Saturday, 15 February 2014

Independence? And why not!


They tell o' lands wi' brighter skies,
Where freedom's voices ne're rang;
Gie me the hills where Ossian lies,
And Coila's minstrel sang,
That ken na to be free.
Then Scotland's right, and Scotland's might,
And Scotland's hills for me;"
I'll drink a cup to Scotland yet,
Wi' a' the honours three!

In one respect Scotland voting on independence is none of my business. I'm not Scottish. I don't live in Scotland. And I rather dislike the whining politics of the Scottish National Party.

But I am however fascinated by the idea of independence and self-determination. And what exactly defines a nation. I believe that the debate is important since it's about identity and origin as much as it's about government, currency and economics.

Some Scottish people who - mostly for economic reasons - have left to live and work elsewhere have complained that they are somehow excluded from this great event, from the chance to decide whether that place they left should be independent.

This is one view of nation, the idea that it is defined by ethnicity, that even though you go to the other side of the world, you remain part of the Scottish nation. This is the nationalism that plays to the gallery of ethnicity, that hates the English merely for being English and that celebrates hatred or bitterness. If this is the reason for independence, it is a frightening message and one that should be rejected. If the USA proves anything by its existence then it is that ethnicity isn't the definition of nation.

I've heard Scottish people complain that they are somehow victims - oppressed by the English (or "London" as many Nats put it). Here the argument is that, had Scotland not been wedded to its larger southern neighbour, life would have been so much better. Sometimes this is about oil but often it harks back to a more distant past with echoes of absentee landlords, crofters thrown from their homes and posh voiced masters. All then seen through a weird prism of 1970s factory and pit closures to create a position that demands independence to free Scotland from its English oppressors.

As with the ethnic definition of nation, the idea of independence being justified on the basis of victimhood is a false argument. Is Scotland uniquely oppressed - compared to other places, to Cornwall, to the North East or even Essex? To justify independence on these grounds is to believe that Scotland was oppressed because it is Scotland - this, even if you accept the fact of oppression (which I don't really), is manifestly untrue. More importantly this defines Scottishness - the reason for independence - on the basis of what it isn't not what it is.

The third argument we hear is one of economics. The Scottish government published a vast work describing the economic case for independence. That government - led by the advocates of independence - had to make this case because it knows that a fair proportion of Scots really aren't fussed one way or the other. But they will vote in their own self-interest - if independence makes me richer then I'm off to vote for it and pronto!

Again this is a pretty weak argument and not just because many of the assertions made (about economic growth, about banking and currency and about the role of government) are open to challenge. The real thing with economics is that, quite frankly, we haven't a clue one way or the other. And, since we can't construct a controlled experiment, we'll never know the truth or otherwise of that economic argument.

These three arguments -  I see them as central to the case being made by the SNP - are all wrong. Playing the ethnic card is quite simply racist. Crying victim is to make out that Scots are uniquely hard done by, which is something of an insult to all those successful Scots in every walk of life. And relying on economics for your case simply leads to games of fruitless statistical tennis and policy snooker.

But there's another argument. The real argument. It's emotional, instinctive - visceral even. It's the idea of belonging to something, looking out the window at those hills, smiling and thinking "this is Scotland". It's not the anti-Englishness that gives us "Flower of Scotland" but a deeper, truer attachment to the place - whether it's the East End of Glasgow or the heather covered hills of Sutherland.

It's the idea of Scotland in that quote from Henry Scott Riddell's 'Scotland Yet' - not about some idea of superiority, certainly no hatred or dislike, just a message of pride, joy and love for the place. And the nation - that thing we try to define with grand words - is all those who share those emotions, that association.

When Kipling wrote about men having small hearts it was about these feelings - we cannot love everywhere and we cannot expect everyone to love the place we love. But we can share that love with those who do and that is nationhood. No government, no kings, no lords, no oil, no First Minister. Just people placing their boots in the soil and saying "this is my country and I'll work with you to make it better".

If you want independence for reason of blood, for reason of hatred or for reason of greed then you deserve to lose. But if you want independence for pride, joy and love of the place that is Scotland then - for what it's worth - you have my blessing and I wish you well.



Yvonne said...

How different would life in Scotland/England be now had James vi/i decided to remain in Scotland when taking up the English crown?

Anonymous said...

From what I remember of history, I have always thought that Scots have always played a significant part in the government of the UK. They have certainly had enough representation in Parliament to make their views count. They still have their own legal system. Good luck to them if they decide to split with us. One last thought, what happens to Alex Salmond if they vote no?

asquith said...

From what I can gather, it is principally the same argument that a subset of English eurosceptics make: that it should be them that makes the decisions, not bodies far away which understand nothing of their lives and are generally staffed by people unsympathetic towards them.

I don't know many Scots, but the last thing I'd do if I met a Yes supporter or waverer would be to try bullying them with threats of how bad it will be if they leave. They just take that as another insult and dominance display. And in Scottish culture in particular, I gather there is a lot of "thrawn" as the Scots word is.

I am a unionist because I appreciate what the Scots have contributed and are still contributing. A Scottish army wouldn't be up to much, but neither would the rUK's army, given how many soldiers are Scots!

If they do wish to leave then I agree it should be on good terms. And to be honest, the terms should be generous because there's no use in burdening a new nation and saying "well sod off then, you'll soon come running back" or the like.

A case could be made that England doesn't actually want the Alastair Darlings and Margaret Currans of this world. But ultimately the Scots have indicated they want this debate and they should have it, and there's not much more I can do rather than sincerely hope they vote No.

To the above commentator: I expect the result to be fairly close, and I should imagine some kind of devo max settlement is on its way. Salmond already does his utmost to stress what continuity there will be in the event of independence (I gather there's an ultra faction that dislike him for this reason) so I suspect he'll find his own home and get what he wants for Scotland.

I read an excellent article yesterday. But I've cleared my browsing history since, and I didn't sleep well enough last night to recall it! I'll post a link if'n I remember.