Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands
Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else and their votes could prove decisive in next month’s referendum
Wednesday 20 August 2014
Nighet Nasim Riaz was born in Birmingham to Pakistani parents but has lived in Scotland for 20 years. She is also an active member of Scots Asians for Yes, making her one of a significant number of pro-independence voters who originate from outside the country’s borders.
This constituency of voters is so large that the result of next month’s independence referendum – and the fate of the UK – could rest on which campaign manages to win them over. But Ms Riaz has already made up her mind.
“The mood on the street at this time is very positive towards independence but it hasn’t happened overnight,” she said. “People are listening to the arguments and making up their minds on what matters to them.”
It may surprise some people to learn that many of Scotland’s newest residents intend to vote to leave the UK, the country to which they emigrated. This generation of new Scots now accounts for more than 4 per cent of the country’s population.
Given that a recent Panelbase poll suggested the Yes campaign needs just a 2 per cent swing to clinch victory, the votes of Scotland’s immigrant communities could make a major difference to the outcome.
There are estimated to be around 140,000 people who class themselves as Scots Asians. When they are added to the 30,000 Africans, 7,000 Caribbeans, 55,000 Poles, 400,000 English and numerous other minority groups eligible to vote, they are a force to be reckoned with.
While the Better Together campaign for a unified Britain holds the lead in the polls and lays claims to the support of the silent majority, a myriad of special interests have cropped up to spread the word in favour of independence. There are specific groups for Asians, Africans, Americans, EU citizens and many others actively campaigning within their communities.
“There are over 350 independent groups in the campaign. None of them is centrally controlled, organised or funded. All of these organisations raise their own funding and most of them do not have any professional staff,” said Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, a left-wing think-tank not affiliated to any political party.
“This campaign is big and wide and diverse. There has been too much focus on the two big political figures arguing with each other. It is much more than that. This is the biggest grassroots campaign Scotland has seen and it has encouraged more people to engage and get involved with politics than at any point in my lifetime.”
Video: Highlights from Salmond and Darling's independence debate
So far much of the debate around immigration and Scottish independence has centred on how far the country would have to relax the rules on new arrivals in order to support its economy in the event of a Yes vote. But why does independence appeal to some immigrant voters?
For Ms Riaz, it is that the policies of the Westminster government do not reflect the country in which she lives. “The Asian community is very education-minded and there is a concern that under the Conservative Government only 25 per cent of the austerity measures have been put into place. What happens when the other 75 per cent cuts are implemented?” she said.
“People are worried that more Westminster cuts will mean less money for Scotland and we’ll end up losing the National Health Service and there will be an impact on education.”
However, not everyone is sure separation is the best way forward. At the Central Gurdwara temple in Berkeley Street in Glasgow, which serves a Sikh population of some 10,000, there are concerns that separation could result in some of the same problems that followed the granting of independence to India and the foundation of Pakistan in 1947.
Naranjan Singh Benning was born in India and has lived in Scotland for 18 years (Martin Hunter)
Retired businessmen Naranjan Benning, Surjit Sing Chowdhray and Gurnam Singh Dhami are all No voters. All three were born in India but have lived in Scotland for a combined total of 93 years and regard Glasgow as their home.
“United we stand, divided we fall. In Europe they are trying to get all the countries together so it doesn’t make sense for the UK to be breaking apart,” said Mr Chowdhray.
“Look at India – they are still suffering the pinch 60 years down the line and Pakistan has never really come up. They are still fighting with each other. Is that what’s going to happen between Scotland and England?”
Among the Polish community, opinion is also divided. Despite big names such as Tomek Borkowy, one of Poland’s best known television stars, publicly declaring in favour of independence, many of his fellow countrymen remain to be convinced.
“A Yes vote is a vote for new opportunities for all people in Scotland, but especially for Poles, who left their country because they felt marginalised by Polish politics and politicians,” said the actor, who has been a UK citizen for almost 30 years and currently lives in Edinburgh.
“We Poles are a freedom-loving nation. Only 25 years ago we reclaimed our full independence. We understand the need of a nation for self-determination and most of us, I hope, will support it.”
Voting intentions: ‘We worry about the uncertainty’
Monika Macko, 37, a tailor from Poland, has lived in the UK for 11 years
I haven’t completely made up my mind but I am thinking probably a No.
Although I think of Scotland as home I still feel Polish rather than Scottish or British. I think Scotland could be independent but I have yet to be convinced of the need for it. Most of my neighbours are No voters. I think they are worried about what will happen and the uncertainty of it all. One thing that might worry me is if Scotland voted No and then the rest of the UK decided to leave the EU. If that was a real possibility I’d have to think very carefully about how I vote.”
Naranjan Singh Benning, 63, was born in India and has lived in Scotland for 18 years after 35 years in London
Westminster should look at this referendum as a wake-up call. If they don’t make Scotland feel part of the UK and encourage more businesses and investment to move north then demands for independence will come back again in a few years.
I am a definite No voter but there will have to be more powers for Scotland and for other parts of England and Wales.
Westminster has to show more commitment to the rest of the UK rather than concentrating on London and the south. If we vote No they have got to give us something back, starting with extending the high-speed rail link from Manchester to Glasgow.”
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