Jason Keeling: W.Va. can learn from Scottish Independence Movement

By By Jason Keeling

In the 18th Century, numerous Scots sailed from the Old World toward the promise of a life with new opportunities. Many of them settled throughout what is now West Virginia.

Remnants of this ancestry endure throughout the state. Bridgeport hosts a Scottish Festival annually, the town of Glasgow replicates the namesake of Scotland’s largest city, and West Virginia University has adopted a plaid officially approved by the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh.

While this heritage is acknowledged from a nostalgic perspective, perhaps greater attention should be focused on modern-day Scotland, for we may glean insight from its most pressing challenge and find inspiration to consider more progressive thinking at home.

Scotland spurred cultural Enlightenment in the 1700s and it now seeks to construct a contemporary transformation. On Thursday, its citizens will vote on a referendum asking: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

That nation’s political leadership is heading the charge to gain independence from the United Kingdom it has belonged to for over 300 years.

The majority of decisions affecting Scotland are presently made in chambers of the U.K. Parliament, in London.

Yet only 9 percent of that body’s House of Commons is composed of representatives from Scotland, and the House of Lords is unelected.

So issues of taxation, infrastructure and economy are predominately made for Scots by officials outside their country.

This system of government has been in place longer than our state has existed, but the Scottish people now have an opportunity to move in a new direction.

Leadership and courage are the factors that have enabled such a choice.

It is not a sword-yielding Braveheart William Wallace advancing this historical moment, but the tenacity of political leaders, First Minister Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party (SNP), who have worked to produce a series of actions setting this stage, despite a myriad of criticisms outlining challenges that could face an independent Scotland.

There are many nuances to leadership, but the ability to foresee future needs and expedite modernization in the public interest is critical. This requires going beyond the way things have always been done and instead cultivating a willingness to think and work differently.

Over the last year, polling has indicated the independence measure had little chance of passing, but in recent weeks an upsurge in support suggests a dead heat between those favoring a new direction and others opposed to this significant adjustment.

Whether the Scottish referendum passes, the needle has obviously been moved, and Scots may feel emboldened to press on in numerous ways that benefit the greater good.

As Americans, perhaps we should ask ourselves if our current leaders are challenging us to move forward into a new age, whether at the federal or local level, and if not, let’s become more inclined to speak up about our own expectations for a better county and state, until the culture begins to shift toward one that takes more calculated risks.

Keeling is a public relations professional who lives in Cross Lanes. He can be found online at www.twitter.com/jasonkeeling.

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