Och aye, it's tricky

19:21, Nov 13 2012
Professor Liam McIlvanney
Otago Scottish Studies professor Liam McIlvanney

University of Otago Stuart Chair of Scottish Studies Professor Liam McIlvanney helps D SCENE reporter Wilma McCorkindale get the Dunedin word on the Scottish independence question.

If there's one New Zealand city where the vexed question of Scottish independence from Britain should be debated, it's the Edinburgh of the South, Dunedin.

Liam McIlvanney has gathered some Scottish ex-pats at the Scottish-owned Stuart St Albar, to thrash out the topic passionately and knowledgeably, amid much conjecture and banter.

Each share a pride in their homeland they say will never die but there are mixed feelings whether independence is economically possible or nationalistically necessary.

McIlvanney - a former speech writer for the man behind the referendum, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond - says many Dunedin Scots are conversant and passionate on the issue.

He said one development which might eventuate from independence could be a desire by the Scottish Government to reconnect with Scottish migrants, like those in Dunedin.


"The next Homecoming Festival coincides with the year of the referendum in 2014. It strikes me it's liable to strengthen and increase the interest in Scotland of the Scottish diaspora."

McIlvanney says it is possible Dunedin could become more Scottish as a result of the referendum.

"If it increases the international visibility of Scotland and Scottishness, that in turn I suppose might mean there is more brand recognition of the kind of Scottish dimension of Dunedin."

McIlvanney supports independence and believes Salmond - an economist - will approach the question with a hard-headed economist mindset.

That means forget any appeal to the bloody nationalism of historic heroes like William Wallace.

"There's not much scope for the misty-eyed romanticism you might associate with Braveheart," McIlvanney says.

"I think it's a kind of resumption of normality, really, for Scotland to just assume the full trappings of a nation state. I think it's a sign of the full maturity of Scottish politics in the wake of devolution ... the Scottish Parliament has been able to conduct its business in a competent fashion."

Steve Stevenson, in Dunedin 10 years, has always been pro-independence.

"[I've] always felt Scotland's been more than capable of looking after itself and standing by itself. We think as an independent country anyway. The real question does not come down to whether we want to be independent but how to make it work."

Peter McLaren arrived in New Zealand with his father as a four-year-old, then spent most of the 1990s in Scotland before returning to Dunedin.

"I think it will be very healthy for Scotland to actually become an independent state. I think it's a good thing, I think it's the mature thing. I think it's well overdue.

" I get a wee bit tired, in a way, of commentators complaining the English have been the problem. It would be nice just to cast that off. I think it is economically viable - the proof will be in the pudding."

Dunedin Hospital children's ward charge nurse Shirley Bell, in Dunedin 15 years, disagrees on all counts. She is against Scotland's independence bid and is miffed she can't participate in the referendum.

"I feel I've got a right to vote even though I don't live there at the moment. I'm still Scottish, I've still got my passport, you know. My roots are there.

"Romantically, I would love for Scotland to get independence. Realistically, I don't think it's a good idea. I don't think financially they can sustain themselves as an independent state. There is also the fact they can never really be independent because they're still going to keep the Queen as a monarch."

From the Isle of Skye, Murdo Ross, 37, believes not being able to vote is ridiculous.

"They might as well take me passport off me."

Ross, in Dunedin for the past 5 years, senses fear among Scots on the independence question.

"Aye, there is people who are frightened. I think to an extent because there isn't any way back. The Scots are not afraid of taking a step in the right direction - they're a wee bit scared of taking a huge leap of faith though. And that's the issue."

Albar owner Steven Collins, 37, has been in Dunedin seven years, and says he wouldn't be so cheeky as to expect to vote in the referendum.

"I don't think it's a good idea for Scotland. Just sticking two fingers up to England isn't going to change anything. There's a lot of money in Scotland because of England.

"National pride's not going to become more because they're not part of Britain any more. Scottish people are very proud to be Scottish."

The Southland Times