Reports of the death of democracy, friends, have been greatly exaggerated. An 11th hour boost to its flagging heart has demonstrated, just in time, that there’s life in the old girl yet. It turns out that giving people a genuine say in the issues that affect them works. The Scottish referendum simply didn’t play out as intended. It was supposed to be an easy skate home for the status quo. Instead, it turned into a genuine debate of some very complex issues which engaged a nation and captivated the world.
From the sidelines, for purely romantic reasons, I was shouting ‘yes’ – Just do it, Scotland. Make new groovy friends in the Nordic Circle and build something new on the back of your long history of innovation, entrepreneurial risk- taking and general doggedness and just do it.
Luckily for the Scots, I am merely an interested observer. I have a bit of Scottish somewhere in there, but certainly not enough in my mongrel mix to claim any skin in the game.
But the movement and colour of Twitter’s #indyref comment forum as it started to look like ‘yes’ might just get up got me thinking about the enormous presence of the Scots in the fading corners of the Empire from which I hail.
Growing up in Hong Kong Scottish names were everywhere. My first British friends were Scottish so they were always keen to point them out. Aberdeen, of course, and Braemar Hill but there were also places named for the many Scots who built the colony – Jardine’s Lookout being an obvious example.
Here in Queensland we have Port Douglas, Ayr and Mackay, as well as a Bannockburn and numerous small towns, creeks, coves and streets which denote the presence of the Scots in our history. It’s repeated throughout Australia and indeed wherever the traces of British Empire linger.
We are familiar, out here in what remains of the colonies, with the Scots. And that’s because the role they played in the building of Empire – as scientists, engineers, explorers or privateers – was a vivid demonstration that size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.
“Never underestimate the Scots,” my father the Big Baxter used to say. “Take their national anthem. Have you ever heard anything more understated than that last line – just go home and think again?” That last part paraphrased so you don’t have to imagine, as I do, my father’s singing.
Scotland is a nation which consistently punches above its weight and it did it again with #indyref. It will be interesting to watch the effects of the referendum unfold, in the UK and elsewhere, but for the moment I’ll raise a glass to my Scottish friends and wish you well.
Oh, Flower of Scotland. Alone, or as part of what put the great in Great Britain, you stand tall today, a beacon in dark times.
Baxter’s best bits –
Scots in Queensland – Queensland State Archives
Jardine Matheson: Traders of the Far East – by Robert Blake
Scots and the Empire – Scotland’s History
Scottish place names around the world – Rampant Scotland
Scotland and the British Empire – History Today
The new Britons: Scottish identity in the 18th and 19th centuries – by Chris Gibbs, The Napoleon Series
This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s greatest hour – Irvine Welsh, The Guardian
David Cameron did the right thing, so why does Scotland’s vote feel like a defeat? – John Rentoul, The Independent
© Sally Baxter 2014