The Union of Scotland and England dates back 310 years. The Union of Scotland and England dates back 310 years.
Last week was a harbinger of a constitutional crisis for Great Britain. The Scottish Parliament passed a motion for holding a referendum on independence of Scotland from the UK, a repeat of one three years ago, which rejected independence. The Union of Scotland and England dates back 310 years. Then on March 29, Theresa May sent the letter invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, which gives notice of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU after 45 years of membership.
These two divorces are connected. Scotland voted to Remain in the EU in the Referendum last June while the overall majority was for exit. Scotland has a small population, just about 6 million, 10 per cent of the UK. It has been angry since the days when Mrs Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister, but the Conservative Party had won no seats in Scotland. The movement for an independent Scotland began in the Eighties and within 20 years, Scotland was granted a devolved Parliament with substantial powers, including right to adjust income tax rates, up or down. The Referendum drove the Scots to ask for azadi so they could stay in the EU not the UK.
The UK, on the other hand, has always been a semi-detached member of the EU, not joining the Euro, not accepting border-free travel. It has now drawn the line at free movement of EU citizens, which draws them to the UK in large numbers.
As divorces go, Brexit will be tough to negotiate. It will be costly, but we do not know the size of the bill. There will have to be negotiation about post-Brexit trade relations, failing which tariffs will rise for the UK’s exports to the EU. The economy will have to be rejigged to sell more goods and services to the rest of the world. But whatever the likely cost, there is a desire for azadi.
The noticeable thing is that these two crises are being handled without parliamentary fights or vigilante groups challenging one side or another. There was a rise in racial attacks after the Referendum last June, but it has been brought under control. You would hardly notice that the country could be very different in two years’ time. It could break up while breaking away.
The notion that one part of a Union could decide to vote on whether to secede could not happen in India. Nationalism is much too fragile and people fearful of break-up. In the last few years, the nervousness has spread, with any talk of azadi inviting vigilante riots.
Why? India has withstood many changes which were thought dangerous to its unity. Linguistic states, the desire of south India to secede during the Fifties, the agitation about making Hindi India’s sole national language, Khalistan, the Naga insurgency which has lasted as long as India has been independent and, of course, the separatists in J&K. India has survived them all.
A strong country should be confident of itself. If there is a demand for separation in some region, let us have a Referendum. If India is a success story, as it surely is, no azadi movement can win a majority. Challenge the separatists. Ask them to win a majority in a Referendum. It is better than bombs and bullets.
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