Leading Scottish historian backs independence campaign

AFP
Pro-independence supporters on September 21, 2013 rally for a Yes vote in the referendum on Scottish independence in Edinburgh
Pro-independence supporters on September 21, 2013 rally for a Yes vote in the referendum on Scottish independence in Edinburgh (AFP Photo/Andy Buchanan)

London (AFP) - Prominent Scottish historian Tom Devine backed independence on Sunday in a boost to the Yes campaign a month from the referendum.

The academic, considered a leading authority on modern Scottish history, told an interview with the Observer newspaper that he had originally planned to vote No.

"This has been quite a long journey for me and I've only come to a yes conclusion over the last fortnight," Devine said.

Devine, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth earlier this year in recognition of his services to the study of Scottish history, said he intially favoured an independence alternative known as "devolution max".

Currently, Holyrood can set education, health, environmental and justice policy, but the proposed "devolution max" alternative to independence would see all Scottish taxes collected by the Scottish parliament.

Devine said he had since come to the conclusion that "only through sovereignty can we develop a truly amicable and equal relationship with our great southern neighbour."

The historian said that while the union had been useful in the past, Scotland and England had now taken different paths and there was little holding the countries together.

Without a strong monarchy and a hostile force that "would have once induced internal collective solidarity" such as fascism, there is now "very little left in the union except sentiment, history and family", Devine said.

"The Scottish parliament has demonstrated competent government and it represents a Scottish people who are wedded to a social democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the late 1940s and 1950s.

"It is the Scots who have succeeded most in preserving the British idea of fairness and compassion in terms of state support and intervention. Ironically, it is England, since the 1980s, which has embarked on a separate journey."

A professor at the University of Edinburgh who has won several major prizes for his work, Devine said that a "silent transformation of the Scottish economy" also supported the case for independence.

"Our economy is now based on some heavy industry, light manufacturing, electronics, tourism, financial services and a vibrant public sector which provides sustainable jobs.

"We have a resilient economic system and reserves of one of the most important things for an independent estate: power, power through the assets of oil and also through the potential of wind energy. In this, Scotland is disproportionately endowed compared to almost all other European countries."

Polls have consistently showed the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign lagging in support behind the Better Together campaign for remaining within the United Kingdom.

Notable figures who have backed the No campaign against independence include the author of the Harry Potter series JK Rowling, Mick Jagger, the scientist Stephen Hawking, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.