“You say tom-ay-toe, and I say tom-ah-toe” and according to the song, the remedy for such lovers’ quarrels is to, “call the whole thing off.” From breakups and divorces it’s but a short distance to riots in the streets, schisms, world war, genocide, and Apocalypse. So it goes – from fists to cudgels to spears to muskets to hydrogen bombs. People gather together for mutual security and, when the threat of invasion by aliens passes, they begin to discover irreconcilable differences among themselves. The next thing you know, the word “We” is forgotten and the community divides itself into “Us” and “Them.”
During a recent visit to Scotland, the subtext of every encounter was the coming referendum on Scottish Independence. To an unbiased observer, separation from the United Kingdom seemed like a bad idea. In the global marketplace, Scotland — with only some five million souls — would be a drop in the bucket, hard pressed to hold its own, though Scotch whiskey and haggis may give it a bit of brand recognition. But the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and proponents of independence argue that Scotland gives up more than it gets by being under the thumb of Great Britain.
“I don’t think it will happen,” said a retired Scottish truck driver. “I hope it doesn’t happen. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Of course, it’s not perfect. But we’ve kept working on it for 600 years.” In fact, war over the issue of independence was fought between England and Scotland in the early 1300s. In 1550, England’s Henry VIII declared war in an attempt to force the Scots to agree to a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, an episode quaintly known as the “Rough Wooing.” The uprising of 1745, led by Scotland’s Bonnie Prince Charlie, an attempt to restore his family to the throne of Great Britain, was also fueled by conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
The instinct to disagree may be part of our DNA, an antidote to stagnation, a precondition for survival. Head-butting is second nature to us. Some good may even come from the current fireworks between our own two political parties. Concerning independence, secession movements have recently sprung up in Texas, Maryland, Colorado and California. At least the current argument between England and Scotland is characterized by relative civility. They’re not trying to settle their differences with poison gas.
Separation has its appeal, but as Benjamin Franklin said, hanging together does too. One matter that Scotland and England agree on is driving on the left side of the road. It’s perverse, a violation of common sense and rational order, a thumbing of the nose at the rest of the world. But someone had to do it, just to be different.
By the way, the Scots supposedly speak English. But try to make sense of this: “I’ll gie ye a sketpit lug … Lang may yer lum reek … We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairins.” The Scots have stricken the words “little” and “small” from their tongue. Thus, a small drink of whiskey is “a wee dram.” At airport security in Edinburgh, the officer wanted to verify that I was the same person as the bald fellow pictured in my passport photo. She didn’t ask me to take off my cap. She asked me to remove my “wee bonnet.” There’s some charm in such wee, small differences. Isn’t that what’s known as “the spice of life?”