From the Griffin’s Nest: Op-Ed on Post Referendum Possibilities

I was pleased to return last Friday to the pages of the Griffin newspaper, which, under the leadership of new Editor-in-Chief Jourdon LaBarber, has only grown in stature as a new power player in Western New York media.

News Editor Kevin Daley (full disclosure: a close friend of mine and fellow member of the Schuyler Colfax Thinking Club) reached out to me earlier last week to talk about running straight coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum.  Timing precluded this – the Griffin’s print deadline was just after midnight EST, and the referendum results were announced a few hours after that, about 6:30 UTC.  But, I managed to contribute an op-ed about the waning of the cynical Scotland (typified so brilliantly in Trainspotting) and the nascence of a new, politically engaged, hopeful, and forward-thinking populace, encompassing both the independence and the unionist vote.

Scots voted to stay in the union, of course, but my thesis didn’t depend on the outcome.  Almost a week later, I still hold that, while Americans have bankrupted “Hope” and “Change,” warped the words beyond recognition, Scotland has an opportunity to deliver on both camps’ promises, and work together to align policy, in a constituent nation of the United Kingdom only growing in its powers, with the values they share.

The University has (rightly) reigned in my regular posting, but you can count on further coverage as Scotland moves past the vote, and toward policy change and new powers.

From the op-ed:

Six years ago Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of Change (“I’ll be anything but”) and a platform of Hope  (“I promise”).  Today, if you’ll permit the simplification, one side of the country sneers at him and the other looks away in bitterness; the rest of us give up and play Sudoku; Hope and Change are like worried pennies worn faceless and worthless in our pockets from anxious thumbing.  I don’t blame Obama – sometimes it feels that we’re just too big, to spread-out, like a cold universe, to care or to do anything.

And that’s why living in Scotland has been so refreshing.  There’s anxiousness, of course, buckets of it; and there’s bitterness and hyperbole and tensions are strained.  But put down the newspapers, click Alex Salmond’s face off the telly, and look around: you see that there are two things tying Yes and No together: a common hot bloodstream of Hope, and a shared belief in the possibility of Change.

Each path has its challenges; each path has its burdens, each choice its share of pain.  But no matter what happens this morning, Scotland will be a different country – tomorrow, next week, next year.  There will be 5 million hands reaching out to shape it.  The Scots believe that now – they will believe it tomorrow, next week, next year.  Perhaps that’s a truth tonic enough to wake this world from its disbelief and its stupor.

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Edinburgh Turns Orange (And Purple, and a Little Bit Red-White-and-Blue)

Conservative “Orangemen” marchers add one more voice to the referendum debate

Half a block north of the west entrance of the Meadows park in Edinburgh, Scotland, three neon-vested parking officers sit at a table cluttered with radios and handheld printers, staring down into their smartphones.  Students and city workers come here, a small shop called Snax, for a few minutes of hot-roll and haggis bliss before a long working day – although for the parking officers, this day will be longer than any in recent memory, because today, Saturday the 13th of September, five days before the country votes for either independence or unity, 15,000 members of the East Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, along with friends from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, have gathered in Edinburgh to show their pride – for the Saltire and the Union Jack.

At twenty minutes to 11 on Saturday morning, 26 buses from all over Great Britain have queued at the Meadows’ entrance, to park closer to the walk’s endpoint on Regent Road below Calton Hill.  They’ve emptied out pipers, drummers, banner-boys and accordionists from 110 lodge bands of the Loyal Orange Institution in Scotland and several thousand sympathetic spectators, all clad in military regalia, orange sashes, dress blues or dandified two-piece Union Jack suits.  Several women wander the park in Queen Elizabeth-style bonnets, carrying homemade crowns on top of shrink-wrapped Bibles.  A man on the bandstand intones patriotic and religious soundbytes, and recites Psalm 118, accidentally eschewing the Anglican King James translation for the New International Version: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  In less than half an hour, the 15,000-person crowd will proceed through Edinburgh’s busiest streets, past its most venerable institutions, to finish just past the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, in the most vocal demonstration in support of the union to date.

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Pictures from the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland’s March Through Edinburgh

At eleven this morning, 15,000 members and friends of the Grand Orange Lodges marched through Edinburgh, Scotland.  The move was out of season – July is the peak month for Orange marches, which have been controversial in recent decades for taking routes through Catholic neighborhoods, and turning violent.  In an unusual but not unanticipated move, the Orangemen organized a march in protest of the Scottish independence referendum, which will take place next Thursday, 18 Sept.  This march was peaceable, but the tension was palpable.  Mainstream activists and politicians on both sides of the debate stayed far away from this one.  No contingent from the unionist Better Together group showed up, and there wasn’t a republican in sight – unless Alex Salmond was sneaking around in disguise.

Check out these pictures for now, and expect a story later tonight.

Aye, Nay, and Devo-Max: Growing Pains and the Scottish Independence Referendum

I’ve not been able to update my blog since I landed in Edinburgh on Saturday, being too busy dancing Ceilidhs, downing pints, visiting Tom Riddle’s grave, and decorating my flat.  I have several backlogged posts from Germany to put up, so keep a vigilant eye on my RSS feed for posts on Dortmund pilsners and a day trip to Köln.  But in Edinburgh at least, everything seems eclipsed by the Scottish independence referendum.

Thursday, 18 Sept., Scots will vote on whether to split from the UK, a controversy that reaches down to the very mechanism of the referendum: Scots who live abroad will not be able to vote (like the vocally ‘No’ former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson), while 16 year old Scottish residents will be able to cast their ballot.

From the highlands to the lowlands, a stimulated sense of Anglo-Scottish history is colliding with the wave of nationalism currently sweeping across Europe; Thursday’s vote will be an emotional one, something Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, of the Scottish National Party, was likely relying upon in his push to lower the voting age.  In Edinburgh, from the Royal Mile to the airport’s arrival gate, you can’t escape the low murmurs: the polls have changed again; the ‘Yes’ votes leads for the first time, by a slim margin.

Walking around Scotland, locals and newcomers alike will notice the ‘Yes’ vote’s footprint first: you can find at least of their modest ‘Yes’ window signs on every block.  The ‘No’ vote is less vocal, which should come as little surprise – one can’t exactly wave a flag to the tune of “I’m-proud-of Scotland-but-given-the-uncertainties-of-an-independent-state-and-semi-divested-economy-as-well-as-a-dual-national-identity-I-can’t-in-good-conscience-vote-for-a-split” – which seems to be the tune most ‘No’ voters are singing, quietly, to themselves.  To put it more simply, I talked with a priest this afternoon who said, “I’d like to vote ‘Yes’, but I don’t think I can.”

As for the polls, savvy Scotts scoff: as my first Edinburgh cab driver said, “Have you ever actually met anyone who was polled?  Course they take polls: everyone in the office, hands up if you want to split: lookit that, ‘Yes’ gains three points.  There’s your news of the day.”

So, Scotland’s future won’t get any clearer until Thursday’s votes are counted – and no matter what way it all shakes out, there will be a great deal of uncertainty for some time to come.  To address some of those issues, the University of Edinburgh on Monday night hosted a referendum debate, as part of Fresher’s Week – a brief, two hour break from the dancing and the drinking.  The Teviot Row Debate Hall was packed – standing room only – as four partisans tapped their fingers at two tables on the stage.

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