Kilty as Charged: NY Times Digs In on Scottish Independence Vote

September 12th, 2014 10:18 PM

As the referendum for Scottish independence from Britain draws near, the New York Times continues to bang the drums for separatism while using the issue to jab at the Conservative Party in Britain. On Thursday's front page the Times suggested Scottish nationalists were international heroes among some independence seekers.

The celebratory story by reporter Katrin Bennhold, "From Kurdistan to Texas, Scots Spur Separatists," originated in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Many Flemings seek emancipation from Belgium. (Although the separatist group in Texas wasn't hailed quite so loudly, described by Bennhold as "fringe.")

[Steenokkerzee mayor Kurt] Ryon, who wants his native Flanders to split from Belgium, is rooting for Scotland to do the same from Britain, and like a faithful soccer fan he has all the gear: a T-shirt from the Scottish pro-independence “yes” campaign, a collection of “yes” pins on his denim jacket and copious amounts of a beer specially brewed by Flemish nationalists to express their solidarity. The label says “Ja!” next to a Scottish flag, Flemish for yes.

From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely -- sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote next Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union. A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland.

Actually, supporters of an independent Scotland tend to lean further left than other Scots, at least when it comes to bashing Margaret Thatcher as anti-Scottish.

In the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, the leader of the governing nationalist party has been known to dress up in a kilt and jokes that Basques would rather be part of an independent Scotland than remain part of Spain, which has ruled out any kind of vote. In Veneto, a region of northern Italy, nationalists have held a Scottish-inspired online referendum and now claim that nine in 10 inhabitants want autonomy.

According to the enthusiastic article, even Taiwan is tilting toward the kilt: "some hope a Scottish ''yes' vote could prompt a more careful deliberation over the island’s future."

Nationalists, however, say that a bit of Balkanization may be just what Europe needs.

The left-ward tilt of the independence movements was tipped, via criticism of "far-right" European parties.

Pro-European national movements like [Mark Demesmaeker's] own, the New Flemish Alliance -- now the biggest party not just in Flanders but in all of Belgium -- are the best antidote to the far-right, anti-European and anti-immigrant nationalist movements that did so well in European elections earlier this year, he said.

According to Bennhold, the "Yes" side wins even by losing.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, many nationalists say Scotland has already won.

“They have the opportunity to decide their own future,” said Andoni Ortuzar, the president of the governing Basque Nationalist Party, who wore a kilt in the 2012 carnival to celebrate the announcement of a Scottish referendum that year. “That’s what national self-determination is,” he said. “That’s all we ask.”

Even more jabs at Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron came on Thursday in a report from Edinburgh by Stephen Castle and Alan Cowell, covering an emergency visit across the border by Cameron and his opposite number, Labour leader Ed Miliband, to shore up support for the "No" side.

The visits drew a mocking response from Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish government and of the pro-independence campaign, as he sought to maintain what has been widely depicted as momentum in the prelude to the vote. “No one believes their panicked pledges -- it is a phony timetable for measly powers,” said Mr. Salmond, referring to promises of greater powers for Scotland within Britain, and a schedule to put them quickly into effect if Scots vote no.

The day of campaigning highlighted the problems facing opponents of separation, who have been accused of complacency and of running a negative campaign. Until now, Mr. Cameron has kept a relatively low profile, perhaps calculating that he is more likely to antagonize than charm Scottish voters.

His Conservative Party holds just one of the 59 Scottish seats in the British Parliament. As a wealthy Englishman who attended Britain’s most exclusive school, Eton College, Mr. Cameron is regarded by many Scots as out of touch. On Wednesday, Mr. Miliband declined to share a platform with the prime minister, telling reporters that he did not think doing so would help the “no” campaign.


Supporters of independence say it would allow them to build a more socially inclusive nation, a message that seems to have been welcomed by many in Scotland, which tends to tilt more to the left than England does.

The report concluded with more anti-conservative attacks, the kind that seem to underlay much of the support for the "Yes" side on Scottish independence:

“I am always persuaded by the Labour ethos,” [retired principal Liz Dornan] said, “but I am swithering because I feel we will still end up with a Tory government.”

On Friday, Castle turned his space over to accusations by Alex Salmond, the leader of the "yes" campaign, in "Scot Backing Independence Says Rivals Use 'Bullying.'"

With tension rising a week before Scots vote on independence, Alex Salmond, the leader of the “yes” campaign, accused opponents on Thursday of bullying and subterfuge, and he demanded an official inquiry into disclosures that the Royal Bank of Scotland would shift its registered office to England in the event of a Scottish breakaway.

Speaking in Edinburgh Mr. Salmond said that officials at Britain’s treasury had been caught leaking information to the news media before a market-sensitive announcement, and he described their actions as a “matter of extraordinary gravity.”


On Thursday he stepped up his attack on London politicians, accusing them of “bullying and intimidation” and demanding an official inquiry into the actions of officials who, he said, are “not allowed to brief market-sensitive information.”