Saturday, October 20th, 2018

English professor Nancy Gish returns from historic Scottish referendum

Posted on September 29, 2014 in News
By Francis Flisiuk


In light of Scotland rejecting independence from the U.K. by a vote of 55 to 44 percent during a recent referendum, USM is hosting a free panel discussion to determine the impact and educational value of such a monumental political event.

The panel discussion will feature three experts: Donnie Jack, a Scottish Affairs counselor for the Americas, Owen Traylor, a former diplomat and Nancy Gish, a professor in the English department who has just returned from Scotland having witnessed the climate of the country during this “major time of change.” According to Gish, it’s important for all of us to understand the ramifications of this referendum, even if we’re half a world away.

On Sept. 19 Scotland had the chance to end a 307-year-old union with the rest of the United Kingdom but decided against it, which will result in the tabling of this issue for at least another generation. Still the country remains divided in political opinion with the Scottish National Party spearheading the initial movement for independence. According to Gish, who spent time in the country with supporters from both sides, Scotland is distinctly different than the rest of the U.K., with its own set of values.

“Independence supporters were very upset with the results,” said Gish. “If I was Scottish, I would of voted yes.”

According to Gish, the movement for independence started two years ago and was led by politician Alec Salmond, but there’s been a longing for Scottish autonomy since the 13th century. Gish said that Scottish interests are and have been predominantly liberal, and the largely conservative British parliament, led by prime minister David Cameron, do not grant Scotland enough political representation.

Nationalists on the “Yes, Scotland” side wanted independence because of concerns of being exploited by the British for their resources like oil as well as the nuclear facilities which store British weapons on Scottish soil.

The opposition to the independence movement, led by the “better together” campaign argued that most of the Scottish budget relies on oil revenue which is a quickly diminishing, finite resource. Scotland breaking away from the union would have also resulted in it having an even more diminished voice in international affairs because the country would have to start the European Union membership process all over again. Unionist parties have promised to give more power to Scots in Parliament if they voted no. Time will tell if that will happen and Salmond issued a warning saying that the British must “make good” on that pledge.

According to Gish, a lot of people showed up to vote, with over a 90% turnout in some big towns like Glasgow and Edinburough, showing that people do care to vote on big issues. Gish said that the outcome was interesting because “no thanks” voters were dominated by older retirees and women, the two groups that are the most cautious about financial and domestic issues.

Gish said that the result of the referendum showed that when prompting people with a binary question, most of the population will stick with the status quo.

“When asked for a yes or no vote, undecided people will usually go with cutting their losses instead of making a gain,” said Gish.

Ellen Skerritt, a junior linguistics major, studying abroad at the University of Winchester in England, said that she believes the majority of Scottish people think there is nothing wrong with the country’s current relationship with Parliament and there’s no need to change it.

“The United Kingdom would not be the same without Scotland,” said Skerritt. “This may be a stupid reason but I like our connection with the royal family.”

According to Gish, discussing these legal and diplomatic issues along with their implications, links real world events with lessons learned by students in the history and political science departments at USM.

Gish said that tuning into and conversing about the political atmosphere of the U.K. and the effects of self determination on the Scottish people, helps contribute to USM’s vision of becoming a “metropolitan university,” and teaches students how real world problems are solved.

Francesca Vassallo, a political science and history professor and an organizer of the panel discussion, said that it’s so rare that a real world event, like the Scottish move for independence, matched issues that she teaches from her curriculum.

“I helped bring this discussion to campus because I thought it would be useful for students to see self determination in action,” said Vassalo. “It helps us connect our local community with the international community and helps us understand how to solve big societal problems.”

Vassalo also mentioned that students knowledgeable about current events like this are much more likely to be taken seriously when looking for a career.

Gish, who is also a fellow of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies, plans on offering the perspective of a person who has observed a stifled culture under a union with Britain and Wales as well as first hand accounts on what the voting process was like. Gish traveled with a poet, a painter and a composer on her journey and said that her focus will be a cultural argument. Most of the people heavily involved in the Scottish arts community were “Yes” supporters.

“Culture in Scotland has always been supressed,” said Gish. “I have personal experience with that.”

Gish extends the invitation to the seventh floor of the Glickman Library on Thursday to hear about those experiences during these dramatic and trying political times, even if only to broaden one’s own knowledge.

Gish said, “No American really knows anything about Scottish culture, history or politics, except for what they’ve seen in Braveheart.”

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