What if Scotland became independent?

Scotland - England Border

Scotland - England Border by monkeyatlarge on Twitter

What if Scotland became independent?With Salmond and Cameron fighting over the referendum on Scottish independence, the possibility of the two countries separating has never seemed so real. Now more than ever, one question is left to answer, if it was the case, what would happen?

“We need to hold a referendum on Scottish independence as soon as possible”. It was not Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, who said those words, but the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. He announced a few weeks ago that he intended to hold a referendum in 2012, going against the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) plans to do it in 2014 or 2015. The SNP and the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in London are since then at odds over the timing of a referendum on i n dependence , what questions should be included in the ballot and who should be allowed to vote.

Scottish independence is a complex matter. It has been 305 years since Scotland and England signed the Act of Union Treaty, yet it has never seemed more likely that the two countries will separate. A recent YouGov poll showed that while 61% of the Scots where opposing independence, 39% were in favour of it. It might not seem like much, but it is a rise of 10 points in ten years. In Scotland, the SNP is hoping for more and more people to join the cause if they wait until 2014 to hold any referendum. Meanwhile in London, Westminster strategy is taking the opposite road, with Cameron insisting on holding a referendum as soon as possible. “Let’s get this over with, so we can maintain our country’s cohesion” he declared last week in the Touse of Commons.

Though David Cameron and Alex Salmond are expected to meet next week to talk about those issues, the ongoing battle is unlikely to find an answer soon. The media have been focusing on the issue of the referendum, but a greater question remains: what will happen if Scotland becomes independent ? Here are some answers on what might happen if the country decided to break the Union Treaty.

1 – What will happen to the Scottish economy?

Scotland’s economy has performed well in recent years, with consistent economic growth, a growing  population and relatively low unemployment rates. Edinburg is the fifth European financial centre and Scottish GDP per capita is the largest of any part of the United Kingdom af ter London. Opponents of independence argue that Scotland is economically stronger as a part of the UK economy. On the other hand, pro independence partisans are arguing that if countries such as Malta, Norway or Denmark can be prosperous, so could Scotland. Especially since the land posses oil and gas: according to the UK government, only half of the reserves of oil in the North Sea have been extracted so far, which means that there is still enough to support a population of just five million people.

Yet, the biggest issue an independent Scotland would face is money. It is now receiving money from the British government, and if Scots were to quit the United Kingdom, pro-unionists argue that the country would have a huge deficit between 6 billion and 11 billion pounds. But the main choice Scottish people would have to make is about keeping the British Pound, introduce the Euro, or create their own currency. Helped by the strong anti-EU feelings of British people, Westminster is explaining that Scotland would have to reapply to the European Union. Worse, the count ry would be forced to join the Eurozone, which is undergoing its biggest crisis ever. Alex Salmond argues that Scots could choose to keep the pound, but opponents are explaining that if it was to happen Scotland would have no power over the Bank of England.

2 – What about the role of Scotland on the international scene?

As the British newspaper The Independent points out in an online article, “many English people perceive Scots as as nation of sponging whingers”. Using that argument, the SNP argues that the relationship between the UK and Scotland would change very little and might even improve. The newspaper adds that “Independence would force Scots to stop blaming the English for all their ills and put a stop to southern resentment at « carrying » Scotland”. Also, « culturally, there would be little change as the Queen would remain as monarch, just as she does in other members of the Commonwealth, while Scotland has always had its own legal, educational and religious institutions ».

But for most, the future of an independent Scotland is firmly tied to the European Union. They argue that, as a member state of the EU, Scotland would have a bigger role in international affairs than now. Unionists warned that an independent Scotland might not be able to join the EU, but it seems very unlikely to happen. Overall, all agree on the fact that many countries share overseas embassies and there is no reason why Scotland and England couldn’t continue toco-operate.

3 – What would happen to the rest of the UK?

With only 5 million people, Scotland accounts for only 8% of the UK total population. England will always be the dominant force in the British Isles, but as The Independent explains, “without Scots revenues, it will have to adjust to a diminished role on the world stage”. The newspaper adds that it would mean having to find a new base for the Trident fleet, currently located in Scotland. The SNP has already said that it would remove it, and that it would prevent Scottish troops taking part in any future illegal wars. On their website, the independence advocates explains that “Scotland would continue to have a conventional military defence that would work alongside English forces in the mutual defence of the British Isles”.

But what British leaders fear the most is that other areas follow the Scottish example if it is a success. « It could hasten calls for Wales or Northern Ireland to seek self-determination of their own. » And what would bethe United Kingdom without Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? Just England.

Fabien Jannic

Michel, the melancholy, and Lara Fabian

Portrait.  In one of my class we were asked to reveal the secret of one of our classmates. Here his what  Michel was hiding.  

Michel Serra is a sensitive man. You might not guess it at first sight, since he is a relaxed masculine guy from southern France. Interesting and easy to talk to, he has this chanting accent that only people from Marseille have when they speak. Chatting with him, you would think that he is the type of guy who likes to play football and drink beer at the weekend with his buddies on weekends. But when asked about his musical tastes he gives an answer you would not be expecting. «I’m a really big fan of Lara Fabian» he says without a hint of irony. He makes a pause, blushing a little, giving me some time to digest what he just said. Fabian is a Belgian pop singer who used to be huge in the 90’s. She mostly sings ballads and love songs. Not what you would expect Michel to listen to.

Born in Sofia (Bulgaria) and raised in Aubagne in Southern France, Michel got into Lara Fabian’s music when he was 11-years-old. And surprisingly enough he did not like it at all at first. «I hated it. I only listened to her because of one of my friend. She and I had what we could call a fling, and I did it for her» he explains. She still seems to be a big part of Michel’s life. «Listening to Lara Fabian takes me back. It’s like opening an old book that you love. It’s always hard for me to put it down because there are no more pages to write» he says, his eyes looking for something that’s not in the room. Once again, he stops talking for a bit. With his eyes looking somewhere else, Michel looks like a very melancholic person.

When pointed out that it’s rather unusual for a guy to be a fan of a ballads singer, Michel raises his voice : «So what ? I’m not ashamed of it. She has beautiful lyrics and she’s not like all those products, those singers who bring nothing new to the music world. I’d rather kill myself than go to a Lady Gaga concert ». He met Lara Fabian a few times : «The first time I was 13, she was signing her latest CD. I saw her again, at various events. But I think she knows who I am. When I go to her concerts I’m always in the front row, I want her to notice me. I don’t like blending in, I want to stick out». Because this is actually who Michel is, a self-confident guy who you wouldn’t mess with. «One more thing about her, she is hot and she smells like sex when she is on stage» he adds with a big smile.

Outside Lara Fabian’s songs, Michel is into 60’s, 70’s and 80’s rock music. Not what you would expect from a French pop lover. But she is different : «Lara is also a songwriter and she has an amazing voice. Her lyrics are very deep and beautiful». He takes a deep breath and adds  : «She brings out my artistic side. I’ve been singing and playing guitar for 10 years. I’m also interested in photography, she was my first and she is still my favourite model». When asked about the impact of Fabian’s music on his personality, Michel smiles, closes his eyes for a second and says « What was the question again ? Oh yes… I guess you could say I’m a sensitive guy».

Fabien Jannic

You can check out Michel’s blog here. Be sure to read his fabulous articles.

This is Uganda, not Ugayda

Described as one of the worst place for LGBT people to live in by Human Rights Organisations, the African country is planning to adopt a law that would punish homosexuality by death. Will the UK’s threat to cut economic aid change anything? 

“The UK is showing a bullying mentality. We are tired of them treating us like children”. This statement was not from the Iranian government, it is not denouncing British foreign policy towards them. It is from Uganda, and it is about gay rights. That is how the African country’s Prime Minister called the intention of the UK to cut aid to Commonwealth countries that do not respect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) rights. Reactions were strong from all over the African continent last month, when British PM David Cameron, announced his intentions, especially in the little Ugandan Republic, Where many people see homosexuality as violating their religious and cultural beliefs and homosexual acts have been illegal in the country since 2000.

Like in many other African countries, it is not a good idea to be openly gay in Uganda. Though, according to the BBC, almost one million LGBTs are living in the country, on a total population of 31 million, Uganda is one of the 70 countries where homosexual acts are illegal, and penalties can go up to life imprisonment. Laws prohibiting homosexual activities were first put in place under British colonial rule in the 19th century. In 2005, a law banning gay marriage was passed, making Uganda the second country in the world to do so. LGBT people face discrimination on a daily basis and harassment at the hands of the media, the police, and the government. The U.S. State Department’s 2006 Country Report on Human Rights for Uganda stated that homosexuals “faced widespread discrimination and legal restrictions”.

Yet, Uganda possesses a strong gay rights movement.  The Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMU), an LBGT umbrella organisation, was able to express itself and its views inside and outside the country, even though its members routinely shift locations in Uganda for their safety.  On the 10th of November, Frank Mugisha, a LGBT rights activist, was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. “It gives me more courage to continue doing the work I’m doing” Mugisha said to The Associated Press “It sends out a message, not only to my country but to other countries that criminalise homosexuality”. Ty Cobb, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, said Mugisha is a role model for gays and lesbians in Africa and the world.

From blackwine on Flickr

The award gave some hope to the Uganda LGBT community. Since 2009 a Anti-Homosexuality Bill, inspired by Christian Evangelists, has been under observation in Parliament. The law would create a new type of criminalisation for LGBT people, named “aggravated homosexuality”.  It is defined to include homosexual acts committed by either a person who is HIV-positive, is a parent or authority figure. Such an offence would be sentenced the death penalty. It also includes provisions for Ugandans who engage in same-sex relations outside of Uganda and includes penalties for individuals, companies, media organisations, or non-governmental organisations that know of gay people or support LGBT rights. Called by the press tbe “Kill the Gays Bill”, it received a lot of coverage from international medias. After being pressured by the international community, the country’s President Yoweri Museveni postponed the application of the law pending further investigations during most of 2010. Last October, the debate was re-opened, making it an immediate threat for the Ugandan LGBT community.

If David Cameron thought his declaration regarding aid cuts would have a positive effect, he was wrong. Not only Uganda’s President rejected the threat by saying “Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures by people” adding, “If they must take their money, so be it”. But even LGBT activists joined him to call off the measure. The director of the British Human Rights Lobby, Peter Tatchell, noted that: “Although these abuses are unacceptable and violate international humanitarian law, cuts in aid would penalise the poorest, most vulnerable people”. Uganda would lose £700 million if Britain were to cut its financial aid.

David Cameron’s move is seen as counterproductive by the Ugandan LGBT activists. Most of them are not expecting the public opinion on homosexuality  to evolve in a positive way if the aid was cut. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project poll of 2007, 96% of Ugandans said that homosexuality should be “rejected by society”, making it one of the highest rejections of homosexuality in any country. And it is not likely too change anytime soon. Last year, the tabloid Rolling Stone published a story featuring the names, and in some cases photographs, of 100 homosexuals under the headline “Hang Them, they want our children”. At the beginning of 2011, David Kato, whose picture was among the 100 listed in the Rolling Stone article and was featured on the cover of the edition, was assaulted in his home in Mukono Town by an unknown male assailant. He later died on route to the Kawolo Hospital. A man was sentenced last week to 30 years in prison for his murder.

For most of the Ugandan LGBT community, it is hard to see any hope of change in the near future. For Samuel, a 30 year old gay activist interviewed by the French gay magazine Têtu, “If we all leave they will have won. Even though for most of the people, the first reaction is reject, I think they will realise someday that we are not so different”. The activist remains optimistic, because he knows that things can change quickly : “Look at South Africa, they legalised gay marriages! It’s incredible, who would have thought that an African country would have authorised LGBT union before most European countries?

Fabien Jannic