Scottish independence: Scotland versus Portugal – what we might have been
Opinion by John Fitzpatrick
Nationalists often make a comparison between Scotland and two nations that gained their independence relatively recently in historical terms – Norway and Ireland.
However, I feel it is worth looking at one of Europe´s oldest states, Portugal, which has successfully upheld its independence for around 700 years.
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Portugal may not be a place that instantly springs to mind as a model as it was one of Europe´s most backward countries until recently, held back by poverty, inequality, emigration and dictatorship.
However, I am more concerned with Portugal´s status as a sovereign state rather than its material state as many other countries, including Scotland, Ireland and Norway only emerged from similar circumstances a few decades earlier.
If we see how totally independent Portugal is from Spain and how this freedom has shaped its history then we can consider how Scotland could regain its sovereignty and create its own future outside the giant shadow cast by its southern neighbor.
Ironically, the current chairman of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who has ruled out automatic EU membership for Scotland in the event of independence, is Portuguese.
His attitude may reflect the arrogance of a non-elected bureaucrat with no popular mandate or merely highlight the fact that Portugal´s independence is so solidly established that it does not bother itself with the plight of other countries that want the same freedom.
Another irony is that one of the main supporters of Portugal´s independence has always been England. This has occurred through the Treaty of Windsor which dates from 1386 and is said to be the oldest existing agreement of its kind in the world.
This contrasts with the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France that basically ended when the Scottish and English crowns were united in 1603 although it sputtered along unofficially in fits and starts for another century and a half.
The Portuguese originally obtained English help in their fight against the Moors but eventually found that having a powerful ally like England was also useful in protecting them from their big neighbor, Spain.
The Portuguese paid a price as they had had to grant the English trading and legal privileges but, in overall terms, it was a good deal and never interfered with their sovereignty.
Unlike Scotland, which was forced into a political union with England over 300 years ago and could no longer rely on help from France, Portugal only endured around 80 years of Spanish rule.
By eventually escaping the clutches of the Spaniards in battle in 1640, the Portuguese were able to move forward and forge their own kind of society.
A separate language is always a good way of maintaining a distance from your neighbor and one of the greatest strengths the Portuguese had was their language which they retained and valued.
Compare this with what happened to Scots which was downgraded to a dialect and Gaelic which virtually disappeared as a spoken tongue.
The Scots may have maintained their separate legal and education systems and their Protestant Kirk after the Act of Union but their Parliament in Edinburgh was shut down and they were otherwise forced to adopt English ways.
The Portuguese were staunchly Catholic like the Spaniards and the Scots shared their Protestant faith with the English but the differences between the two forms of Protestantism led to further warfare and Scotland lost out once again.
With their borders secured against Spanish invasion and a treaty on overseas expansion with Spain brokered by the Vatican, the Portuguese then set out to create what became an empire.
The jewel in the crown of this empire was Brazil, a vast sparsely occupied territory so rich in gold and other natural resources that it turned little Portugal into the richest country of the time.
Portugal also had two large colonies in Africa – Angola and Mozambique – along with smaller territories in other parts of Africa, India, Macao and East Timor.
This empire lasted for over 400 years, longer than the British Empire.
The enclave of Goa, for example, remained Portuguese after India became independent and it was only an invasion by Indian forces in 1963 that ended Portuguese rule there.
I live in Brazil and am constantly surrounded by Portuguese influences and often wonder what would have happened if Scotland had remained independent as Portugal did.
At the risk of sounding naïve, I would ask the following question: why could Scotland not have become like Portugal, a small forceful sovereign state with ambitious monarchs, skilled mariners and explorers, and an influence out of proportion to its size?
There are obviously many reasons why it did not – religious, cultural, social etc. - but I think it is worth raising some other points.
For example, would Scotland have been able to set up its own colonies? Would we have learned from the Darien disaster and got it right the second time round?
Would we have been able to settle parts of North America and fend off English opposition as the Portuguese fought off the Spanish on the borders of Brazil?
Would we have been able to offset the influence of England and maintained our traditional alliances and trade with France, Scandinavia, the Baltic lands and America?
Would we have kept out of the many wars that membership of the United Kingdom has forced us into?
Would we have retained Scots as an official spoken and written language?
Would we have the saltire flying over Edinburgh castle rather than the union flag that reminds us that it is a military base?
Would we have become an egalitarian republic like Switzerland rather than a class-ridden monarchy?
Had all this happened, would we now have our own seat at the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization and other international bodies?
Would we be now able to vote on issues, such as UN sanctions, farm subsidies or fishing quotas in a way that suits our purposes rather than a London government?
Would we now have direct contacts with foreign governments and organizations and talk to them without having to go through the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
I doubt if even the strongest defender of the union can argue that Scotland´s voice has ever been – or ever will be – truly heeded by London.
Even the restoration of our Parliament was granted grudgingly as a result of the pressure of Scottish voters whose support for the SNP made the unionist parties realize that they could no longer take Scotland for granted.
The referendum on independence would never have come about if the UK Establishment and its supporters in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats parties had had their way. It was the people of Scotland who forced it through.
The unionists claim to be patriots yet they have stood against moves that would restore our freedom. They would prefer Scotland to be ruled from another country by an English-dominated party that has virtually no support in Scotland.
Any Portuguese politician who felt that his country should be ruled from Madrid would be regarded as a traitor.
It is a pity that the nationalists have apparently ruled out “freedom” as one of the main points in the independence campaign as they fear they will be painted as English-hating Bravehearts.
Freedom to choose your own destiny is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is essential for a country´s self respect and progress.
Ask a Portuguese, Irish or Norwegian citizen.
Or closer to home, read the Declaration of Arbroath: “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
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It is frankly disgusting that someone who wants independence for his country should hypothesise about it having colonies at all. New Zealand is dour and prim enough because of Scottish influence without it having been a fully-fledged Scottish colony. Of course, it’s okay for white people to subjugate black, brown and yellow people as long as it’s the Scots (or ‘Celts’) who are doing it, right John?
Instead of comparing oranges and bananas by drawing parallels with Portugal, which is a joke, why not look at small countries like Slovakia and Slovenia, both of which were once under the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, before being part of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia?
Even Flanders in Belgium is a stronger candidate for independence because of its levels of self-government – Flemish separatists don’t want to be reunified with the Netherlands. As for the German, French and Italian-speaking Swiss not wanting to be ruled by Germany, France or Italy, that’s because their cantons were never part of those countries.
There is nothing insular or provincial about Britishness – the whole problem is that it is used by people who don’t feel comfortable with having an identity of their own, like the Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Londoners. Most English people see themselves as English, and the sooner England teams no longer have to stand for God Save The Queen, the better.
That’s funny…I was speaking Gaelic the other day, and it’s 2013. It ain’t gone just yet.
“The Portuguese were staunchly Catholic like the Spaniards and the Scots shared their Protestant faith with the English but the differences between the two forms of Protestantism led to further warfare and Scotland lost out once again.”
If referring to the 1600s – 1700s, the Highlands were still mainly catholic. So a bit of a generalisation there. Especially considering that there were thousands more people living in the Highlands than there are today during this time period. But nevertheless, the main point is true.