By Bejay Browne
SCOTS IN Cyprus are bracing for an emotional roller-coaster on Thursday evening as their folk back home decide whether Scotland will become an independent state.
Excitement is mixed with frustration: like all other far-flung Scots around the world those here will have no say in this nail-baiting vote.
You have to be a resident of Scotland to cast a ballot for what could be an historic turning point for both Scotland and the United Kingdom.
So, whether they are in Paphos or Paralimni, Larnaca or Limassol, Scots in Cyprus will be glued to their TV sets as the results come in, most nursing large whiskies – whether to calm the nerves, commiserate or celebrate.
Their community is as divided and opinionated on the big question of independence as their friends and relatives some 2,000 miles away in the north of the United Kingdom; a kingdom that could be significantly truncated by the end of the week.
For the time being at least, it is impossible to say how many Scots are living in Cyprus. Until Thursday they are simply numbered among the nearly 27,000 British residents on the island. A Yes vote would change that.
“We may become illegal immigrants in Cyprus overnight and need visas,”
jokes John McDonald, 42, a former soldier. It is a rare moment of levity. For, like all other Scots the Sunday
Mail spoke to, whether or not Scotland should go it alone after more than 300 years is understandably a very serious subject.
He wants his homeland to remain in the Union. “I think a Yes vote is a mistake and not the way forward for Scotland or Britain,” says McDonald, originally from Edinburgh. He moved to Cyprus a year ago with wife, Deborah, and four-year-old daughter, Maisie. He was in the British army for 25 years, serving in the Gulf war, Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
“And my Dad was in the Black Watch. I’m a patriotic Scotsman, but I’m leaning towards an outcome of a No vote – it’s better the devil you know.”
McDonald is concerned that a Yes vote will possibly have a negative effect on the armed forces, the police, banks, currency and EU membership. “It seems like an awful lot of hard work for no great benefit and the outcome is too unpredictable.”
A Yes vote, he fears, could usher in years of financial hardship for a Scotland that he’s unsure will be able to flourish as independent state.
“Before you know it taxes will be up and more than England, it’s really a case of who’s telling the most lies, I don’t trust politicians but they’re a necessity and we need a democracy.”
He believes the Yes camp has been boosted by the Scottish government’s decision to reduce the voting age for the referendum from 18 to 16.
The vote of a 16 or 17-year-old, he argues, will be emotionally driven, with less thought given to the political or economic ramifications of the referendum.
“It’s all, ‘Are you Scottish?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you proud to be Scottish?’
‘Yes.’ Then vote ‘Yes.’”
McDonald continues: “I can understand why a lot of people in Scotland want a Yes vote. Scotland was hammered in the 1980s and it’s still raw for many. The fallout from Thatcher was felt from the north of England up. I think the results are too close to call. The 18-year-olds and older will vote No but the 16 and 17 year olds will mostly vote Yes.”
He says that even if a No vote prevails this time the Yes campaigners will keep going until they get independence.
His mother, Margaret McDonald, 62, a housekeeper in a residential home in Scotland will be voting No when she returns home from her holiday in Cyprus. She told the Sunday Mail that she has have lived in Scotland all of her life and is keen on politics. Along with many other members of her family, she once worked for the Labour Party.
“I strongly believe in ‘Better Together’ and believe that Scottish party leaders backing a No Vote have set out a timetable for more power for Scotland if we stay in the UK. Scots now have certainty that there will be more powers over tax and welfare after a No vote.”
She adds: “Change is coming to Scotland within the UK, so staying together will be beneficial to Scotland. All the SNP (Scottish National Party) is offering is risk and unanswered questions.”
Lorraine Thomson, who worked in financial services and recruitment in Glasgow until she moved to Cyprus two
years ago, says Scottish people are by nature very patriotic and proud. They may find the idea of being independent appealing – but many are fearful of what that might entail.
Certainly, she says, the business community is well aware of the complexities of the situation.
“Some senior businesses have said if there is a Yes, they would move down south as they are fearful of the long term sustainability if Scotland becomes financially independent.”
Her sister, Vivien Nicol, a care assistant in Ayrshire, is in Cyprus on holiday but will be back home to vote No on Thursday.
“Too much is unknown, and so many promises are being made but no indication of where the finances will come from,” she says. “It’s better being united and there aren’t enough benefits to warrant change. There has to be some way of paying for this and income tax will probably increase.”
For George Swanson, who retired to Paphos two years ago, the need for independence has passed.
“Thirty years or so ago when we discovered oil and could stand on our own two feet, it was a different story. It’s now a nationalist appeal as opposed to economics,” he says.
“The collapse of two of the main banks in Scotland was bad news for us and undermined Scotland’s image of canniness. I’m unsure if Scotland could sustain itself and I believe we should stay in the union and would vote No.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Anderson, a retired school teacher from Inverness living in Limassol, is in favour of an independent Scotland in theory – but says the practicalities make it a tricky option fraught with danger.
Scotland, he believes, is intrinsically linked with England and Great Britain, and that the way forward is for it to gain more powers rather than independence.
“The voting system is unfair as Scots living outside the country don’t have a right to vote in the future of our country. I know a number of youngsters back in Scotland who say they will be voting Yes but I don’t believe they really understand the knock-on effect this will have in all areas of Scottish life,” he says. “It will create a divided Scottish society.”
He thinks the Yes vote will be victorious, an outcome he fears would seriously set back the Scottish economy. And the border between England and Scotland would “become a real entity”, a prospect that saddens him deeply.
Given what the immensely high stakes and deep uncertainties, he is avidly following every twist and turn of the two year-old referendum campaign that climaxes on Thursday.
“Although I’m living here, I’m a Scotsman and always will be.”
Alex Campbell, a retired banker in Limassol, is an adamant Yes voter and partially blames the initial dismissive English attitude towards the referendum for the strength of his feeling.
“Those who say Scotland can’t stand on its own two feet are ignoring our past, our history. We’re energetic and entrepreneurial and have proved it time and time again,” he says. “I was always going to vote Yes but became even more determined after hearing so many of my English friends telling me over a pint they were bored silly by the referendum debate. It’s only now that independence is a real possibility that they’re taking the whole thing seriously. And that’s because it could hit their pocket.”
He says he finds such attitudes insulting.
“Just like it was insulting that Cameron and company didn’t show up in Scotland until they thought they could lose it. You can bet Cameron won’t bother showing up there again if it’s a No vote.”