Toward the end of our Scotland trip, our group of four was making the drive from the Cairngorms back down to Edinburgh, where we would return our rental car. Before we cleared the Cairngorms we ran into an enormous traffic jam caused by road construction, which backed up traffic for miles. As we inched forward, bored out of our gourds, we flipped on the radio and hoped for a station. This far in the boonies there was a grand total of three of ’em, and one was BBC Scotland.
The station was airing a live studio debate discussing Scottish independence. More precisely, the panel was debating the issue of currency.
Here’s a fascinating fact not apparent to most of us who do not live in the UK: Scottish voters are being asked to say yes or no on the critical issue of national independence without a currency plan in place. At this point nobody knows whether an independent Scotland would use the pound, the euro, or something altogether different, or whether the UK would even agree to a currency union — right now Westminster’s opinion is basically “in your dreams.” I find it unbelievable that the independence vote could be separate from a currency plan, but as one of our B&B hosts explained, the theory is that with a “Yes” vote on independence, the Scottish government could then negotiate with Westminster from a position of power. I dunno, it all sounds very sketchy to me.
Anyway, the debate panel was made up of some big political names on both sides of the issue, and things got heated. It was extremely interesting to listen to, and we were all absorbed as we crept along the highway at three miles per hour. We listened in fascination until we went through a mountain pass and lost the signal, and then groaned and complained until we picked up the debate on a different frequency on the other side of the pass. This debate saved our drive.
But what really amazed the three Americans in the car was how utterly civil it was. The panelists had strong opinions, but nobody shouted, nobody got in anyone’s face, nobody took pride in their ability to talk right over anyone else attempting to get a word in edgewise. The closest we heard to the latter was one panelist saying, “Hang on, hang on, hang on” while another panelist was taking his turn. We also heard panelists citing actual facts, rather than fluffy, poll-tested, meaningless word salad. We heard disagreements stated in calm tones, x facts refuted by y facts, and excellent questions posed from all sides. We heard intelligent discourse conducted on a level that assumed listeners were also intelligent. In other words, it was about as far from an American political debate as it could get. Our minds were boggled.
By the time we cleared that traffic jam, we were far more informed about the referendum and the issues involved. But mostly we were envious. We can only dream about such civilized political discourse in the US. Historically, our politics have always been on the wild and woolly side, but over the last couple of decades they have also gotten stupid. We are now at the point where politicians in one of our two major parties use the term “elite” to describe anyone with a university education, and portray “elites” as completely out of touch with “real Americans.” And that’s for debates on things like taxes! I can hardly imagine how vitriolic our political discourse would become if the issue at hand were something as important and groundshaking as an actual secession. Without a doubt, the posters and imagery would feature weapons. All of the imagery we saw in Scotland featured…flags. Wow, y’all really know how to get down in the mud.
Thanks to that debate, and our time in Scotland learning history and seeing all the stickers in windows indicating Yes and No sentiments, there are now three Americans and one Portuguese waiting anxiously for 18 September. In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath stated that “For so long as 100 of us remain alive / We will not in any degree be subject to the rule of the English / For it is not for glory, riches or honour that we fight / But for liberty alone, which no good man loses, but with his life.” In 2014, the Scots will vote on that very rule — and from what I can tell, there is every chance they will vote to keep it. Whichever way it goes, it will be history in the making. Civilized history.