Too Afraid to Say ‘Yes’ to Independence

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Photo: Claridad newspaper

After polls showed the pro-independence campaign leading the pro-union one ahead of last week’s historic referendum in Scotland, 300 years of London rule over Scotland seemed to be nearly its end. U.K. officials were already preparing for the inevitably, and at least one media outlet wondered what changes would be made to the centuries-old Union Jack.

Such plans were scrapped the day following the referendum, however, as a solid majority voted “No.”

I was a tad heartbroken by the result, though I’m not Scottish myself and likely haven’t an ounce of Scottish blood in me (though my great-great-grandfather Brooks on my mother’s side was a Brit – so you never know). I was disappointed, firstly, because I believed the polls accurately captured a spirit independence grabbing hold of Scotland; I was also disappointed by having lost the chance to witness, after so many centuries of foreign sway, a nation finally seize the reins of its own destiny.

Anyone interested in Puerto Rico’s status question held their breath as they watched the people of Scotland undertake such a momentous decision. Whether statehooder or independentista, Puerto Ricans would’ve no doubt regarded Scottish independence as instructive, a vision of what a free and independent Puerto Rico could be. Thus, while divided by thousands miles of ocean and thousands of years of history as Scotland and Puerto Rico are, Scotland’s referendum also represented an important opportunity for Puerto Rico.

Given that the unionists won 55 percent of the vote, and considering independence is seemingly far less popular in Puerto Rico than it is in Scotland, it’s easy to presume dead the dream of both Scottish and Puerto Rican independence for a lifetime, if not forever. “Scotland’s failed referendum should serve as a testament to the established merits of inclusion and the incalculable risks of exclusion,” writes an overeager Diego Rosette at Voxxi. But the reasons behind the unionist win, combined with promises of a future referendum made by those who voted “Yes,” suggest independence isn’t buried yet.

Exit polling conducted by British Conservative Michael Ashcroft reveals independence as the preferred option among young Scots, while a majority of retired Scots voted “No.” As much as 71 percent of 16- and 17-year-old first-time voters supported independence — a percentage only exceeded by voters 65 and older, 73 percent of whom opposed independence.

Not only was age a factor, but economics as well, with a majority of unionists telling pollsters they mainly wanted to keep the pound. (The next largest portion of “No” voters said they mainly worried about keeping their pensions.)

The economic argument against independence is as age-old in Puerto Rico as colonialism. Whenever one introduces the possibility of breaking away from the United States, a rebuttal invariably centers on Puerto Rico’s economic prosperity once off Washington’s leash. It’s better to be a colony and rich, so say Puerto Rican loyalists, than independent and poor.

Yet, as the Hostosian National Independence Movement expressed last Friday, if Puerto Rico has brought wealth to others for so long while the people of Puerto Rico themselves remain poor, what’s to keep Puerto Ricans from creating wealth for themselves? The people of Puerto Rico, the group insists, “must reflect deeply on our ability to generate an independent economy that meets the basic needs of our population.”

Economics is never a legitimate counter argument against independence. If the main reason the estadistas and the status quo crowd have for opposing independence is economical, then they must choose another, better reason. Puerto Rico may have one of the strongest economies in Latin America, but it certainly has one of the most incapacitated economies in the Western Hemisphere, as well. Surely the right of citizens to decide the future of their nation is exponentially more valuable than the measly crumbs offered as consolation for a century of exploitation? And while I tend to believe an independent nation able to make decisions for itself is better capable of improving its economic well-being, self-determination is not merely a means to that end: self-determination is an end in and of itself.

Independence is not about what’s economically right, but what is morally right and good. This sentiment was shared by an overwhelming majority of Scotland’s “Yes” voters, 70 percent of whom agreed that “all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland,” and only 20 percent of whom felt “that on balance Scotland’s future looked brighter as an independent country.”

Another interesting feature of last week’s vote is that while the “No” voters believed the referendum settled the independence issue for at least a generation, a majority of independence supporters said they’d like to see another referendum within the next 10 years. So as the older unionist gradually die off (there’s really no other way to put it), the younger independentists may someday become a majority, and given current trends, should a referendum take place in 10 or 15 year’s time, we may very well see the disunion of the United Kingdom.

Fear, and fear alone, is what kept the people of Scotland from grabbing a hold of independence. It’s the same fear that makes the statehood campaign so popular in Puerto Rico. The road to independence is an uncertain one, fraught with many unknowns, and unfortunately, many people are all too willing to trade their freedom for a bit of security. That’s what the Loyalists were looking to do in 1776; that’s what the Scottish elite did in 1707, when they submitted to English rule for the sake of economic stability.

Puerto Rico will never become a state, and if it does, it’ll be because it has ceased to be Puerto Rico and has become something else, just as the national face of Hawaii was altered before it was admitted into the Union.

The path to statehood being closed off – and, I would argue, unwanted anyway – and the status quo being unacceptable, the only path left for Puerto Ricans to take is that which leads to their freedom and independence. Here’s hoping they’re brave enough to begin the journey.

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