Scottish referendum brings relief to the U.K.
By Ian Coleman
Business administration sophomore Olwen Pierce-Smith closely watched the Sept. 18 Scottish referendum on independence because the results would have affected her visa in the U.S. and her desire to obtain dual nationality between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
The half-Scottish, half-Welsh student did not support the move for independence from the U.K., and more than half her country agreed. The BBC reported 55.3 percent voted against independence in a voter turnout of 84.59 percent.
“With Scotland going independent, there was talk of claiming Scottish nationality or dual nationality of Scotland and the United Kingdom,” Pierce-Smith said.
“The whole situation, from then, became increasingly complex. My sister, who is an American citizen, wanted to put in paperwork for me to stay here. So if I did dual nationality, U.K. and Scotland, I couldn’t have then applied for American nationality. So I would’ve had to opt for one or the other,” Pierce-Smith said.
When she was 11, her family moved to Harrogate, in the county of Yorkshire, from Manchester, England where she spent most of her childhood.
Her father’s side of the family is from Edinburgh, Scotland, and her mother’s side of the family is from Wales.
She said if she chose to claim her Scottish nationality, she would have to travel back to the United Kingdom, get her Scottish passport and reapply for a visa to the U.S.
“My soul wanted to tick the box and say be Scottish. But the realistic part of me said it was much better to remain with the U.K.,” she said.
She said the general consensus with her friends in Scotland and the U.K. is the U.K. government will make progress on devolution – transfer of power to a lower level of government — but not as fast as people think.
“We were watching for certain areas that we knew which way they would vote. Then when the no votes started to pull away, we were then like, OK, how many more do they need?” Pierce-Smith said. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done had it been a ‘yes’ vote.”
She plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin majoring in computer science and hopes to use her business administration and computer science degrees to enhance her career flexibility.
A brief history of the push and pull between Scotland and U.K.
According to an article in The Scotsman, “Scottish Independence: Timeline to Referendum,” in 1707, Scotland went bankrupt after trying to colonize Panama. That year, English and Scottish parliaments passed the Act of Union, joining the two countries and adjourning the Scottish parliament.
Since then, there have been three referendums for the electorate to vote on a single political question beginning with a 1979 referendum on devolution. Because of a controversial rule, the vote passed to the British Parliament, which repealed the previous year’s Scotland Act to create a devolved parliament.
Olwen Pierce-Smith, a business administration sophomore of Scottish-Welsh origin, said the 1979 referendum would have allowed for a governing body, much like the government of Texas in Austin, to control local affairs. But after an oil crisis caused an economic recession in 1973, the United Kingdom became cautious of giving too much power to Scotland because of its North Sea oil reserves.
“There was a worry that if too much power was given that the country would separate from the U.K.,” Pierce-Smith said.
The U.K.’s hesitation was not only about oil reserves, but also instability in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army, a terrorist group, continued attacks on the U.K. from 1969-1997. “It was really a pretty horrendous time,” Pierce-Smith said, making U.K. hesitant to give Scotland complete freedom.”
In a 1997 referendum, 74.3 percent of voters backed devolution. The Scottish Act of 1998 created a Scottish Parliament with control over domestic policy, including tax breaks, which enticed two of the U.K.’s largest banks, the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, into Scotland. Pierce-Smith said the programs in Scotland, such as health care and education, were not funded, as the Scottish Nationalist Party claimed, by the oil reserves or banks, but by the government in the U.K.
In a Herald Scotland article, oil and gas expert Sir Ian Wood said, “Nothing could be further from the truth than the nationalists’ insistence that there are 21 billion barrels in reserve in the North Sea.”
Wood said the Scottish government’s plan to pay its debt is based on the “unlikely scenario” of recovering 24 billion reserves.
“This is 3 billion barrels ahead of the maximum 12-21 billion latest estimate done by the U.K. government,” Wood said.
Pierce-Smith said issues, such as the worldwide recession in 2007 caused unemployment to rise in the U.K. and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were costing the U.K. both money and lives of soldiers.
“There was that weariness of we just don’t want to hear it anymore,” Pierce-Smith said. “What they were putting in the newspapers was ‘just let the bastards vote.’”