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Opinion: Even Britain faces division | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Saltire and Union Jack flag hang side by side on a building in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Friday, September 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Until the early hours of last Friday, the world was waiting with bated breath for Scotland’s decision on whether it would become independent or remain part of Britain. Several politicians breathed a sigh of relief when the results came out showing that Scotland had rejected the idea of independence, opting to remain within the framework of a united constitutional monarchy dating back more than 300 years. Meanwhile, in Europe, there are other regions seeking independence, such as Catalonia in Spain. The same efforts are present in North America where Canada’s Quebec is still eagerly seeking its own independence, and so on.

Those Arabs who are adherents of the usual conspiracy theories now have to get to grips with this reality. After all, here was Britain, which has been repeatedly been accused of conspiring to divide the Arab world, facing the prospect of one of its regions seceding, which was only thwarted because of the 55 percent of the Scottish electorate who rejected independence. There is no conspiracy against the British monarchy; rather, there exist social, demographic, economic and cultural pressures, strong enough to force any government to bend with the wind of change.

Great Britain’s overall land area is equivalent to about one-eighth of Saudi Arabia’s, and a quarter of Egypt’s. Scotland comprises just one-third of British territory, and its population accounts for just 5 million out of a total British population of 66 million. However, this small nation has had great historical influence which made it one of the greatest empires to ever rule the world, one which at one point stretched from China to the United States. Its people are known around the world as tough mariners and intellectuals whose culture still prevails throughout the globe today. The world as we see it today has absorbed their laws, politics, their way of war, literature and art.

Yet in 1999, former British prime minister Tony Blair oversaw the creation of a local parliament for Scotland with wide local powers, mindful that the world was changing after the fall of the Soviet Union, and of the increasing openness of the world and Britain’s becoming part of the European Union.

Although the urge to break away from England can be found in all the other “regions” of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—the majority still know that the British throne remains a positive force. Britain is the sixth-largest economic power in the world. Independence from the United Kingdom represents, for some, a historical longing or a short-term solution to temporary economic problems. Nevertheless, Scotland does not have what it takes to resist the dominance of the largest member states in the European Union.

The lesson to be learned here is that the idea of secession and independence are not unusual, not even in great nation-states such as Britain and Canada. It is better to contain and address the issue in order to find solutions that serve common interests and deepen national identity, rather than deny or fight the idea.

Sudan represents a bad example, here. Formerly largest Arab and African country, it could have remained united if Khartoum had not chosen the path of war and hostility. The war continued until unity became more costly than division. This is how the whole world, and not only the Sudanese people, lost a great country. The two sides learned too late that division brings its own problems, and did not create stability to Khartoum, nor prosperity and development to Juba.