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Scottish Secession Bid Stokes Global Interest

  • Henry Ridgwell

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries.

Some see it as a risky experiment while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands.

Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. In the peaceful surrounds of Mayfield Salisbury Church in Edinburgh, for example, Chak Por Cheung distributes a monthly newsletter for the Chinese Evangelical Church.

Born in Hong Kong, Cheung moved to Scotland as a student in the 1970s and has since developed strong sense of national identity with his adopted homeland.

“So when we talk to people and they say, ‘Edinburgh, England,' we always quickly correct them and say, ‘No, Edinburgh, Scotland!" he says.

In part, it is that strong identity that drives some Scots’ desire for independence from London.

Similarly, Hong Kong is seeing protests demanding greater autonomy from Beijing. The demonstrators want universal suffrage to choose their next leader in 2017 — a wish the Chinese government has rejected. But Cheung says there are limits to the analogy.

“All the world has their eyes on it and [I think] the Chinese government will look at it very carefully," he said. "But I don’t think this will draw the same analogy as the Hong Kong situation, because Hong Kong was a British colony and before that it belonged to China."

If the shadow of Edinburgh’s majestic castle, Jass Singh — from Punjab in India — has helped his family run a convenience store for the last four years.

He says there is much interest in India in the potential break-up of the former colonial ruler.

“People are watching what’s going on, [asking] is Scotland going to be separate from England?" he says. "In India since 1949, Pakistan has been separated from India, and that was a big loss I think. Still they are watching. The main thing is the English government did that, too, so they have been watching for that reason."

In the Catalonia region of northeast Spain, interest in the Scottish referendum goes beyond casual curiosity: Protesters took to the streets Thursday to demand independence from Madrid.

Catalans are planning to hold their own referendum in November, which the Spanish government has refused to recognize.

Many Catalans believe that if an independent Scotland prospers and successfully becomes a member of the European Union, their dreams of statehood will soon be fulfilled.

“When the 'yes' vote became a majority, then they were willing to start a dialogue," says Conxita Molins, who runs a sausage store in Barcelona. “I hope we can be like them and get to vote and vote 'yes' so we can win."

But back in Edinburgh, university student Dani Cetra — a Catalan who hails from Barcelona — is studying the similarities between Scotland and Catalonia.

Back home, he says, the British prime minister is admired.

“David Cameron is seen as a hero in Catalonia," he says. "He’s seen as a true democrat, as someone who when he faced the demand for a referendum on independence, was reasonable and accommodating about this demand. And this is seen in contrast to the attitude of Spanish prime minister."

However Scotland votes on September 18, it will prove an experiment in democracy watched carefully around the world.

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