Relaxed Scots have few fears over independence

By Adam Henderson, October 16, 2013
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The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. An independent Scotland could be less than 11 months away (Photo: AP)

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. An independent Scotland could be less than 11 months away (Photo: AP)

In less than a year, on September 18 2014, Scotland will hold a referendum to decide if it should remain in the United Kingdom.

According to a poll published this week, 25 per cent of Scots intend to vote yes, and 31 per cent are undecided.

Scottish Jews are having to consider how life in an independent country might affect the community, including whether ritual circumcision and kashrut would come under threat in the new nation, as it has elsewhere in the EU.

According to Paul Morron, the president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, the 6,000-strong community is split over independence, in line with the general population. But, should it happen, Mr Morron does not anticipate a dramatic impact on Scottish Jewish life .

“I don’t see any reason why the community would be treated differently. Obviously there is the pro-Palestine movement, which is stronger here than it is in England and Wales, but I don’t see any reason why it should get worse,” he said.

One potential change might involve the way the community governs itself. The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities would take on a more powerful role, akin to the Board of Deputies, Mr Morron predicted.

“The council would have to be strengthened and we would need an infrastructure which mirrored the Board in the rest of the UK.”

He added: “There would have to be a different relationship between Scotland and the Board. It would have to be a partnership with the highest level of co-operation and, at times, joint working and sharing of expertise.”

But he cautioned that Scottish Jews still needed to consider the issue of independence in depth and be ready should it happen.

Moshe Rubin, the senior rabbi for Scotland, agreed that the community would follow the wider population in the way they will vote.

He said: “There is definitely a wide variety of views across the community. They will need to think very carefully. But I’m confident that, within the Jewish community, we have the right people to deal with whatever may happen.”

Voting rights have been extended to 16- and 17- year-olds for the referendum. But if the expectation is that teenagers will get behind the Scottish National Party’s “yes” campaign, there may be a surprise in store.

Judith Raskin, a 17-year-old student at Mearns Castle High School in Glasgow, welcomed the chance to vote, but said: “I think the SNP have got the wrong impression. A lot of 16- and 17-year-olds are against independence. All my friends are. I just don’t think we’re financially stable enough to do it. We all like the idea of unity with the UK because we’re a nation and we want to be together.”

She predicted the exodus of young Jews from Scotland would continue regardless of next September’s decision. “Many Jewish people move down to England because there are more opportunities there. Independence wouldn’t stop that,” said Ms Raskin.

“Young people have a lot of contact with the rest of the UK community, in things like youth groups. Maybe younger people are closer to the English community than the older Jews here.”

Frank Angel, a 62-year-old retired dentist and former SNP council nominee, is a big supporter of independence. But he has reservations over the possibility that the strong pro-Palestinian movement in Scotland might flourish under independence.

He said: “I do worry that there is anti-Israel feeling that could merge into antisemitism, but I don’t feel it’s an attack on the religion as much as an attack on Israel. I don’t have any time for the Scottish Palestinian Support Campaign who have managed to influence a lot of people.”

Describing himself as one of the few Jews who supports the SNP — “I’m probably the only person who wears a kippah at an SNP conference” — he noted that there are “probably more party members who support the Palestinian point of view, but the same could be said of other parties”.

He added: “Muslim members of the SNP have tried to get together with me on common concerns, like kosher and halal dietary matters. We certainly would be fighting to keep these things, but there’s never been any talk about the SNP not permitting them.”

Edinburgh-based Janet Mundy, a charity fundraiser in her 50s, favours an option not included in the referendum — “devo max”, which would see Scotland staying in the Union but with increased powers for the Holyrood parliament.

“British politics is a real mess, so I’d like to see the Scottish government given more control,” she said.

“I’m a practising Jew and Judaism is important in most aspects of my life, but I don’t really feel it comes into this.”

The big split: how they line up

- The referendum on Scottish independence will be held on September 18 2014.

- Voters will answer yes or no to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

- Currently, the Scottish government has devolved powers over domestic affairs, such as education and transport.

- Independence would transfer all powers involving Scotland from Westminster to Holyrood, the Edinburgh-based Parliament.

- The official pro-independence, “Yes Scotland” campaign, is led by First Minister Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. They say: “The best people to make decisions about the future of Scotland are the people who care most about it – that is, the people of Scotland.”

- Opposing independence is the “Better Together” campaign, led by former Chancellor Alistair Darling and supported by Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, including former Tory Scotland Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. They say: “We can have the best of both worlds – a distinctive Scottish Parliament without losing the strength and security of the United Kingdom.”

Last updated: 12:18pm, October 17 2013