“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” – Nelson Mandela.
I have always felt British as well as Scottish. My mother hailed from Dublin so I feel partly Irish, too. But I’m also European and an internationalist.
I returned to Scotland last year after spending most of my adult life in England.
But I will be voting YES for Scottish independence on 18th September.
I have always rejected narrow tribal nationalism. I admire the tenacity of the SNP who have progressed from a tiny fringe party when I was a boy to winning an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011. The SNP is a forward-looking progressive party. Its nationalism is not tribal but outward-looking.
But many people who don’t vote SNP and don’t like Alex Salmond are supporting independence. My own politics are to the left of the SNP. I voted Green in the Euro Elections (my first vote in Scotland). I like The Radical Independence Group which brings together Greens, Socialists, trade unionists and nuclear disarmers, all campaigning for a YES vote.
It’s an exciting time to be in Scotland. Up and down the country meeting halls are packed with people discussing independence. I live in the Scottish Borders which polls suggest has only a minority of YES voters. Yet on two occasions in recent weeks I have attended packed meetings in Galashiels, a small town, where 500 or more people have listened to speakers in favour of independence including Nicola Sturgeon and Tommy Sheridan.
I would gladly have attended a NO meeting, too, but I have heard of none. The reality is that the YES movement is a grassroots campaign whereas the NO campaign is a top-down affair dominated by Westminster politicians.
I have negative and positive reasons for voting YES. And it would be foolish to claim that there is no negativity in the YES camp. But the NO campaign, which calls itself Project Fear, is unremittingly negative. They have no positive vision for the United Kingdom. All they do is try to frighten people by flagging up the ‘risks’ of independence. They hope people will conclude that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”.
Of course, Independence carries risks. The one that has troubled me most has been that the negotiations which would follow a YES vote will go badly, and that Scotland will end up with a poor deal which will blight the early years of independence. For a short while I was even persuaded that a more sensible approach would have been to have had a second referendum to accept or reject the terms of the independence negotiations. But then I realised that wouldn’t work. A second referendum would encourage UK negotiaters to be as uncompromising as possible in the hope that the Scottish electorate would reject an unfavourable deal at a second referendum.
If Scotland votes for independence, both sides will be bound by the Edinburgh Agreement which states: “The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom”.
That’s not to say that negotiations will be easy, but it’s in the interests of both sides to reach an amicable, mutually acceptable agreement. That’s why, despite all that’s been said in the campaign, the likelihood is that a currency union will come about. However, in the unlikely event that rUK does not agree, there are other viable options including a Scottish currency (backed by the Greens and many on the Left).
But there are ‘risks’ in voting NO, too. Don’t be taken in by politicians promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament. A politician breaks a promise with consummate ease. And, once we’ve voted NO, what could we do about it? There would be moves amongst some English politicians to alter the Barnett formula so that Scotland ended up with less income than it has currently.
And although the Scottish NHS is devolved at the moment, that could change at the whim of Westminster. And certainly a partly-privatised NHS in England could affect the funding of NHS Scotland.
But perhaps the most fundamental risk is in continuing to be part of a state – the United Kingdom – which is frankly past its sell-by date. In 1962 Dean Acheson, an American politician, said: “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. The same is still true today. Britain is a country living in the past, hankering after the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Too many politicians pretend we still rule the world. They want to put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Britain’.
This explains why we spend such a ridiculous amount of money on weapons of war. It explains the obsession with Britain retaining weapons of mass destruction. Our current missiles are in Trident submarines based in Scotland. As the former Conservative Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, pointed out, when asked if Trident should be renewed: “No, I think it is all nonsense..It’s completely past its sell by date. It’s neither independent, because we couldn’t possibly use it without the Americans. Neither is it any sort of deterrent, because now largely we are facing enemies like the Taliban and Al Quaeda, who cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons. It’s a tremendous waste of money. It’s done entirely for reasons of national prestige”.
And Britain, boasting about having the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, is a badly flawed democracy with a wholly unelected House of Lords and a monarchy. Although the latter will be retained in an independent Scotland (but, I hope, only temporarily) we will not have a corrupt House of Lords.
Inequality has also greatly increased in recent decades. Thatcher, Blair and their successors have acted like Robin Hood’s enemy, the sheriff of Nottingham, robbing the poor and those on average incomes to help the rich. Much of the limited power and money of ordinary people has been transferred to the rich and powerful. Essential services, previously publicly owned, have been privatised, resulting in much higher prices for consumers and huge profits for private companies. Meanwhile parts of the welfare state, established after the second world war, are being dismantled. Greed has become a new religion; selfishness a virtue. Compassion, once seen as a virtue, is now often seen as weakness. While the rich get richer, the poor and vulnerable are faced with attacks on their benefits. Food banks, previously unknown in Britain, have sprung up to provide essentials for those who don’t have enough money to feed themselves and their families. And this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world.
It is well known that Scotland has more panda bears (two) than Conservative members of Parliament (one out of 59). Scotland last voted for a Conservative Government in the 1950s but has had a Tory Government foisted upon it for more than 30 of the last 55 years. Traditionally Scotland has voted Labour, and many of us had hoped for radical change through the Labour Party. But in the last 20 years under Tony Blair and his successors the Labour party has become more and more right wing. Now supporting ‘austerity’ as well as Trident, the Party apes the Tories, fearing to make any radical moves.
It’s not true, incidentally, that if Scotland leaves the Union, Labour will never be elected again in the rest of the UK. Even without Scotland, Labour would have won in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
But is there much point in electing such a pale imitation of a former great party?
Some people in England seem to have got the impression that those wanting independence are anti-English. That’s nonsense. But apparently English athletes, competing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow,were warned to expect a hostile reception. Instead the Scottish crowd cheered them enthusiastically.
Others, mainly ‘celebrities’, have signed letters saying they don’t want us to ‘go’. Scotland is not going anywhere. In fact, I will continue to regard myself as British (as well as Scottish) even if we vote YES. Just as Norwegians remain Scandinavian even though Norway’s an independent country.
There will be no border controls. I will continue to visit England, where I have many friends. Visitors from the rest of the UK will, as now, be warmly welcomed in Scotland.
I firmly believe an independent Scotland will be good for the rest of the UK, too. It will shake-up the political establishment. The dominance of London will, I hope, be countered by a more federal approach with regional assemblies being established throughout England. Wales may be encouraged to vote for its own independence. As for Northern Ireland, I hope the six counties will eventually be reunited – peacefully – with the republic. I want to see a united Ireland.
I’m an internationalist, and believe that in the 21st century, we must co-operate with other nations. I support our membership of the European Union (though it needs reformed) and believe in a much stronger and more effective United Nations. But I’m also opposed to centralisation and favour as many decisions as possible being made at a local level.
Scotland is a nation. We were a sovereign state for about 700 years, and I think democracy is best served by us regaining our independent status.
I believe that the sort of society I wish to see is more likely to evolve if Scotland is an independent country. The two largest parties will be – at any rate for the foreseeable future – the SNP and the Scottish Labour party (which may even become more radical once it ceases to be tied to the UK party). I hope the Scottish Green Party and Solidarity and other socialist parties will also have a strong voice in an independent Scotland. The political centre will undoubtedly be considerably more left-wing after independence.
This will result in a consensus for a fairer and more equal society. We won’t have nuclear weapons, and I hope we’ll move to very limited conventional forces, too. We’ll also be a more caring society, banishing austerity and looking after those who need help. We’ll take better care of our environment.
We are being offered the freedom to control the affairs of our nation. We are being offered the right to choose who runs our country. We are being offered the opportunity to make Scotland a better place.
It’s an exciting prospect.
We should vote YES on September 18th