Should Scotland be an independent country? Today’s referendum asks a simple question of the Scottish electorate to which they can answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. The World’s media has been providing in-depth analysis and lengthy coverage for some days now, whilst politicians across the World have been voicing their opinions as have all manner of organisations. The global Sikh community has been largely silent on the issue though as have Sikh leaders in the UK surprisingly enough. One organisation however, the City Sikhs Network (CSN) has released a press statement in the last 24 hours advising Scots to vote ‘No’ on the basis of some questionable and tenuous notions. We asked some of our writers at NAUJAWANI.com as well as other leading Sikh thinkers and writers for their views on the question of Scottish independence and if relevant, the stance taken by London-based CSN.
“This referendum has provided a chance to the Scottish sub-nation to raise their voice in the UK. It is the true representation of people in a healthy democracy. What ever the result may be, nobody has labelled Scottish nationalist Alex Salmond as a traitor, terrorist or security threat to Britain. The whole debate has been focused on the real issues which is a testament to the real dynamism of democracy where all people have the democratic right to think about their political future. This element of British democracy should be applauded and other democracies have to follow in these footsteps to provide space for their ethnic minorities to choose their own future.”
“I have been particularly disappointed in Sikhs in Scotland who have advocated voting against Scottish independence, based on selfish and petty grounds. I would have liked to have thought that a true Sikh in Scotland would vote with notions of creating a fairer society and in the best interests of his or her community, even if it was not in his or her personal interest. While on the topic of bad faith I feel I must address the statement issued by the City Sikh Network (CSN). I’m shocked that they have overlooked the key factors which led to the referendum, including that most Scots believe a change is desperately needed to safeguard their future. Instead the CSN have mashed together an arbitrary and haphazard argument for why Scottish Sikhs should vote against Scottish independence. Including that Westminster gave exemptions to the turban; so Sikhs in Scotland should deny self-determination to Scotland because we do not have to wear hard hats on construction sites, or helmets when we ride motorcycles? The invocation of the first Sikh to set foot in the UK, Duleep Singh, as a reason to stay in the union is also a poor choice. Notwithstanding the context in which he was ‘brought’ over, the irony will not be lost on many Scots that he was the heir to the Sikh State (following the assassination of four of his predecessors), and brought over to diminish the legitimacy of the Sikh struggle to regain their Kingdom. The irony is unmerciful and unrelenting; considering that he was stripped of his statehood, identity, culture and history and died whilst in the pursuit of trying to reconnect with his roots and to create an independent Sikh State.
Lastly, of all my criticisms of the recent statement from CSN, the greatest is that the grounds upon which Scottish Sikhs are being implored to vote no, are communal, in that they do not relate to the Scottish people. These Sikhs are candidly being told to vote no, not in the interests of Scotland, but due to the relationship between Sikhs and England. I was born and raised in London, and am guided by Sikh ideology, I cannot relate to the CSN’s reasoning, which is representative of the City, not the Sikhs. The ‘Yes’ campaign is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of over 1 million people, and against further proliferation of nuclear weapons. They wish to use that wealth instead, to create a fairer society. I hope Sikhs in Scotland vote ‘yes’ guided by Sikh ideology, aiming to create a fairer, more egalitarian society, and to uphold the right of Scots to determine their own future.”
-Baljit Singh, National Sikh Youth Federation
“The people of Scotland have the right to self determination. To suggest that Scottish Sikhs should vote ‘no’ based on their relationship with British Sikhs is a colonial mindset. I implore the Sikhs of Scotland to vote for the option that they feel will best benefit their country. They have a rich history in doing so and should once again activate and make their voices heard.”
–Gurbir Singh Nakhwal
“In the era of globalisation there is a lot of hype over the opening of borders and a united world, however the nation state currently remains the only sure way of protecting the history and culture of a people. The influence of community leaders may kindle a flame in Scotland over a particular issue though this would be unlikely to spread to England or Wales. Therefore a union would serve only to protect the status quo and be averse to change. This probably would not matter so such if Britain was a model of democracy for the rest of the world to follow, however it is not. As a nation, we still leave a lot to be desired, in comparison to countries like Sweden and Finland and for this reason I encourage the Scots from the depths of my heart to vote ‘Yes’ for Independence.”
–Gurpreet Singh Rehal
“The right to self-determination is open to each nation as agreed by the United Nations. The Scottish also hold this right, to determine their future, to vote yes or no. If Scotland chooses the bravery of William Wallace, then they should be bold and follow through with an almighty ‘yes’. If they want to assist their neighbours down south and across the shores and maintain strength in numbers and joint power, then vote ‘no’. Now me, I enjoy self-determination and leadership – so I’d say throw caution to the wind and vote ‘yes’. Be bold and write your own history.”
-Harjinder Singh, Akaal Publishers
“I want the Scottish people to do what they think is right for them when they make the decision to answer yes or no in this referendum. My fellow Sikhs in Scotland should make their decision on the same basis, happy in the knowledge that they owe nothing to Britain, just as we do not in England as all thanks and appreciation from a Sikh go to the Almighty. We might have a deep relationship with this country, but we mustn’t forget that it is one containing both positive and negative memories, and whatever dispensations and rewards we have gained here have been earnt through hard work, not bestowed upon us. Most importantly, the respect and credence that our predecessor Sikhs garnered was based on their inalienable sovereignty and required no validation from the British establishment or any other man-made authority as the City Sikhs Network statement suggests – a fact that will resonate with many Scotsmen I am sure.”
–Harwinder Singh Mander
“The whole concept of being afraid of losing Sikh unity because of differing countries of residence is flawed from the ground up. If your agenda does not pervade imaginary borders to unify people to a cause then you don’t live by any Sikh principle I have come to understand. I would urge the City Sikhs Network to understand the concept of unity in the Guru Granth Sahib and then perhaps they will be more cautious when trying to amalgamate place of birth with a lifestyle.
I would further add that an understanding of the benefits of independence be understood as a greater meter of change other than the perceived loss of connection, for example a population could establish their own currency backed by gold so as to not be in submission to banks outside of their territory, something the Sikh leader Banda Singh Bahadur made a priority when establishing the first Khalsa State.
Lastly, imagine somebody who is born into a Sikh family, who claims to represents Sikhs and then pushes the Indian state agenda in the present era; his/her understanding of Sikhi comes into question. Now why is this not understood when taking Britain into consideration and relating so closely to the Sikh people?”
-Jagdeep Singh, Snakes & Fakes
“Since the times of Guru Nanak, Sikhs have strived for sovereignty, not only for those belonging to the House of Nanak, but also joining the struggle of those who want to be free to govern themselves. This referendum gives Scottish Sikhs the opportunity to be part of a historic moment where Scotland and her people will have a chance to once again become a sovereign nation. This is not about breaking from the Union, but simply about giving a people the right to determine their own future as they see fit, and for that reason, Scottish Sikhs should vote ‘Yes’.”
“The statement released by City Sikhs Network utilises the specious kinship between the Sikhs and the British as an argument for voting ‘No’ in today’s referendum on Scottish Independence. This argument is indicative of how the network does politics – by capitalising on a perceived benevolence of a past empire in the hope of ascension to a political career. This infantile approach to politics further betrays the networks limited understanding of a globalised world in which the health of the economy, not perceived historical kinships, determines the viability of a State.”
– Manoher Singh, Sikh Studies Forum
“Overall, wherever Sikhs reside, we benefit the society we live in. This fact is not a reason to forbid the Scottish people of their freedom.
City Sikhs Network suggest that Scottish Sikhs should not feel the glow of freedom because we have a long history of successes with the British Government. I disagree, seeing a lot more grey areas and the relationship the British have with Duleep Singh depicts this for me.
In any case, a rich history with any State, does not mean that we should disregard our own ideology and fall victim to Government propaganda – every society should have the right to choose their own fate.”
“I work with several Scots and they all believe ‘together is better’ mainly from a financial perspective. However when discussed further, you begin to uncover their hidden desires for independence and an entitlement that has been suppressed for too long. During these conversations I always think of Punjab – I would vote for Punjab’s independence in a heartbeat, despite the financial repercussions I might suffer. Scotland may not face the same bleakness as Punjab, but like any community their vision for the future needs to be in the hands of the people they identify with – and only they can determine who that is.”
–Palwinder Kaur Mander
“The ‘yes’ campaign has actively promoted the proposition that an independent Scotland will usher in an era of greater sharing of wealth and decentralisation, which in turn is hoped will create a fairer society. The Sikh Gurus heralded the creation of micro-societies exemplified in the towns that they constructed hundreds of years ago. These towns, such as Anandpur, were manifestations of decentralised power, fair and equitable. If the Scottish nation believes that such a society can be created then by all means I would say ‘aye’.”
–Ranjeet Singh Shahi
“The referendum for Scottish independence initiated by British democracy has shown a great depth of understanding to illustrate that people have the right to determine their future. Sikhs lost that opportunity in 1947 where since in India, our ‘no’ has been paid for with a heavy price and a foreclosure over the future. The Scottish people should vote ‘yes’ to pay due respect to the William Wallace’s in their history. Sikhs who too have a valiant history and many Wallace like personalities should be supporting the ‘yes’ campaign, looking back at our leaders of 1947 who lacked foresight. My wish is for a ‘yes’ vote in the hope that this brave step will embolden the path for other suppressed nations like the Tuareg, Kurds and many more, putting pressure on other democracies to give this choice to their people.”
–Ranjit Singh ‘Kuki’ Gill
“The relationship between Sikhs and Britain should not have an influence on whether one votes for or against Scottish independence. That decision should be based solely on how best to safeguard the social, political and economic interests of Scotland and her people.
Factors such as securing oil reserves in the North Sea would ensure that the revenue and tax goes to Scotland and not Westminster, as it currently does, or the likely decentralisation of services and offices such as the DVLA would inevitably create many jobs which in turn would boost the economy. Scotland could also become a leading global supplier of energy and electricity at a time when the demand for such resources is at an all-time high across Europe.
It appears change is imminent, whether one opts for or against Scottish Independence. The only difference seems to be that a ‘No’ vote would restrict and limit the control of change as Westminster would continue to have the ultimate say. That does not safeguard the best interest of the Scottish people, which should be the real crux of this debate.”
“City Sikh Network appear to have an almost slavish mindset, preoccupied with wealth accumulation and afflicted with status. These type of arguments were used by the British imperialists before quitting India, and then by successive ruling parties governing from Delhi. Federal de-centralized power is what the world is craving, based on the principles of fairness & enlightenment from Gurbani, where rulers are selected from the people and not the privileged few Etonians. One of the problems of generations of slavery is that the oppressed come to believe their subordinate status.”
-Satnam Singh, HealthySikhs.org
“Sikhs have lived in the UK arguably since 1855, when the son of the last Sikh ruler of Punjab was bought over as a trophy and a political pawn by the then colonial masters. Since 1855 we have talked about the dispossession of the Sikh Empire and the subsequent attempted anglicisation of Sikh culture and identity in the UK. Today the movement for self determination is very much alive. Now a new generation of activists form the vanguard that will see the Punjab under Sikh rule once again.
The Scottish people like the Sikhs have their own history, language and culture, that existed long before the dominion of the English. As a Sikh I find I have so much in common with the Scottish people who have similarly been deprived of their sovereignty, I hope that they once again become masters of their own destiny, for better or for worse, as is their right.
I also long to see an end to modern day colonialism manifested by imperialistic capitalism that has seen millions killed and made refugees, in wars of resource exploitation.
I hope the free people of the world never forget the barbarity and moral depravation through which this façade of progress was erected. Our dearly held modernity is but a brief calm after generations of genocide.”
-Shamsher Singh, activist