Scotland’s referendum

A victory of head over heart

On September 18, in what has been called an impressive exercise in democracy thanks to high voter turnout, residents of Scotland aged 16 and over rejected separation from the rest of the United Kingdom (UK). The margin of victory for the “Better Together” campaign, slightly over 10 percent, was more decisive than expected.

In the days leading up to the referendum, polls suggested the vote was too close to call and the British government showed signs of panic, with Prime Minister David Cameron offering greater powers to Scotland if it rejected separation, powers he had initially refused to consider.

North Americans often seem confused about the relationship between the constituent nations of the UK. England, Wales and Scotland comprise Great Britain. Together with Northern Ireland they form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (The Republic of Ireland to the south broke away from British rule in 1922.) A frequent irritant for non-English citizens of the UK is when England is equated with Britain and the queen is referred to as Queen of England.

The Scottish referendum took place 700 hundred years after Robert the Bruce completed the task begun by William Wallace of Braveheart fame and led an outnumbered army of Scots to victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, so winning freedom from an oppressive English domination. A more peaceable relationship developed in subsequent centuries, and in 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland (which was under English control). In 1707 the parliaments of Scotland and England (then including Wales) merged, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Scots in general see themselves as Scottish first and British second. There has always been an independence movement and it gained strength in the latter part of the 20th century with the growing conviction that the discovery of North Sea oil finally made it feasible to go it alone. Scotland also sees itself as being more socially progressive than its larger neighbour to the south.

Road to referendum
In 1996 a significant development took place with the return to Scotland of the Stone of Scone (or Destiny) on which Scottish kings had been crowned. King Edward I of England had captured the stone in 1296 and taken it back to England, where it was fitted into a wooden chair in Westminster Abbey. Further attempts by the British parliament to appease growing nationalist sentiment in Scotland led in 1999 to the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament, with limited powers.

Rather than dampening the independence movement, these gestures fuelled it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) came to power for the first time in 2007, gaining an outright majority in 2011. Two years later it gained royal assent for a referendum on separation to take place this year. British, Commonwealth and European Union citizens living in Scotland were permitted to vote, but Scots living elsewhere in the UK or abroad were not.

Both sides looked to Canada’s province of Quebec as an example of what not to do. One result of studying Quebec’s referendum history was the articulation of a straightforward question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Reporters frequently commented on the cordial nature of debate. The ability of the “yes” side to attract immigrants was also noted.

Canada’s Prime Minister opined recently that “from a Canadian perspective . . . a strong, united United Kingdom is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world.” However, what that will look like in the future remains uncertain. With greater powers having been offered to Scotland, Cameron has now made similar commitments to the other parts of the UK. But with a general election only eight months away and considerable dissent within his own Conservative party, it is an open question whether any of these promises will be realized.

For some, the referendum results were a source of relief, for others of heartbreak, and for many more, a victory of head over heart. Meanwhile, Christian Scots at home and abroad are reminded that our ultimate loyalty is not to any earthly power or monarch, but to the kingdom of God comprising people from every nation, tribe, people and language.


  • J. Cameron Fraser

    Cameron was born in Zimbabwe and grew up mostly in Scotland. He has served as a pastor and a stated clerk in Classis Alberta South and Saskatchewan of the Christian Reformed Church. He now concentrates on writing and editing, with occasional preaching. His latest book is "Learning From Lord Mackay: Life and Work in Two Kingdoms".

You just read something for free. How can a small Canadian publication offer quality, award-winning content online with no paywall?

Because of the generosity of readers like you.

Be our


Just think about Vincent van Gogh, who only sold one painting in his lifetime. How did he keep going? Because of the support of his brother, Theo. And now over 900 exceptional Vincent van Gogh paintings are famous worldwide.

You can be our Theo.

As you read this, we’re hard at work on new content. Like Vincent, we’re trying to create something unique. Hope-filled, independent journalism feels just as urgent and just as unlikely as van Gogh’s bold brushstrokes. We need readers like you who believe in this work, and who provide us with the resources to do it. Enable us to pursue stories of renewal:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *