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Scottish Independence Debate / English islanders’ conflicting views on referendum

Jeff Merrifield

A recent poll has suggested that English people living in Scotland are more likely to vote No in the referendum than their Scottish counterparts. Genevieve White spoke to some English people living in Shetland in order to find out their views.

Paul Goddard works for Shetland Amenity Trust and has lived in Shetland for 20 years – longer than he has lived anywhere else. He will be voting Yes in the referendum as he feels that Scotland is not given a voice in the current political system.

He says: “I find it difficult that everyone in Scotland could vote against a Tory government and yet we’d still end up with one. Scotland just doesn’t have a fair say.”

He is unhappy about decisions made by Westminster and was “very angry” about being dragged into the war in Iraq: “Scots wouldn’t have gone for that.”

Goddard believes that an independent Scotland would be a fairer society: “Tories are taking money from the public purse and putting it in the private pocket.

“Social justice is not on the agenda of the Tory government. I think that Scotland might follow a more Scandinavian form of government – more egalitarian with public spending on the things that are important. “

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Paul is confident that the debate around independence is moving the country forward: “Something’s started now and even if the people of Scotland do vote No something will have changed.”

Jeff Merrifield, Shetland Jazz Festival organiser, describes himself as “a citizen of the town of Burnley and a supporter of their football team, and a ‘honorary Shetlander’”.

His love of remote places with an independent spirit brought him to live in Shetland. He compares the islands with Newfoundland, saying: “The Newfoundlanders know for a fact that they were swindled out of their right to be independent and I suspect that Shetland has suffered similar mistreatment in the past.”

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Does this mean he will he be voting Yes in the referendum? “I guess so. I’m all for independence, not just for Scotland but for Shetland too.”

Not everyone, however, has made up their minds about where they stand on the issue of Scottish independence.

Shetland cheese maker Jay Hawkins is “sitting on the fence” at the moment. “As I’m English, part of me thinks that we are better together but the other part of me thinks that this is a real opportunity for change – I think an independent government could perhaps better meet the needs of the country as a whole and Shetland as a community.

“Then again, there’s the sceptical old bugger side of me who is wondering if this isn’t all a bit of an ego trip for Alex Salmond.”

Shetland Arts exhibitions officer Jane Matthews is currently leaning towards a No vote but is enjoying the debate and likes “the idea of not knowing for sure.”

She does, however, express reservations as to whether the Yes campaign’s promises can be realistically met: “I think the prospect of an independent Scotland is based heavily on hope which is quite a hard thing for me to accept.

“I’ve also found some of the Yes campaign tactics less than friendly: the language used is quite emotive and unforgiving of people who might hold different views.

“Having said that, I don’t believe the rhetoric from either camp: both sides bombard you with information and I don’t really have the knowledge to decide which is correct.”

Does Jane worry she might feel like a foreigner in an independent Scotland?

No, she says, that is not a concern:  “I like to think it wouldn’t be awkward to live in an independent Scotland. I’ve never felt like I’m a stranger here.

“I’ve never felt like I had a particularly English identity – I’m not sure I understand what an English, Scottish or even a Shetland identity is for that matter.

“In any case, I don’t mind feeling like a foreigner anywhere I go. I like travelling and I like being a stranger in all sorts of places: I’ve never felt particularly rooted in one place so whether or not I would feel foreign in an independent Scotland isn’t really an issue for me.”

Ultimately, Jane’s reservations about Scottish independence centre on the “leap of faith” required by the Yes campaign.

“I’ve got a ‘better the devil you know’ mentality: perhaps that’s a lame reason for voting No, but envisaging a different society does involve a huge amount of hope and trust and I’m not there yet.

“I like the fact that an independent Scotland could be a very different place – I like the fantasy of it – but in reality I just don’t think it will play out like people imagine it will.”

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