The intense loyalty of those Scots reminds me of a story I read in the Reader’s Digest many years ago. On a military base, somewhere out there, in the vast expanse of the British Empire, the chaplain asked one of the soldiers to repaint the front of the base’s chapel. The chaplain did a double take the following morning, though, when he arrived at the chapel and saw the slogan the helpful soldier had painted over the entrance: SCOTLAND FOREVER! On one hand, he didn’t want to appear to ungrateful for the help, but, as he told the lad when he summoned him, “Couldn’t you think of something a little more religious to put there, young man?”
The private, upon reflection, agreed, and promised to rectify the situation. After lunch, he proudly called the cleric to come and inspect the correction. The chaplain realized too late that “religious” means different things to different people when he saw the new slogan: SCOTLAND FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN!
Millions of Scots voted yesterday to see if that, indeed, is what they wanted. When the Scotland Referendum was announced, many dismissed it as nothing more than an exercise for provincialists to “get it out of their blood,” somewhat like the Quebecois in Canada a few years ago. After all, it’s been two years since the Olympics in London and folks had nothing else to do.
How did the countries get to be merged in the first place?
It wasn’t a conquest that did it, despite those bloody images from Hollywood movies like Braveheart. Rather, it was that quaint European tradition called… marriage.
To us who grew up with the notion that democracy is the default (and best) way to govern a country, it appears that the monarchs of Europe viewed their countries rather much like farms, which they owned and passed on, through inheritance, to the oldest son. Just like with farms, you had the option of adding to your real estate holdings the expensive way (war and conquest) or the more economical way: simply inheriting them. Naturally, the lower cost and less fuss of inheriting made this the preferred approach by most kings / farm owners. Therefore, who married whom was a big deal back then: why marry for love when you can marry for more real estate?
You may have heard of Henry VIII, king of England. Well, he had a sister who married the king of Scotland. Their kids were (obviously) first in line to succeed the Scottish throne. However, they were also somewhere in the line of succession to the throne (farmstead) of England. Through a combination of politics, intrigue and murder, it so happened that James VI inherited Scotland in 1568, when he was barely one year old.
South of the border, his aunt, Queen Elizabeth I of England (Henry VIII’s daughter) remained unmarried and therefore looked to die heirless. The laws of succession were such that Scotland’s King James VI would indeed become eligible to succeed his aunt Elizabeth as king of England as well. That would get him a bigger farm than his own without even having to marry someone he didn’t like. So, he did what all young kids do when they know there’s a juicy inheritance at stake: he was very nice to his aunt, to make sure she didn’t cut him out of the will.
And so, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. (Kind of difficult to be James VI there, when there weren’t any other Jameses before you). And so, through King James, Scotland actually acquired England — something few people know today. It’s like when America West Airlines took over U.S. Air, and now is taking over American Airlines: the minnow swallowed the whale.
You would think that Scotland, having in essence taken over England, would be the senior partner in the union.
You would be wrong.
Being king of two realms, James faced a dilemma: where will he live? No offense to the Scots, but it appears the English royalty had much nicer palaces and (relatively speaking, of course) better weather. So he packed up his stuff and moved to England, introducing himself as the King of England at every party with strangers.
It’s easy to understand why so many Scots have an inferiority complex: who wouldn’t when your king takes the first opportunity to hightail it out of your country?
Naturally, James VI and I (as he came to be called) attempted to unify the two countries but, politics and national feelings being what they are, he never succeeded. He died in 1625, after several notable achievements, among them establishing Protestantism, and commissioning an English translation of the Bible so every person could have one. That Bible is, not surprisingly, called the King James Version, and is still with us — the best selling book of all time. He also inherited Ireland, becoming the first farm owner to own all the elements of the British Isles, and sanctioned the founding of the American colonies.
For a hundred years, the two realms lurched along, stumbling from crisis to crisis, complete with treachery, intrigue and unlikely marriages, until Queen Anne took both thrones in 1702. She knocked some heads together and got the two countries to unite formally in 1707 into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Ireland was not included, even though the inheritance thing meant Anne was their queen as well. It’s been exactly 307 years since then. For perspective, the American colonies are not much older than that.
How would you feel? Your nation takes over a bigger nation and your leader and his progeny all abandon you and call that other nation their home. All you’re good for is a source of money so they can party harder, and a place to stay when they want to get away from it all. You’ll want to throw off that yoke of bondage, too, and take your queen back to where she came from.
Well, nothing in life is ever that simple. In the beginning, everybody came out ahead with the union, until the economy sank into a deep depression after World War I, and 10% of Scotland’s population emigrated. World War 2 brought a brief blip of prosperity, but the country soon sank back into economic despair when the war ended.
Until oil was discovered in the North Sea in the seventies, right at the time of the OPEC oil shenanigans. That brought in a lot of money, which England (famous for appropriating other countries’ resources) naturally took.
Ahhh… money. Scots are as well-known for their penury as for their whisky and golf. In fact, legend has it golf is so agonizing because that’s the system Scots devised to determine who pays for the drinks. Here’s a revealing chart which seems to show one of the biggest motivations behind the surge in Scottish separatism:
It’s no coincidence that the popularity of the SNP (Scottish National Party) took off around the same time, propelling them from a non-factor to the party in charge of Scotland today, and the party who orchestrated yesterday’s referendum.
The Scotland Referendum
Just like the South in America has always had an undercurrent of Confederate sympathizers, complete with miniature Confederate battle flags in the windows of their homes and pickup trucks, Scotland has always been known partly as a craggy country with craggy people who swear allegiance to Scotland first, like in the story above.
To them, the Scotland referendum couldn’t come quickly enough, and yesterday was the big day. Is it a coincidence that Queen Elizabeth II spent the day in Balmoral, her Scottish castle? Was she checking it out to see how it would feel as her new main home? Oh wait, it’s not at all clear that Scotland would have wanted her back. Wasn’t it her predecessor who turned his back on them? So, on second thoughts, maybe she was there with her English servants, counting all the thingies she would have to ship back to England.
Wouldn’t it have been ironic if Elizabeth I caused England to fall to the Scots, and Elizabeth II presided over the split? That’s right, those are the only two Queen Elizabeths the British ever had.
It’s easy, then, to imagine Her Majesty’s sigh of relief when the votes were tallied and 55% of Scottish voters said, what the heck, let’s stay together. There can be no doubts: 85% of all registered voters cast their ballots, a record turnout. QE2 gets to keep her Buckingham townhouse as well as her Balmoral hunting lodge — whew! What a relief this must be for the poor monarch (and yes, she indeed is poor, but that’s a story for another day).
Unlike poor Queen Elizabeth, you have control over whether you keep your money or say good-bye to it through sky-high insurance premiums. Grant and his team shops around for you to find you the best deal in town. Do you really have the best insurance deal in town? No need for a referendum: just give Grant a call and let his team find out for you.