Aye, that’s affirmative. Definitely. Positively speaking, it’s OK, ja, allons-y, thumbs-up, full-on with the protons, right-on. I’m a plus-one, an acute angle, a green man, a straight arrow, a tick in the box, a nod as good as a wink, a big yin not the wee yang - and not just a oui bit, either.
Or… are you a no? Naw, non merci, nut, no nae never, negative, a nein on the nixter scale, cross that one out, uh-uh, not today and no way Jose, Jeff Lynne’s electrons light no thanks ta, shake your head, wag your finger, take a sore yin and shang-a-lang for yang.
If you’ve decided which of these two positions to take in the referendum in Scotland on September 18th then you can probably skip this article. It’s not the ayes to the left or the nos to the right I am addressing with my humble argument. I’m targeting the neutrons, the waverers, haverers, prevaricators and procrastinators; this is a brochure for the unsure, the median mibbes in the middle who will decide whether or not Scotland becomes an independent country.
Because you will decide how it will go. You command that two or three per cent that can swing it either way. The power is in your sweating palms. How you decide – if you decide to decide at the polling booths – is very, very important. “Dunno”, “no’ sure” and “mibbes” are not on the ballot sheet.
You are the ones that I want to reach today.
Why Aye, Man?
Just to be clear, my stance on the debate is: vote Yes.
This Scot would take the opportunity to fundamentally alter the constitution of the United Kingdom and push for Scotland to go it alone.
There’s a problem with this statement, though… I don’t get a say in the matter.
Having lived for 34 years in the city of his birth, Glasgow (minus a wee hiatus in London… hey, we’ve all done it), this Scot moved south of the border in 2011. I had to go see about a girl, as your man said in Good Will Hunting.
My English wife and Yorkshire-born baby daughter are sat nearby, aware of my typing but not of its seditious nature. I have English nieces and nephews, lifelong English friends. Hopefully, you can see there is no question of me being poorly disposed towards the English.
I do not get a vote on Scottish independence, not being domiciled there. I am on the same page as anyone else from England foisting an opinion on the debate, from guffawing poltroons in pubs, sincerity-snorting celebrities, builders stuffing their cracks with tabloid newspapers and tweed-wearing grouse blasters – the latter of whom, to be fair, probably spend more time in Scotland each year than I do.
Feel free to accord this testimony just as much respect as you would theirs.
Whether you have a stake in the debate or not, the independence referendum is the defining political debate of our generation.
The cry, “It’s caused division in houses across the country!” may sound like a cliché, but it’s true in my case. I can tell you that my missus isn’t a great fan of the idea of “Yes”, suspicious of the necessary severance which it must trigger, and wary of any kind of nationalistic stirrings. Not so much for the political and economic ramifications, but more because she just doesn’t like the idea of any divisions at all.
And make no mistake, Scottish independence is a political divorce. Despite what you might read in carefully-prepared PR statements, divorces are rarely “amicable”.
So why should you vote yes? Well, for one thing, the apparatus for an independent country is already there and in operation. Scotland has always had its own legal and education system. This is a fact that many well-educated people south of the border and elsewhere remain ignorant of. Since the summer of 1999, Scotland has also had its own devolved parliament. I said during the time of the 1997 referendum on devolution, spearheaded by that gaunt, redoubtable gannet Donald Dewar, that in time this would surely lead to the key question of independence. I was right. Here we are.
Scotland is at the vanguard of a deeper change in mainstream politics. There are signs of fragmentation all through the old certainties of British public life, starting with the headbangers of Ukip, the acceptable face of right-wing opinion. Nigel Farage has done a “Tony Blair” – giving a middle class veneer to something that wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to fickle Tory voters (the people who decide elections, in other words). The SNP and Ukip are no allies, but they are indicative of a wider dissatisfaction among the electorate. Only one of the two stands for progress, and progressive ideas.
The idea of Scottish Nationalism in the guise of the SNP is separate to other, more easily understood facets of nationalism. Although it is about separation, the Yes campaign has not invoked nationalism as a platform for closed doors, closed borders and closed minds, which we can more readily discern south of the border. The Yes campaign has attracted strong minority support; it’s more inclusive and welcoming than the type of nationalism espoused by, say, the BNP, Britain First or even Ukip. A vote for Yes is a vote for progress, not parochialism. It has an international flavour to it.
Ultimately, the drive for Scottish independence is about democracy, self-determination, and the means to govern our own affairs. It is curiously un-exclusive. It is not drawn up along ethnic lines. The dissatisfaction is one of governance, and being ultimately run by a legislature based in Westminster which does not have the best interests of the people who live in Scotland at heart.
I have read a great deal of content both in the press and in blogs and Facebook posts traducing Yes as simple, jackbooted, bloody-minded nationalism, of the type George Orwell deplored. This is a false position. The drive for independence is about self-determination, social justice and economic parity. To equate it with the language of bigots and loudmouths elsewhere in Britain is a dangerous falsehood.
The campaign has also thus far avoided grudge and grievance, and the English understanding of it. One of the more persistent ancient myths, older than the Loch Ness Monster, is that people from Scotland blame the English for every ill. That’s not quite true; we do blame Thatcher and Thatcherism, but we’re hardly alone in that in these islands. I once read an article on the Guardian which intoned that every Scot was inculcated from birth into repeating a mantra: “Remember Bannockburn”, some kind of half-arsed lifestyle slogan whereby Scots define themselves by an ancient battle fought against the English. The article posited that this is done both as a motivational tool and as a means of mitigating humiliating incidents, usually (as the author so mischievously reminded us) on the sports field.
It’s bollocks. We were taught Bannockburn at secondary school because it is a necessary part of our history. It happened; it’s not a matter of myth. It had consequences. Robert the Bruce was a real guy, much like Henry V, Guy Fawkes, Oliver Cromwell or Jack the Ripper. The Battle of Bannockburn actually happened. So, too, for history lessons on the Scottish nobleman turned freedom fighter, William Wallace. The fact that his story was bastardised by Hollywood in the mid-1990s is irrelevant.
While we’re on the subject… Use Braveheart as inspiration if you must, ye Yes people. It’s a great film. Exciting. Passionate. It may embarrass many on the Yes camp, and Mel Gibson’s not the poster boy for much these days following his well-publicised problems, but I agree that his 1995 movie energised Scottish nationalism. If you find Mel hard to take, just remember that you can construct an amusing anagram out of his name (see above).
Some people don’t like Braveheart, but so what? When have people ever been overly bothered by total commitment to reality in a dramatization of real events, particularly in a big Hollywood production? These whingers would obviously never take in another performance of Henry V, or The Great Escape, I trust.
If you fancy a little more poignancy other than the grandstanding battle scene speech, then read Wallace’s last words, as he faced a truly diabolical death.
We look to our art as much as history for inspiration – arguably even more so. Don’t apologise for it.
Labour’s love lost
The collapse of the Labour party as an electoral option for working Scots has been the most fascinating element of the independence debate – and surely also the least commented-upon outside Scotland.
It had been brewing for a while, probably ever since Tony Blair took the country to war, clutching the tail-feathers of the hawks then befouling the White House. If English psephologists noted this disaffection, then it took them a while to notice anything outwith typical mid-term snook-cocking at government.
I would say it truly began in 2006, when Willie Rennie took Dunfermline West for the Liberal Democrats in a Westminster by-election, then one of the safest Labour seats in the country. Although he lost that seat in 2010 – when Scotland turned the Westminster map red again in a vain bid to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street – this turned out to be the first of many polls where Labour lost in places where they simply should not.
This was astonishing in 2007, when the SNP formed a minority government at Holyrood having seized power from Labour and the Lib Dems, who had governed in coalition since 1999. In 2011, when Alex Salmond led the SNP to a landslide majority in a proportional electoral system set up to avoid massive majorities, it went beyond the astonishing.
All over the political map, the SNP made ground in places where they would never have been expected to even five to ten years previously. Mining towns, city seats… the shift was incredible.
Scotland did drift back to Labour to keep the Tories out of office as best they could in 2010, throwing their weight behind Gordon Brown as he sweated and toiled, awaiting the final stroke from the matador. But Scotland has shown itself to be psephologically astute with regard to the Conservatives and the lingering forces of Thatcherism – the true enemy of the Yes campaign, and not “the English”.
Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Beasts
And so in recent months we have watched, goggle-eyed, as Labour grandees and high-heid-yins popped up as part of better together – and found that in many instances they were either being ignored, or booed off the stage. Alistair Darling took to bed with the Tories; Gordon Brown – the man who was handed ultimate political power on a plate, only to spin himself out of office - blundered in with blatant falsehoods about NHS transplants and pensions. Even John Reid, a man whose hands are stained with British efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become an unlikely bedfellow for George Galloway. Gorgeous George is always great value, never averse to a political brawl, and someone you can judge by the quality of his enemies… truly one of the most important people in UK politics. But even he has shown misplaced party loyalties, thirled to the ideals of an Old Labour all but extinct. Does George really believe what he’s saying?
The person who egged Jim Murphy on his John Major-esque Irn Bru crate tour of Scotland’s cities in a bid to win hearts and minds is an idiot, incidentally. Anyone who thinks an egging is a harmless prank should get in touch with me; I’ll happily ambush you outside your house with a two-four of poultry produce and listen out for your laughter. But this event was the ultimate symbol of Labour’s collapse in Scotland, the final erosion of trust which followed Tony Blair’s foreign crusade and the move to bring in tuition fees.
Shocked, stunned, with the jeers ringing out, Jim Murphy could not have dreamed even five years ago that such a moment should befall a Labour politician in a working class area in Scotland. All of these left-wing figures have been left confused and buffeted by forces they can scarcely comprehend; the unquiet ghosts at the feast who don’t realise they’re dead.
Voting Labour was always a birthright in Scotland, something that your father did before you, and something you continued in his name. That has changed. Predictions of Labour’s death in Scotland may prove to be wide of the mark, but perhaps, after September 18, they might be minded to remember their roots.
Favouring the Brave
How did the nationalists do it? They reclaimed the left. They did this by promising many things which Labour could not or would not. Closing down A&E units? No thank you. Tuition fees of £9,000 a year? On yer bike.
This latter point is something the whingers down south often dig me up about, as if it was some kind of canny, crafty Scottish confidence trick. “Hey – why does my lad have to pay £9,000 a year, but Scottish kids in Scotland don’t?”
Well, I say, Scots VOTED FOR IT. It was an option presented to them by the SNP. They took it. The SNP are in power. These policies have been put in place. This democracy - it’s amazing stuff, eh?
It remains to be seen if there is a ruder demonstration of the Scottish political will than an egging in store in just a few days’ time; but people must surely sit up and take notice of the change under way.
Billy Connolly once stated that he felt he had more in common with a welder from Liverpool than with a farmer from the north of Scotland. This British working class commonality in cultural terms is one of many open goals missed by Better Together.
We do indeed have these links. During one chat with a moronic farmer, drunk out of his mind at a Yorkshire country pub, the barman earned my respect by saying that he felt more of an affinity with working class Scots than many of the people who passed through his doors. We do have a shared culture in the UK. But there’s no need for Scots independence to challenge, dilute or remove this.
Scotland has always been a separate country, a separate identity. How this identity was shaped, its precedents and its debt to other cultures is an argument for another place, but it is what it is, it’s distinct, and it’s unarguable. What we do see from many south of the border is a fear of motive in an independent Scotland. The idea of Scotland breaking free of Westminster either engenders fear or hostility in a great many people, or quite often, both. They believe a Tartan Curtain will descend along the border. It starts off as: “What are you playing at, you naughty Scots? Why on earth do you want to leave?” and quite often becomes: “Who do you think you are? You’ll get nowhere on your own, you know! You’ll die without me!”
I don’t know who first created the analogy of someone who has just been dumped, but it’s apt. Although there is rarely any such thing as an amicable divorce, we can simply become good neighbours. There’s no reason for things to be hostile. Honestly, it isn’t you – and it isn’t us, either.
It’s your political elite.
Scotland has a strong, secure culture. It is not defined by England, or hating the English. We are a creative, talented people, with our own songs to sing, heroes to venerate (or destroy, as we wish), and achievements to crow about. Let’s not see the negative in everything.
With a nod to Frank Zappa, always beware the apostrophes. You can’t. You won’t. You shouldn’t. You aren’t. You daren’t. You mustn’t. “No” is the ultimate negative word, the apogee of negative connotations, negative power, the first assertion of disobedience we learn to articulate.
How could you let yourself be seduced by that? Someone telling you what you cannot do, as opposed to what you can? What you are not capable of?
We are beholden to economic forces - but we don't have to like them, and we do not have to obey them as a matter of blind faith.
That said, the major sticking point in the Nationalists' argument has been over fiscal matters. Should we keep the pound? Can we keep the pound? You can do your own research on this, but the point is - and Alistair Darling said so - that yes, it would be possible to keep the pound.
Having an independent country tied to a central bank in another country is another problematic matter. Could it work? Yes it could. There might be some short term problems, but a currency union is a safe, sensible short-to-medium term resolution to what might happen if Scotland votes yes.
Alistair Darling had to land a big punch at the first televised debate, and he did - "What's your plan B on currency?" Of course, Salmond doesn't just have a plan B - he has a plan B, C and D, as set out in the white paper. Either currency union; use of the pound anyway; Scotland's own currency; or join the euro. Of course, Salmond wouldn't vocalise any of these choices, especially the one involving the European single currency. In the UK, this is the equivalent of yelling "shark!" at a beach.
However it's worth remembering that despite the current crisis in Greece and elsewhere, the euro is a strong, stable currency, no matter what you might read in the papers. The pound’s value continues to fall against it at time of writing.
Issues with the Bank of England, you say? Mark Carney might be better served examining what might happen if there is a "yes" vote, and pledging to do all he can to ensure safety for businesses, jobs, wages and prosperity - instead of waggling a finger and heavily implying that Scotland should not run its own affairs. That’s political interference, matey. Not your job.
As for the banks moving their brass plates down south, or Asda issuing their threats... we have truly come to an awkward place where big businesses and financial behemoths try to dictate how people vote.
Here, surely, is evidence of the ultimate neoliberal triumph of the markets. It's not even a dirty trick. It’s a direct threat. The bottom line: “Vote for self-determination – dare to oppose us - and you'll be punished”.
The reality is that it will be business as usual. These companies will not want to close or jeopardise their outlets, their revenue, and certainly not their share prices. Also, they will want to see what way the land lies. If Scotland truly becomes a cash-rich country, do you think companies will not want to be involved?
Not one business has promised to pull out, yet.
It could be a tough one. There might be pain. Stocks may fall. Prices may rise... but all in the short term. Until it stabilises. Until people get their heads together, cut some deals, and make the transition as smooth as possible.
Grease Me Up, Woman
From sticking points, to the sticky stuff: oil.
Now I’ve always been wary of basing any economic projection on what is a finite resource. Plus, I’d rather the world’s financial muscle didn’t require oil’s steroidal effect. However, for all this talk of oil being a volatile commodity… I haven’t noticed this supposed fluctuation in the prices at the petrol pumps, have you? This cost only seems to go in one direction. So much for volatility.
Plus, Salmond landed a huge punch of his own during the TV debates with Darling. He pointed out that only in Scotland is the presence of millions of barrels of oil and the potential tax bonanza from it for five million souls seen as not necessary or even particularly important.
The Better Together argument about oil is a bit like a jealous child at a birthday party, talking to the kid who won pass-the-parcel. “Rubbish present, that. You don’t want that old toy, do you? I was at a party where I won pass-the-parcel… I got a present way better than that.”
Plus there’s the question over what David Cameron was doing in Shetland recently. Something to do with immense oil fields being found there, ready for plunder? Just like there is reckoned (unconfirmed) to be lots of the stuff untapped off the west coast?
Whatever way you decide to vote, ye mibbies, do not be conned over oil. It’s there, it’s yours, and it’s valuable.
You know, for a laugh, I wondered if there were plans in place to have Shetlanders or people in Inverclyde hold their own referendum to secede from Scotland and become part of England, as a flanking manoeuvre to cut off the oil revenues. Then I realised that someone, somewhere has inevitably suggested this as a viable course of action.
Hands Across The Water
The question of Europe is another place where opinions differ. There is a school of thought that Scotland could not join the EU automatically; another which asserts that Scotland could be one of the most affluent nations in Europe; whereas others say they’d be right at the bottom.
I would like to suggest that Scotland is already part of the EU, already trading with other countries, already abiding by its laws and conventions. Kicking Scotland out and issuing all sorts of warnings and threats is not going to help the situation or the outcome, which we should hope is a strong, stable country with a competitive economy within a European framework. Logic must prevail, there.
NB: Scotland isn’t as scared of the European Union as our cousins south of the border (although we did, incredibly, elect a Ukip MEP recently). Is this Europhilia a result of that old romantic notion of the auld alliance - or a firm rejection of jingoism and British nationalism of the kind that spawned Nigel Farage and other less savoury elements of the English right-wing narrative?
I’d like to think it’s because Scots are more internationalist in outlook, and see through the anti-European propaganda prominent in the British press and recognise the EU as a fundamentally good thing. A place where proper regulations and human rights laws are passed, a world away from the lunk-headed propaganda and outright fictions we’ve seen in the press, such as tartan being banned and bent bananas being outlawed.
Could Scotland use the euro, in time? Yeah. Why not?
Trident. Yeah, you can take that with you, frankly. Even George Galloway, having gotten himself arrested at Faslane a few years back, arm-in-arm with Tommy Sheridan, would agree with that.
Of course, Trident will be a key part of negotiations should there be a yes vote. Scotland might have to grin and bear it, for a little while. There’s nowhere else for those submarines to berth. I can’t see it going to the Thames or The Wash, can you?
In fact, the only major alternative site for the UK’s nuclear fleet is in Lough Erne, in Northern Ireland.
That would be immensely popular with the Irish nationalist movement. Good luck with that.
As for the Windsors… I feel Salmond and the SNP bottled this question, as surely the removal of the English crown is a key part of the dissolution of political union. I don’t hate the Windsors, though. I think the constitutional tradition of the Queen being head of state, even if it’s a largely ceremonial role, is an anachronism, but here’s the thing: people like her and her family. Far from destroying the monarchy as many predicted, the death of Diana seemed to invigorate interest in the Windsors, particularly as her children grew up.
Wary of the protestant/unionist bloc in Scotland, Salmond understandably wasn’t going near any suggestion of a republic, insisting that the Queen would remain Elizabeth I of Scotland. I don’t feel quite as strongly about this as many others do, but the question of the monarchy will remain on the table for now. It would be political suicide for any on the “Yes” side to suggest otherwise for now.
It’s “one for later”.
Tweed n’ Sour
This leads us naturally to the tricky issue of rich landowners enjoying vast, primeval estates in Scotland. Who actually owns Scotland is a thorny issue – “not Scots” is the best way of answering that. Many in the aristocracy with large estates north of the border are wary of the possibility of independence, fearing that reform might be on the way. And perhaps with good reason.
The solution to all these issues is mundane, but achievable: talks, negotiations, trade and, yes, close cross-border co-operation of the type we already enjoy between the home nations and with other countries across the globe. This should not be a squabble, but a search for quorum. Feuds, threats and dirty deals will not be good for either side, should separation take place.
Hate, Not Hope?
Some people think the drive for independence is about hating England. I’m sure it’s like that for many people. A quick trawl of Twitter and elsewhere will land idiots within a few seconds. But the fear of nationalism – narrow, parochial, hostile – does not reflect what is going on in Scotland.
It’s a drive for something new. A political consensus based on fairness, equality, social justice and mobility. Everything which Britain has slowly been shedding since 1979, in other words – dropping public services and benefits like prisoners of war covertly shedding clods of excavated dirt down dusty trouser legs.
Scots independence has an internationalist flavour. There are many English-born people in Scotland who understand this, and are backing yes, seeing it as a chance of divorce from the US-inspired neoliberal politics espoused by all three major parties in the UK. See “English Scots for Yes” as evidence of this.
And this is worth repeating, in bold: A vote for Yes is not necessarily a vote for the SNP.
We have bigotry everywhere, but not all of it has the tacit backing of the national media and major public figures. There is no doubt that Scots and Scottish things are held in contempt by many south of the border – a minority, for sure. But I have encountered a little hostility and not a little dismissive, patronising twaddle since I moved down here. This has ranged from pure venom from shopkeepers upon hearing my accent to the two-bob, everyday joshing you hear about deep fried Mars Bars, crime figures, life expectancy, allegedly second-rate football teams, the weather, the Loch Ness Monster and Christ knows what else.
I usually take these barbs in good part; some of them are quite funny. Many bullies are quite funny, though. There is a basic respect lacking which I don’t think English people experience in quite the same way north of the border. One element of this is an unconscious acceptance that Scotland is a junior partner, perhaps a less-well-heeled cousin whom you might vacillate over inviting to a wedding.
It feels disingenuous to play some kind of victim card given what I’ve said, but there is some hostility with regards to the idea of an independent Scotland in England. A lot of commentary seems to regard Scotland as heading for some sort of famine status post-independence. A mixture of Mad Max, The Grapes of Wrath and The Hills Have Eyes.
The comedian Marcus Brigstocke, who flatters himself to espouse left-wing viewpoints, constructed an entire comedy routine out of the idea of Scotland being silly, selfish, stupid and naïve, all garnished with a mix of silly accents and a recipe of bad dietary habits. I say this with first-hand experience. Hello, Marcus - I was the lone Scot, that time.
You’re meant to laugh along with this, and usually I do. But this stance contains the seeds of fascism. Undermine their culture; undermine how they speak; undermine their opinions; undermine their clothing; undermine their habits; undermine their history; undermine their culinary creations; undermine their heritage; undermine their achievements. Undermine all that they are.
These tactics are appreciated by any bully from the age of about four upwards. There must come a time when you decide not to be patronised any more.
That’s not to say this vote should be a kick-back against the English, but if you’re on the fence with regards to independence, then be assured that how you are viewed south of the border is a matter of contempt for a great deal of people. “Scotch” - as many would term something which isn’t whisky – is pejorative, a codifier of contempt.
I simply don’t believe this attitude exists to the same extent north of the border. You get odd individual incidents, but there isn’t the same cultural denigration you see in England.
Football is a narrow, parochial example, but, if you wish, you can go to a big sports bar in Glasgow and settle down to watch Man Utd or Liverpool or Chelsea on a big screen. You will be lucky to have the Celtic or Aberdeen match put on south of the border. And I guarantee you that no-one would bat an eyelid if an English person appeared at the bar and spoke in an English accent.
Web of Fear
The Better Together-constructed phenomenon of “Cybernats” is hilarious. The internet, and Twitter in particular, is stuffed with morons on a second-by-second basis, so to pick out a few people who have a problem with certain aspects of the independence debate seems odd. I notice no-one has voiced similar outrage over opprobrium aimed in the other direction. If you want to amuse yourself with a spare five minutes, carry out a search for “fuck off Scotland” on Twitter, or my favourite, “Andy Murray Scottish bastard”. No-one describes these wonderful people as CyberSaxons, DigiAngles or whatever.
Such petty matters aren’t a big component of what’s at stake, although it may dominate the airwaves from time to time. Rest assured, our English brothers and sisters, a Tartan Curtain will not slam down from Dumfries to Berwick, cutting off all access, turning brother against brother, with jackbooted thugs patrolling either side of the walls. Little will change. You can pass through, spend time in and even emigrate to Scotland if you wish. We will be good neighbours.
If some on the Yes side to cross into passionate territory, then it’s worth remembering that their campaign has been waged without the support of the mainstream media – only the Sunday Herald has come out in support of independence, and that was quite late in the day. It seems extraordinary, given the massive level of support for a Yes vote, that no-one else in the press has backed it. Perhaps the consensus will change after Thursday. It’ll have to, you suspect, whether the vote is yes or no.
The Yes campaign has been a triumph in the face of negativity from almost all of the mainstream media north and south of the border. I want to attribute it to citizen journalism and activism on the internet, and there is an element of that at play. Propaganda has been countered, facts have been placed in the public eye in the face of obfuscation or outright fabrication from other sources.
There is something new happening, a new consensus away from the traditional voices. This is hardly something restricted to the independence campaign, more a symptom of a wider dissatisfaction with traditional news sources and their vested interests. But on top of this, there’s been old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground work, knocked doors, leafleting, face-to-face engagement. When you take both in sum, people have responded to it. The swing towards Yes has been phenomenal in the past six months alone.
There are rumours that Rupert Murdoch might be in favour of a “yes”. That, as well as Nick Clegg being dispatched up north a few weeks back, was one of the biggest signs that “Yes” might prevail.
Dance O’er the Border
Ultimately, this is a vote about how your country is run. The language of warfare is to be avoided, but it is worth remembering that people have given their lives and taken those of others to be given the chance that Scotland has been gifted this week.
So what do you want in Scotland? What is at stake?
Do you want to keep the NHS? Do you want a bigger manufacturing base as well as the services industry? Do you want free education, free care for the elderly? Do you want more social mobility, people born with less being given a helping hand by the state to succeed?
Only yes is pledging this. Promises of “more powers” are chimera. If the vote is “no”, I would seriously question why we have a devolved parliament at Holyrood, in all its finery, in the first place.
How much more “devolution” would make you happy? Surely it would make more sense to have full powers, full state control? Devo-Max makes no sense to me.
Don’t like Alex Salmond? Okay. It’s not all about the SNP and Salmond. In a UK context, your alternative is Boris Johnson as prime minister before the end of the decade, possibly in coalition with Nigel Farage’s Ukip. This pairing could cause us to look back upon David Cameron and George Osbourne as kindly uncles in comparison.
Alex Salmond was dealt a winning hand in May 2010 when the Tory-led coalition took power. Scotland is beyond tired of these neoliberal, ultra-capitalist bampots being in charge. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is not socialist scaremongering – it exists, and it seeks to gift more power to multinational companies, a triumph of US-UK neoliberalism.
Imagine explaining to your grandchildren than you had the chance to rid your country of that influence, placed in the palm of your hands, and you spurned it.
Why No, Man?
But we must be fair, here. To play devil’s advocate: how could it go wrong?
Well, there’s bound to be some economic pain. The “Arc of Prosperity” Alex Salmond so admired pre-2007 ended up dropping on his head later during the global crash. However, with the right legislation in place, Scotland could avoid these outcomes. That said, Salmond (or whoever leads an independent Scotland) will have a hard job persuading firms that Scotland is an attractive prospect – that might include corporation tax being cut, with all the follow-on pain and political fallout to follow.
The biggest danger, for me, in independence, is that all our hope might be crushed. That in removing the cowboys and elitism from down south might just pave the way for a Scottish version of the same thing. That our hope and euphoria might be squashed by ugly, brutal economic reality, much as it was after 1997 when Labour were elected, and in 2008, when Obama won power in the US.
The key would be in having a proper social contract in place, a written constitution, regulatory safeguards without strangling entrepreneurialism and ambition.
Culturally, we should look to forge something new, as good and as strong as it can be. There should be a rejection of Scotland’s ancient prejudices, grudges and problems. Rooting out sectarianism should be a priority in the new Scotland. And we should look forward, not back. We should not celebrate the old order and certainty, the Scotland of ill health, alcoholism, social decay. There should be no poverty porn, no wallowing in nostalgia, as if yearning after a pithy time in life when properties didn’t have running water or inside toilets is a profitable endeavour. We should not seek to be plucky underdogs, to punch above our weight. Instead we should carry the proper weight of a big, serious country.
Let Scotland have no more anxiety. We’ve done big things in the past. We can do again. We must be big, strong and confident.
What are the bad bits of Scotland? Well we’ve got social difficulties like drugs and gang culture that locally-tailored policies and job initiatives could tackle. There’s the scourge of sectarianism, the baffling influence the Orange Order continues to exert, and Scotland’s perverse attitude to its Irish influx, stretching back 150 years and more.
The collapse of Rangers FC and the sporting authorities’ and mainstream press’s forelock-tugging treatment of that issue points to institutional problems which will have to be exposed and flushed out. Always beware the bowling club mentality, the Scotland of funny handshakes and behind-closed-doors deals.
And then there’s that problem of the land itself, who owns it, and what should happen with it, issues stretching back to the clearances.
You’ll notice that I haven’t blamed the English for any of these problems.
And a quick word for the Tartan Army; those who follow the Scottish national football team here and there. Are there any of you watching Gordon Strachan’s side who get dressed in the kilts, slap on the woad, belt out that seditious political song “Flower of Scotland” at the top of your lungs, who intend to vote “no”?
Change, Hope, Clarity
Voting Yes could trigger larger change in the UK. Just as the Scots population has become more politically engaged and enervated by the debate, then England – particular our brothers and sisters in the north – could waken up, even before an independent Scotland becomes successful.
Billy Bragg is one of the few English commentators to spot this potential early on, and it’s been heartening to see others of the left come on board for Scots independence. This is not just Scotland’s chance – it’s democracy’s chance. A means of divorcing ourselves from the power of a corrupt, self-serving elite which cares nothing for social justice and social mobility, which has no intention to share any wealth or provide any opportunities or maintain basic levels of public service, instead selling it off to the highest bidder and leaving its legacy to the wolves of unregulated casino capitalism. The countries may be separated soon, but we can stand together with our brothers and sisters as never before – and from a position of strength, in time. We can shine a light for our allies in inner London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Belfast.
And that’s not just a question of left or right. An independent Scotland can transform Labour by returning it to what it once was, and to compete with the SNP for power. So, too, can a Conservative party divorced from the elitist trappings of its executive down south. Scotland, as more than one commentator has noted, is actually a conservative country, small “C” intended. We just never vote that way. But there’s always room for the voice of conservatism. It will always have a place at the table; anything else would be unhealthy. A proportional electoral system will ensure it stays there.
And so, too, for the Lib Dems. They’ve always done well in Scotland, among those self-same “conservatives-in-all-but-name”. They could change themselves from a political concern that is effectively sitting in its study, penning a nice long letter, enjoying one last brandy and a cigar and contemplating the service revolver. For the Greens, under the watch of the likeable Patrick Harvie, the only way is up. The Scottish Socialists, the lovable buccaneers of the first session of the Scottish Parliament, can take their seats in the chamber once again. Perhaps Tommy Sheridan will be part of the revolution?
So we approach the final furlong of the race. If you’re converted to “yes” by this tract, or even if you’ve stuck this far out of some masochistic tendency, then you must be brave. Independence could be tough short-term. It may take a while for the numbers to add up. There will be new battles to be fought every day. The reaction to it might be hostile from many quarters, turning to outright belligerence. But understand that all of these issues can be sorted out through negotiations, due diligence and prudence.
Always remember, big business, banks and vested interests should dance to your tune - that of the electorate - and not the other way around.
Do not be swayed or intimidated. It is not naïve nor is it fanciful to say that democracy and the will of the people trumps every other consideration – that is the pure, beautiful truth of it.
Things might be tough, but we are tough. We can be a hard people, and stubborn, but sometimes these qualities are a blessing. They can push us through our hardest battles, steel us for our worst disappointments, and temper our sometimes wild creativity and enthusiasm into steadier, more fruitful discipline.
You can’t change the weather in Scotland, but you can change lots of other things.
Consider the very word: independence. Do you want that, or… to be dependent? To make your own way, forge your own destiny - or leave it to the whims of people you wouldn’t leave in charge of a tuck shop till?
Besides... More people will come to visit us. We’re well liked as it is. Independence has focused the world’s attention on us like never before. Let’s take advantage. And a Scottish passport might get you the same wee twinkle in the eyes as an Irish one when you’re crossing borders overseas.
Just in case you weren’t listening, I’d be a yes. Who wouldn’t, at heart? What the heart wants can be a dangerous thing. But you usually regret not having indulged it. So if you’re undecided, I’d ask you to consider casting your vote for Yes. Be one of the ayes to the left. Let Harry meet Sally and get all pally. And listen to dear old Molly Bloom from across the water when she tells you yes, yes, oh yes, a thousand times, please let it be: