On the brink of a nation’s birth — or not

Finlay Matheson, a Scottish exchange student at Ryerson, said he is strongly for Scottish independence. (Courtesy Finlay Matheson)

Finlay Matheson, a Scottish exchange student at Ryerson, said he strongly supports Scottish independence. (Courtesy Finlay Matheson)

Finlay Matheson will take the uncertainty. He’ll trade stability for freedom and guaranteed free university for national pride because “it’s a point of principle.”

“I consider myself Scottish and not necessarily British,” said the third-year journalism student on exchange from Edinburgh.

Matheson is “quite strongly” on the Yes side of the polarizing referendum set to hit Scotland on Thursday that will determine its independence from the United Kingdom.

“(I want) to be able to choose my own government, to be equal to the rest of the world,” Matheson said.

Scotland has been part of the U.K. for 307 years, but generally votes more liberally than England — since 1997, it has never elected more than one Conservative MP. But in national politics, the territory’s voice has been long been drowned out by that of England, which, in the populous south of the U.K., holds more votes.

The Scottish Nationalist Party is leading the Yes camp, and has seen a recent surge in support, while the U.K. cross-party organization the Better Together campaign comprises the No camp.

The two sides are mere points apart in recent YouGov polls, and an apparent state of panic has since swept the U.K. government.

British politicians across the aisle have spent the last week campaigning for the No camp. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, the Labour party’s Ed Miliband and Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg are all in Scotland.

But it is yet unknown if their efforts — and especially Cameron’s — will bear fruit.

“It’s a double-edged sword,”said Martin Greig, an associate professor of British history at Ryerson and an ancestral Scot.

“David Cameron is the prime minister and he’s a Conservative — he’s not too popular in Scotland.

Greig said it is hard to tell if Cameron’s “pleas” resonate with the Scots of backfire, but it does “smack of desperation.”

In Canadian, however, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird have sided with Cameron, who some say will have his tenure defined by the referendum.

“If Scotland votes for independence, then this government, and of course David Cameron, will go down in history for losing Scotland. That’s a nice thought for me,” said Matheson.

“I can’t stand the man. He’s just a Tory. He’s the epitome of what we don’t like about Westminster— he’s posh, English, went to private school and he is a multi-millionaire.

Greig said the U.K.’s image will be affected if the Yes camp wins.

“The real damage is prestige,” Greig said. “The United Kingdom has already suffered in the 20th century in losing its empire and dominance in world affairs. I think Scotland leaving would weaken its international reputation.”

The No camp’s argument is focused on security and stability.

It’s not certain that Scotland can be economically independent and provide the same standard of public services. It’s not certain the currency that an independent Scotland will use: the Scottish Nationalist Party plans to continue using the pound, even after unionists said they would not share the currency.

There are also other unknowns: would Scots still have free tuition? Would they still have National Health Services? There are specifics that the Yes camp has not been able to clarify, instead focusing on a patriotic platform that caters to the heart more than the head.

Matheson said he understands there are risks for an independent Scotland, but “common sense will prevail.”

“It’s in the common good for us to iron these things out,” Matheson said. “It’s better than another decision we didn’t vote for that we feel the effects of.”

Matheson will cast his vote by proxy, through his father, on Thursday.

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