Jonathan Sher: Independent Scotland would have a better special relationship with US

This article originally appeared in Monday’s Herald and is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

The 11th-hour bid by the No camp to offer the possibility of new powers to Scotland absolutely does not include devolving powers over foreign, military and nuclear affairs.

Instead, Scottish voters have been threatened that independence will mean exclusion from the “Special Relationship” between Washington and Westminster. However, upon closer examination, being freed from that suffocating embrace would be a blessing.

As a New Scot from the United States who has moved from undecided to Yes, I understand that Scotland can develop a much fairer, mature relationship with Washington. Independence will create the opportunity to move beyond being the tail of the British dog that consistently follows the lead of the American alpha male.

The US satirical TV show Saturday Night Live featured a character called The Church Lady. Her hyper-pious, condescending response to other people’s views and actions was usually a withering “Well, isn’t that special?” – with “special” meaning awful, ill-informed or simply not in line with her preferences.

I heard the echo of The Church Lady in Resolution 713 tabled within the US House of Representatives. It invokes the “Special Relationship” between the US and UK and encourages continuing the status quo (while expressing “deep friendship toward the Scottish people” and “respecting the right of the Scottish people to make their decision” in the referendum).

On the one hand, it is perfectly reasonable for Washington to assert its own interests by continuing a relationship with Westminster it heavily dominates. On the other hand, it is just as reasonable for Scotland to pursue its own interests in what will inevitably remain a friendly set of connections with America. Profound family, historical, musical, academic and trading ties between my two nations provide a firm foundation upon which we can and will build.

The difference with independence is that our new relationship can become more mutually beneficial at the political level. Scotland is very likely to end up with far greater attention paid by Washington to what the Scottish Government and Scottish people actually want, need, believe and prefer.

While growing up, I wanted to hang out with my much bigger brother and his big friends. Chuck was kindly disposed to me and often allowed his wee brother to tag along. While I could express my opinions, they were never decisive. Inevitably, I ended up following whatever path the big boys chose. One of the joys of maturing and becoming independent was being able to create new connections with my big brother and his big friends on a more equal footing.

The transition from shadowing my brother to being (and being treated as) a real person in my own right – whose voice, vote and choices mattered – did not happen overnight. However, it ended up feeling liberating and brought benefits to all concerned.

Scotland, too, has the chance to escape its tag-along status in favour of a healthier partnership with Washington. AsSeptember 18 draws near, it is worth remembering that our decision about independence carries with it as many certainties as uncertainties. For instance, a No vote absolutely ensures that Scotland will remain subject to, and an afterthought within, the US/UK “Special Relationship”. The illusory “new powers” that might possibly be gifted to Scotland by Westminster, if we vote No, certainly do not include powers over military affairs, foreign policy, nuclear weapons or anything else agreed between Westminster and Washington.

Alistair Darling said “everything that makes sense to decide here” will be in Scotland’s hands, but this conspicuously did not include defence and other international matters “reserved” for Westminster. A majority of Scots may oppose whatever future foreign adventures and military conflicts the US and UK jointly undertake. But, without independence, we will still be dragged into the ones for which Scots have no appetite.

Post-independence, the personal, cultural, tourism and other business ties that bind America and Scotland will inevitably continue and grow stronger. But, it would be Scotland’s own relationship, not a second-hand one via Westminster. That is yet another good reason to vote Yes.

Jonathan Sher was a US citizen who chose to come and live and work in Scotland.  He assumed British citizenship to allow him to vote Yes in Scotland’s independence referendum. He is Scotland Director of WAVE Trust but writes here in a personal capacity.


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