Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Scotland and the referendum

I have wondered all my life about Scotland.

What it means, and what it does not mean.

Who we are, and who we are not.

Growing up close to the border (for there is only one) focuses the mind.  27 miles was all that separated my childhood house from England.  One day far back in my youth (and I mean significantly before I was 10), I declared my intention to use one of my cycle rides with my late, great father, to ride to England.  In my vague memory, it was both a grand statement of intent (a different country no less!) – and eminently achievable.  It was just past Jedburgh, wasn’t it?

Luckily (and not entirely unpredictably) for my Dad, the reality of the task hit long before the border was in sight – in fact, I suspect the wind on the long, open bridge high over the river Tweed was probably the snapping point.  In the end, I satisfied myself with a return trip to Melrose – an awe-inspiring odyssey of about 3 miles in each direction.

Since I can remember, thoughts of Scotland are not separated by much from thoughts of England.  I don’t know if the same is true in Cardiff, but it seems to me that as Scots, we know who we are, because we know very clearly who we are not.  This is not to condone anti-English sentiment – quite the opposite.  It is however important to realise how fundamental the sense of being on the wrong end of an unequal power equation has been, and how unhealthy it seems to me to define yourself in negative, exclusive terms.

Identity of any sort is an often confusing and deceptive construction – a pointless quantising of an endlessly variable reality, and at the same time an essential categorisation system to enable us to deal with the  vastly variable world through which we move.  This is a discussion you could spend forever exploring - time for that later.

Having watched the referendum debate unfold from across the water in Ireland, it has made me proud in a positive way once again to be Scottish.  A famous businessman from Edinburgh – from an immigrant family – once described the “democracy of the people” as one of his favourite things in Scotland, and it has again become raucously, glaringly apparent these last few months, as the debate within Scottish society has left for dead the soundbite digging from the politicians on both sides of the argument.  There’s an old saying if you leave a Scotsman alone on a desert island, he’ll either start a church or an argument – and whilst I haven’t detected any new religious factions (yet – there are still 3 weeks to go) – the noise of the rolling argument is both deafening and invigorating.

I hope for a huge turnout.  It seems unthinkable to me that anyone within Scotland would not take the chance to at least voice their democratic opinion on what seems to me to be the single biggest issue in a generation – or more.  This is not a subject on which anyone can afford to let their vote pass unused.

On the issues, many of them can be argued either way, and neither camp has (for me) put forward anything solid on really any issue.  The ‘yes’ camp has failed to explicitly show how it will be funded, and the ‘no’ camp has failed to show why Scotland would be the only non-viable small European state.  How much oil is left?  You will find an expert who will tell you anything.  The pound, the EU, let no one kid you these issues would not be resolved.  Nuclear weapons, I have no time for - the kind of "protection" and jobs we do not need.  Salmond, and the SNP. I'm not be a big fan, but if they were to deliver independence, they would be free to make their case for election thereafter – and the electorate would then be free to take them or leave them.  Independence is not about the SNP.  It’s about Scotland.

I hope for a yes vote.  I have lots of small reasons, but only two very large ones.

I distrust politicians, but they are predictable.  They are susceptible to all kinds of influence.  For this reason, I’d like to have as much power as possible, as close to the people as possible.  I believe that arms can be twisted harder in Holyrood than they can be in Westminister – the critical mass is smaller, the screw can be turned harder, easier.  Let’s bring the politicians to where they are less comfortable – close to us.

Most crucially for me – what it shouldn’t mean to be Scottish.  The unhealthy dislike of “England” – often verbalised - perhaps an inferiority complex.  A built-in, taught, indoctrinated attitude.  (I blame the predominantly English media for a lot of this, but that’s another day’s work).  For too long Scotland has both been dictated to and held back from deciding matters on our own, for ourselves.  In some ways treated like a child, and as a result we’ve maintained a childlike attitude.

Perhaps, we’ve secretly liked this endless stalemate.  Devoid of responsibility, full of opinions but secretly hoping nobody ever calls our bluff.

It’s time to grow up – to leave the house, pay the bills, do our own washing.  We can be a fairer, more equal society.

The inclination - the "democracy of the people" - has always been there - now we need to deliver ourselves the power to implement that which we believe in.

Noone should think this will be easy - but there’s nothing unviable about Scotland, if we have the courage and the desire to take responsibility for making it so.


Anonymous said...

What a great post Dave. Really good and succinct. Naomi x

Anonymous said...

Well Dave, the electorate have spoken. What are your thoughts now?

divot said...

Good question - here's some brief thoughts:
1. It was a clear result, and a I believe a fair one - the electorate have spoken.
2. Support for Independence went from ~20% (polled) to 45% (voted) in 2 years. That's seismic, and represents a shift in the preparedness of Scotland to actually separate (and not just talk about it) that won't just dissipate. 45% of the voters looked over the edge, the end of the UK, and voted for it anyway.
3. The population of Scotland was electrified by the entire debate. That level of democratic participation will for sure settle a bit over time, but I think that will also have long-term consequences - the effort required to reach the same level of electrification will be much less next time. The pump, if you like, has been primed.
4. Labour in Scotland are in huge trouble. They may come off very badly at the GE.
5. The Tories in England are in a big jam. They have made some quite rash promises that they have no intention of keeping, and they are being tactically outflanked by UKIP every which way.
6. The next GE is most likely to yield a very nasty, very toxic right-wing government of some Tory/UKIP type. The ramifications for the "soft 20%" of no voters may be dramatic - buyers remorse can be expected on a grand scale.
Overall, the UK has been retained - for now - but the long-term picture would still suggest that the pressure for separation is only likely to increase with time.