A ‘far cry,’ but a close election that matters

By Tom Baxter

Yes, we have the U.S. Senate up for grabs and a couple of barn-burners in our state, but there’s a vote next week across the pond that should be of interest to a lot of people in this part of the world, for reasons that go all the way back to Alexander McGillivray and William McIntosh.

Both sons of Scottish traders and Creek mothers, McGillivray  and McIntosh were part of an extended, creolized elite which held sway over a vast part of the Southeast before the American Revolution. Equally at home in the Creek towns, the backwoods trading posts and the society halls of Charleston and Savannah, they were important early figures in the history of Georgia and Alabama.

Their fathers were followed by successive waves, from Scotland proper and in particular from Ulster. My family comes from a corner of Alabama, just over the river from Georgia, that was known as Little Scotland.

“It is a ‘far cry’ indeed from a lonely Scottish heart in a wilderness to which some equally adventurous Scotch spirit does not respond, and soon several families had moved within a radius of five miles of the present site of Pea River Church,” Glenn Shipman Baxter wrote in a brief history written on the centenary of the Pea River Presbyterian Church in 1923.

Most of our ancestors had departed Scotland long before its golden age in the late 18th Century, but the annual Stone Mountain Highland Games and Scottish Festival attests to the ties many Americans still feel. (The exception is my former colleague Jim Galloway, a first-generation Scottish-American.) Presumably that means they’ll be paying attention when Scotland votes, Thursday week, on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or begin a complicated process leading to independence as a nation.

This leaves the Scots in a position, rare in their often-bitter history, where all their neighbors are waiting with bated breath for what they’ll decide. It took only one poll showing the “Yes” vote inching into the lead to prompt a run on the pound and assurances from the British government of more political and economic autonomy if the Scots vote to stay in the UK.

Scottish independence would leave Northern Ireland isolated between two independent countries, stir enthusiasm for independence in Wales, and make it much harder for the Labor Party to win elections in the United Kingdom. There are implications for NATO and the EU as well.

What it would mean for the Scots themselves has been, obviously, a matter of heated debate, involving a host of issues from North Sea oil revenues to whether Elizabeth could rule as the queen of two countries. While the Sunday Times poll is the only one to show a lead for the “Yes” vote, another poll published over the weekend had the “No” vote only slightly ahead. The closing days of this election should be a political consultant’s Holy Grail.

Beyond the merely sentimental considerations, this is a meaningful vote for the United States. As we’ve pondered previously, the tide of disunification runs strong in the world today, and could at some time in the future make the unitedness of the United States, now a fact beyond question, a matter of debate. A vote by Scotland to end its 300-year union with its British neighbors would mark a long step toward that time.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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