fife
And, finally, we wanted to include the view of a Scot ineligible to vote due to residing elsewhere in the UK:
I spent the majority of the years 7 – 16 in different parts of Scotland: Ayr, Edinburgh, Fort George. When I wasn’t physically in Scotland, I was in the cocoon of a Scottish regiment with its unique blend of dourness and romanticism, bloody-mindedness and intense loyalty.
I felt more Scottish than the Scotch. I loved their history, their poetry, their songs and their dances. I encouraged our daughter to go the St Andrews University, which she loved from the word go. But break up the Union? It’s crazy. Is France to devolve the Dukedoms of Brittany, Burgundy, Aquitaine and Lorraine? Is Italy to revert to a collection of squabbling city states?
I moved to Carmarthenshire after 9 years in the Loire Valley, where the ‘golden thread’ (or Auld Alliance) is alive and well.
But I also remember Jose Carreras being asked by Melvyn Bragg on The South Bank Show what he felt about the Catalan question.
“The more Catalan they will let me be”, he replied, “the more Spanish I will feel”.
Wake up the yes men.
Patricia Smyly (1961, History), author and former horse trainer, Carmarthenshire, Wales