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Granados: From Raleigh to Scotland, with a dream

Mick McKenna traveled from his North Raleigh home to his native Scotland as voters went to the polls last month. They ultimately decided to not become independent of Great Britain.
Mick McKenna traveled from his North Raleigh home to his native Scotland as voters went to the polls last month. They ultimately decided to not become independent of Great Britain. COURTESY OF MICK MCKENNA

When Scottish citizens went to the polls to decide whether to become independent, it was an event 307 years in the making. That’s how long Scotland has been together with England and Wales in that thing called Great Britain.

The historic moment missed turning into one of the few of history’s bloodless revolutions when 55 percent of voters chose “no.”

Mick McKenna of North Raleigh was there to witness the action. He is from Scotland and moved to Raleigh in 2000.

As an American citizen, McKenna couldn’t join in the vote. But as the cliche goes, he was hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

McKenna is from Glasgow, and he has wanted independence for Scotland for decades.

“I was very interested in what was happening, and I couldn’t believe that it would be happening,” he said. “I was skeptical that there would be many people in favor of it.”

Back in the 1970s, McKenna said, there was hope for Scotland’s future when a referendum was to decide whether it would receive more power. But similar to the vote last month, nationalists were stymied.

“People went through that and never got increased powers of independence, so that left a lot of people resentful,” he said.

That feeling only intensified during the 1980s with the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the conservative Thatcherism.

McKenna said that no matter who Scottish citizens voted for in government, they always felt like they came away with leaders in the minority party who were powerless to affect change.

Add to that the decimation of the mining and shipbuilding industries – both vital to the Scottish homeland, McKenna said – and a general feeling of malaise had fallen over the area.

“It seemed like a pipe dream,” he said. “It’s never going to happen. And I think people felt that in the ’80s.”

That began to change with the election of Tony Blair, a Scot and a much more liberal answer to Thatcher’s conservatism. And then the creation of a Scottish parliament in 2000 seemed to mark a clear line forward toward independence.

McKenna said things got even more volatile around the time of the second Gulf War in the early 2000s. Many Scots were critical of Great Britain’s decision to enter the war, and they were vocal about it. But they were ignored.

“The Gulf War was a big turning point – that so many people could be against it and they still stuck with it,” McKenna said.

Couple that with austerity measures later in 2010 and cutbacks, and Scotland began to feel increasingly separate from England, he said.

McKenna sees independence as a foregone conclusion. The only question is when.

“If not now, in three years’ time, in five years’ time, but I think it can only go in one direction,” he said.

When he landed in Scotland prior to the vote, he said, the atmosphere was festive, and lively debates were taking place all over – even in pubs.

He was concerned that all the negative Scottish publicity would sway voters. He said all but one Scottish paper were opposed to independence.

But he was heartened by the fact that young people could vote in the referendum starting at the age of 16. They were less likely to be swayed by traditional media, he thought.

“For young people, I think ... they really don’t care what it said on the front of the most popular paper in Scotland,” McKenna said.

In fact, he attributes the fact that the “yes” votes accounted for 45 percent of the total vote to the influence of young people.

When the results were announced, though he in part expected them, McKenna was depressed and embarrassed.

“People had the chance to do something gusty by putting an ‘X’ on a piece of paper ... and not enough people took the chance to put ‘yes.’ ”

But he said the fact that Scotland has slowly been gaining independence from Great Britain for years has created an irreversible trend – one that will eventually free his native Scotland from English rule.

He sees parallels between Scotland and teenagers coming into their own.

“The more independence you get, the more you want,” he said. “You don’t get to the point where you say, ‘Enough.’ ”

Older people are more risk averse, he said, but as the younger generation ages, and calls for independence continue, only one thing can happen.

And perhaps, if and when there is another independence vote, McKenna will leave the confines of his North Raleigh home and witness the historical moment he’s been waiting for.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at