‘Ayes’ of Texas: Austin expats expect Scottish independence

The eyes of the world are on Scotland ahead of Thursday’s referendum that will decide if that nation will remain a part of the United Kingdom. But what do Scots in Central Texas think about all this?

Take Pete Reid. He’s a native Scot who practices civil law in Austin. He’s also one of the founders of Americans for an Independent Scotland, a nonprofit established more than two years ago when the referendum was announced.

“I just feel the people of Scotland should make decisions for the people of Scotland,” said Reid, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh School of Law who won an international scholarship to the University of Texas School of Law. “It’s a matter of proving that we can handle our own affairs.”

Reid, other Scots and people of Scottish descent are following developments with considerable interest, even if only Scotland’s resident population is eligible to cast a ballot. The country has a population of slightly more than 5 million, about 20 percent of whom live as expatriates (mostly in the other parts of the U.K.), according to a 2009 Scottish government report.

Reid figures the most recent surge for independence has been brewing for 20 to 30 years, and he predicts if the referendum doesn’t pass on this go-round, it will eventually.

“The Scots, like a lot of people, when you tell them they can’t do something, it’s more likely to make them do it,” Reid said. “The more people in England say ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you’re not capable,’ the stronger those arguments became. Scots said, ‘Really? Well, we’ll show you.’ Almost just to prove a point. And the expected turnout is going to be upwards of 80 percent. There’s a lot of people not on the radar for the pollsters. As they go to the polls there will be more of a yes vote than we currently think.

“Being an expat, I’ve realized more what it means to be Scottish, and that’s increased my nationalist feelings,” Reid said. “Something I admire about Americans is their confidence. They believe they can do anything. That’s something I think Scots have trouble with. A lot of the campaign has been about instilling confidence that we can do this, and the other side has been chipping away at that.”

Bryan Glass, a professor who teaches British history at Texas State University, has literally written the book on this, “The Scottish Nation at Empire’s End.” He predicts a close yes vote.

“Even if it’s a close no vote, Scotland will be given much more authority and ask for more and more, and eventually Scotland will be free,” Glass said.

He also sees a yes vote as inevitable since the National Party took the majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

London, unsurprisingly, has unleashed a strategy of “charm and scare,” reminding Scots of historical and cultural ties.

“We’ve been in a state of psychological arrested development for a long time,” said Innes Mitchell, an expatriate and professor in the communications department at St. Edward’s University. “The no campaign has been focused on risk and uncertainly because they know that is the weak spot. We’re finally cutting up the credit card. Your credit card is fine, but you pay a helluva lot of interest on that card. We’re standing on our own feet financially and moving on.”

Mitchell, who spent about six weeks in Scotland this summer with a group of St. Ed’s students working on a documentary about the referendum, saw a striking difference in energy between his home country and adopted state.

“It was going from somewhere so vibrant, back to the midterm elections in Texas and it’s just politics as usual,” Mitchell said.

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