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.


Guest post: An American explains.. I became a UK citizen to vote Yes

To mark American Independence Day, I’m posting an article from a friend and colleague, Dr Jonathan Sher. The article originally appeared in the Herald which has another great piece from him today. His is a lovely journey to yes and one that makes me smile, at the extraordinary lengths Jonathan has gone to, to participate in our referendum in September.

Americans have form on the issue of declaring independence from the “powers that be” in London.

Despite this, it is not surprising that America’s leaders support the status quo in the UK. They are content with Washington’s dominance of the “special relationship”. Scotland’s best interests are not their priority.

But they have become mine.

While I voted for President Obama, I am going to cast my vote for Scottish independence. In fact, I have become a British citizen to vote Yes. The journey to this decision has surprised even me.

When I moved to Scotland in 2005, I was undecided. Each side has valid points and arguments. I was, and remain, deeply distrustful of nationalism. It has often been used to excuse the inexcusable: racism, xenophobia, dictatorships and violence. However, such abhorrent nationalism has been conspicuously absent among mainstream Yes supporters. Originally, I thought Scottish devolution would transform into a federal UK. Understanding how deeply entrenched the UK’s power and money are in London, this outcome no longer seems feasible.

So, what led to me withdrawing £900 from my (meagre) savings to become one of the millions of Scots with the privilege of voting in September’s referendum?

First, it matters to me that Scottish votes and voices make a difference in what our government does (and does not do) to, for and with us. Secondly, the direction of travel within Scotland towards a more Nordic, egalitarian society has much more appeal than England’s rightward drift toward the American model of inequality with which I am all too familiar.

Scotland’s long-standing inclination towards fairness and progressive politics is part of what attracted me here. For example, Scotland is explicitly beginning to include children’s rights in legislation, policy and practice. That speaks powerfully to me since America is one of only two countries (along with Somalia) rejecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our Children’s Hearings are not perfect but this distinctive Scottish system remains a far better model than the alternatives south of the Border or in the US. Similarly, Scotland’s current determination to improve the NHS, rather than dismantle it, makes good sense.

The impulse toward self-determination is strong everywhere but Scotland has the rare opportunity, with Westminster’s agreement, to achieve a democratic ideal through a fair, non-violent voting process.

Enjoying true self-determination and becoming an increasingly progressive society seem an unlikely outcome if Scotland remains within the UK. Westminster has long bowed reflexively in favour of Washington’s wishes and keeps moving toward a more American society, even when doing so clashes with Scotland’s preferences and interests.

America has numerous wonderful qualities but it is not the model to which Scotland should aspire. Voting Yes opens the door for us to make a different set of choices than Westminster (or Washington) are likely to choose for us. It will enable Scotland consciously and confidently to travel in a fairer, more compassionate and positive direction. The referendum is our opportunity to show the world that we can, and will, turn our inspirational egalitarian rhetoric into reality so that this country can become “the best place to grow up in”.

We can awaken on September 19 to the hard but wonderful work of building an ever-better Scotland. On that happy day, we should take Margo Macdonald’s advice to heart and, with the eyes of the world upon us, put aside the passions of the referendum and act co-operatively to enhance all that unites us as Scots.

Of course, there are uncertainties. But we should remember that America started with a Declaration of Independence, not a guaranteed-to-succeed business plan.

Similarly, Dr Martin Luther King rallied the world with “I have a dream”, not “I have a blueprint”. These are the American precedents that have, to my surprise, ‘Yanked’ me into voting Yes.

Dr Sher is Scotland director of WAVE Trust. He writes in a personal capacity.