Watching The World

Published: Thursday September 25, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday September 25, 2014 MYT 10:20:51 AM

Backing away from change

Keeping watch: Policemen standing guard during a demonstration in Glasgow following the results of the Scottish independence referendum. - EPA

Keeping watch: Policemen standing guard during a demonstration in Glasgow following the results of the Scottish independence referendum. - EPA

When faced with making a major decision, many resort to the tried and tested.

MOST people love to grumble and complain about the status quo, but on the rare occasions they are confronted with an opportunity for genuine change, many beat a hasty retreat to the realm of the familiar.

That’s certainly what I was thinking as I watched the results pour in for the referendum on Scottish independence.

All along polls showed a projected defeat for the Yes campaign, and although the gap did narrow, in the end the ask was too much.

Pragmatism, conservatism, sentimentality, fear. That’s what leads us to avoid making major changes when the opportunity comes along.

When I think of the all the proud Scots I have met over the years, I feel a mite embarrassed for them.

There was Ian, a proud supporter of Glasgow Celtic whose passion for Scottish football was so blinding that he declared Torquay United to be the only English team worth watching.

Then there was Alistair MacDo­nald who, some 300 years after the fact, was still angered by the Glencoe Massacre of 1692 in which 38 members of his clan were slain, ostensibly for not swearing allegiance to the United Kingdom’s new Protestant monarch swiftly enough.

My own interest in Scottish history led me once to pay my respects at the field of Culloden Moor where the Jacobite cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie met a crushing defeat in 1746. It was a loss that sealed the fate of the Scottish House of Stuart which had provided the UK with four monarchs.

But it was no surprise, really, that a majority of those eligible to cast their votes opted for the safer course of action.

For all the talk of Scottish oil and its revenue, the region would have had to face some significant economic challenges if it were to strike out on its own. And in the end, the uncertainty scared a lot of people.

I was reminded of other contentious votes with similar outcomes.

In the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, the pro-independence vote lost out very narrowly by a margin of 49.4% to 50.6% in 1995. And in 1999, Australia’s republican advocates lost the vote with 45% supporting and 55% opposing the idea of Australia replacing the queen/Governor-General system with a president.

Whether or not in all three cases little old ladies who loved the queen were a factor, the truth is that a sufficiently large spectrum of the populace did not want to move away from the established system.

People demand change but change scares people.

In truth this is echoed around the world, and it’s not really easy to see what the solution is. In Spain, the Basque and Catalonia regions have pushed for autonomy, and indeed on Nov 9 the latter will vote on it, although it remains to be seen if the vote’s result is binding.

But should nations split? What is to be gained by so much self-determination? It’s an issue that has raged quite viciously over the years.

The Biafra war was a result of Nigeria reining in an Ibo region that declared independence.

Millions starved and the Ibo surrendered, eventually being re-integrated. But even today, the Christian-Muslim divide is preyed upon by extremist groups like Boko Haram.

Sri Lanka’s Tamils, Myanmar’s various minorities and Timor-Leste just represent a handful of examples where the secessionist ideal resulted in a bloody war spanning generations. Most recently Sudan split, ending a war that dated back to the 1960s with Southern Sudan beco­ming an independent nation. Far from being the panacea, a new conflict emerged in Southern Sudan!

The reality is that nation states have evolved over the years for a reason. In the developing world, nations often formed based on how countries had been colonised and had very little to do with commona­lities or logical boundaries.

This results in different racial, religious and language groups being thrown together. The dynamics and balance of power usually evolve to a state of détente, a sort of uneasy peace in which neighbours learn to live with one another.

Modern Malaysia might seem set in stone, but in the 1950s and 60s things were very fluid, with the Philippines laying claim to Sabah, Indonesia instigating military action against us, Brunei looking like it might join, and Singapore in then out. Many might be tempted by new beginnings, but like the Scots, maybe the best option is ultimately to work with what we have.

  • Star Online News Editor Martin Vengadesan is one of those impatient types who loves to see change, but acknowledges that it isn’t always for the best.
  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

Tags / Keywords: Martin Vengadesan

More Articles

Filter by

Keeping watch: Policemen standing guard during a demonstration in Glasgow following the results of the Scottish independence referendum. - EPA

Backing away from change

25 September 2014

When faced with making a major decision, many resort to the tried and tested.

Swedes return to basics

11 September 2014

The Swedish model has proven to be among the most successful and humane systems to ever grace this earth.

Fighting off despair

28 August 2014

Sometimes it is tempting to adopt a cynical attitude and give up on what seems a losing battle.

Victory: Erdogan’s supporters take to the streets to celebrate his win in the presidential election — AFP

What does Erdogan mean?

14 August 2014

Once seen as ushering in a new reformist era, Turkey’s leader has again extended his grip on power.

Recognise the enemy within

17 July 2014

If we keep looking under rocks for dangers that don’t exist, we will end up missing the real threats that are right in front of us.

The politics of football

3 July 2014

Sometimes there is much more to sporting events than a mere result on the field.

The Belgian waffle

19 June 2014

Last time around it took Belgium’s politicians 589 days to agree on a coalition government, so this year’s drawn out battle isn’t that worrying yet.

Back to square one

5 June 2014

A thumping win for a coup leader is usually a sign that democracy has been swept under the carpet.

Tread with caution

8 May 2014

History is replete with examples of the dangers of giving religious authorities too much power over society.

A new approach

24 April 2014

Striking a balance between defending our traditions and accepting new ideas is key to progress.


Recent Posts