Scottish Independence: An Emotional Appeal

DSCF0004150x113In a previous article about Scottish independence I pointed out that the only definite outcome from a “yes” vote in next year’s referendum will be a negotiation to disentangle the political and bureaucratic ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Beyond that no-one knows what an independent Scotland will actually look like or how it will fare.

Even on the big stuff we are flying blind into the referendum. Nobody knows if we’ll retain the Queen as head of state or become some sort of republic. No-one can say if we’ll stay with sterling, or join the eurozone, or opt for an independent Scottish currency. It’s all open for debate after we vote “yes”.

When you consider how ill-defined the outcomes are it’s clear that this referendum has been designed to appeal to our hearts rather than our heads. The words on the ballot paper will say “Should Scotland be an independent country?” but we’re really being asked to question ourselves: “Do I believe in Scotland as a nation?” “Am I truly Scottish?” “Do I have the courage to break away from the tyranny of English rule?” Independence is presented as an article of faith and the referendum as a test of your self respect as a true Scot.

Appealing to our emotions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cultural identity is important. But the premise behind all of the implied questions on the ballot paper is that I am currently an oppressed person, struggling to express my true identity under the rule of a foreign power, and it’s my duty as a Scottish patriot to rise up and vote my way to freedom.

It’s a false premise in every respect. I’m already free to be as Scottish as I want at all times. As a Scot I have the same rights and privileges as any ordinary punter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the same opportunities as everyone else. Political independence from the rest of the UK isn’t going to give me any more of any of these things. I’m already 100% Scottish and as free as I can possibly be.

What I don’t have are systems of democracy and economics that function for the benefit of the population at large. But independence isn’t going to give me these things. My local community will still be on the periphery, largely ignored by the unholy triumvirate of politicos, press, and lobbyists, busy with their own noise around the honeypot. Only the location and the accents will have changed. The same old buachar will be batted to and fro between political opponents, leaving the rest of us just as disillusioned and frustrated as we are now.

Crucially, independence will not fix our economic system which is currently trundling our economy towards the edge of a cliff. Our political masters on both sides of the Tweed appear to believe that we’re merely at the bottom of “the economic cycle” and they only have to tickle the housing market to make the recovery happen. They do not understand that the system itself is so flawed and has been so badly abused over the last 30 years that it will come to a complete standstill at some point in the future. Exactly when this will happen or what the fall-out will be is impossible to say but the exponential accumulation of debt by the many, to the advantage of the few, is nearing its limit. Something’s going to break.

Independence, as it’s currently being presented, is a distraction from these real issues. If you feel passionate about being Scottish or British, by all means vote with your heart in September 2014. But don’t allow yourself to be conned into thinking that the world will be a better, fairer place after the vote. It won’t.

In the meantime, if someone can show me a vision of a reformed democracy that provides sustainable prosperity for all, and demonstrates that it can best be delivered in an independent Scotland, then I’m interested.

13 thoughts on “Scottish Independence: An Emotional Appeal

  1. Hey Malcolm, I think you’re jumping to conclusions, or at the very least guilty of narrow mindedness (some may even say arrogant or conceited) to suggest that every fellow scot swallows and follows the braveheart mentality. That somehow we’re stuck in the historic past (however fuelled by Hollywood and Mel Gibson). To take your point, London-centric govt, you’re absolutley right and many English regions feel sold out by London! Here’s my take. I know exactly what your saying about same old, same old, just a different dialect…IF, we go for independence.

    Most folk with half a brain will realise that politics is rotten to the core, full of greasy pole merchnats who care nothing for civic duty nor national pride (if they did, they’d never have sold out our whisky, nor the ‘amazing’ all terrain vehicle, the stonefield truck which ended up down by).

    Nobody is saying that independence will be Scotland’s panacea, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time to at leastv try going out on our own…still trading with our cousins in England and having as good a rapport as we can with them. However, on the downside, remember the darien disaster in the face of English commercial might and opposition.

    Some wag said, if we plump for independence, then westminster will simply take punitive measures against us and our assets, then when they’ve squeezed us dry, say, “There ye go, ye can have yer independance now.”
    And THAT Malcolm, is the one thing I’d be afraid of. What do you think? Am i making sense?

  2. Hi Marty,

    I hope I don’t give the impression that everyone’s blinded by Braveheart. I think that voting for independence purely on emotional grounds is perfectly valid. What I’m trying to point out is that there’s very little else on offer in this referendum apart from the idea of being Scottish and the possibility of changing our society for the better.

    The point of this (and the previous) article is to challenge campaigners from both sides, yes and no, to come up with some plausible proposals for reforming our dysfunctional democracy and woeful system of economics, and then demonstrate how they can best be delivered by being independent or staying part of the UK.

    As for your other point I’m sceptical of the idea that, post independence, there will be any serious attempt by Westminster to “squeeze us dry”. They’ll certainly do what’s best for themselves, which might sometimes go against Scotland’s interests, but a deliberate campaign of beggar thy neighbour doesn’t sound plausible.

  3. Revolution always leads to uncertanties and unknowns, which is why populations rarely vote for revolutionary ideas and principles. The voting public in the UK is risk-averse, preferring the status quo to real reform, resulting in the practical indistinction between the policies of the three main parties in Westminster.

    However you feel the independence debate is being presented, what is true is that there is a real cultural/political divide between the North of Britain and the South – the de-facto minority and majority. As a result the political will of the majority of the North is and will always be subsumed by the conservatism of what can only be called ‘middle-England’.

    Within this system we will never achieve the social, economic and environmental justice that the majority of the Scottish population wants and votes for at every election. Too much of the independance debate is focussed (naturally) on the political aspirations of the SNP. In reality, the day we achieve independance from the UK, we will have a choice, a vote to decide on what our real vision is for Scotland’s future. Imagine a Scottish socialist party divorced from New Labour and able to really reflect the views of current labour voters in Scotland.

    This is why I will vote for independence. It’s the one chance we will get to break the Tory/Pretend Labour cycle. The one chance we will get to forge a new political environment that reflects the will, aspirations and hopes of our people. The one chance we will get to provide our future generations with the means to provide a sustainable future.

    Independence doesn’t have to mean being ‘more Scottish’ individually, but it has everything to do with being more Scottish in our approach towards how we deal with other countries, towards how we care for our neighbours, and towards how we preserve our environment.

    • Mike,

      The argument that independence offers a chance to change the political landscape for the better is attractive but I fear that the machinery of democracy is so inadequate that the same old stuff will prevail regardless of which party we vote into power. Even more worrying, I’m convinced that an economic catastrophe will engulf us sometime in the next decade or so and nothing I’m hearing from any party, socialist or otherwise, comes close to demonstrating an understanding of what’s wrong never mind how to fix it. The independence issue feels like a sideshow, a distraction that will claim our attention while the tsunami thunders upon us from behind.

  4. Hmm. I’ve been a nationalist as long as you’ve known me, even a paid up member of the SNP for a while. I can’t think that I’ve ever needed independence in order to feel Scottish, that’s just who/what I am, regardless of where I am. My understanding is that the independence referendum is not heritage based, rather residence based. If you’re an Australian living in Scotland and like the idea of self determination for the country in which you have chosen to live, then you can vote yes. Conversely, the most ‘nationalistic’, tartan-wearing, haggis-eating, flag-waving Scotsman sitting by the pool outside his retirement home in Tuscany (I can dream!) has no say in the matter. And quite right too.

    Like you, I currently feel pretty free. My movements aren’t restricted in any significant way (that old age can’t account for), I’m free to marry whomever I choose (though Jackie might protest!) etc… I certainly have no persecuted minorty syndrome going on, nor do I fear tyrannical rule from the South. I do however, feel marginalised and given the current ruling mishmash in Westminster I’m sure I’m not alone – no matter which side of the UKs various borders people reside. True, I may still feel marginalised in an independent Scotland, though I hope for better things.

    There are many unknowns in moving ahead into independence as there are with staying in the union. And indeed the policies of the current Holyrood administration might well be cast into the bin come 2016. All other bets are off. I therefore find your faith in the certainty that in an independent Scotland things cannot be better difficult to reconcile. If nothing can be better under independence – the same old same old – then your desire for a vision of a reformed democracy with sustainable prosperity can’t be achieved under either circumstance. We’re on a sinking ship and the life raft is holed. Or have I got that wrong?

    The problem with asking both sides to engage in a grown-up discussion of the benefits of their own stand points is that its easier for the NOs to shoot holes in the fabric of independence than construct a solid case for union. And I would suggest there is little motive in engaging in a discussion on how to improve democracy and the nations wealth when the current UK system seems to serve the incumbent ruling elite so effectively. On the YES side, I agree, it may be all pipe dreams – or wish lists, but is it not better to fail striving for dreams than to meekly accept an unpalatable reality?

    Although harbouring deep rooted SNP sentiments, my definite voting intention is not yet set in stone (or indeed scrawled on paper). The likelyhood is that I will vote yes as I hope that self determination will deliver improvements – if not for me, then for my kids or their kids. I do believe we would be less likely to get involved in wars, we would need to live within our means and would have less clout on an international stage. All things considered, bigger isn’t always better – we’d also be a smaller target. A bit like staying sitting down when a certain Dutch bussinessman walked into the Caley!

    Never sure about posting on blog discussions. Not quite the same as sitting round with a whisky. Still better than Facebook! Its certainly good to put the effort into thinking about the vote ’cause its quite a big one. In all honesty I think the union is safe (I mean in terms of avoiding dissolution, not as in a bank – bad choice of words. … as houses. Damn!)

    • Keith,

      I’m certainly not saying that nothing can be better as a result of independence. I share your hope that something good could come out of it, but I’m seeing nothing from the Yes campaign to tell me how the mechanisms of democracy will be improved, and until they are I have little faith that much will change. The No lot are just as bad, by the way, but as you point out they have the advantage of not having to argue for change. It would be interesting if the decision was reversed, i.e. we automatically go independent unless we vote to stay in the UK.

      Thanks for overcoming your aversion to blog discussions. We need the debate to get beyond the wishlists and the scaremongering.

  5. Hi Malcolm, The yes campaign has never given me the impression this referendum is about how Scottish or British we feel, but I do agree, the ultimate outcome of a yes vote gives no certainties, other than we will have autonomy. For me, this is enough to give independence my backing.
    After all, is it not exactly the same at any general election. The populous generally votes at an emotional level (working class Labour, well of Conservative or in the middle Liberal) with perhaps a couple of party policies close to their heart. Yet, as has been proved time and again there is no guarantee they will deliver on any of their policies never mind represent the left, right or centre. Sadly the only certainty in politics is MP’s will line there pockets.

    I believe this referendum has to be looked at in the most simplistic way. If you compare the UK to a street of 4 houses, The Smiths, the Jones, the Macdonalds and the Murphys. Each household having its own set of problems and opportunities, it’s own income and expenditure plus each with very different priorities. There are 533 Smiths, 40 Jones, 59 Macdonalds and 18 Murphys, each with a say on how the street is managed. (Alarm bells should be ringing in any rational thinking persons mind at this scenario.) Let’s say the Macdonalds end of the street is much colder than the Smiths and the Macdonalds want double glazing installed. It goes to the vote and the Smiths who have always wanted a swimming pool (because they have problems with hot summers) decide the money would be better spent on the pool for their back yard. 533 is always going to beat 59. Do we really want to continue letting the big house dictate what is best for us. What household would hand over their income to their neighbours, in the hope that the neighbours would look after their best interests.

    It just makes sense to look after your own affairs.

    • Hi Gordon,

      Your argument that the lack of definite outcomes after independence is no worse than the lack of definite outcomes after a general election is exactly my point.

      If we’re going to the trouble of dismantling our political/bureaucratic ties with the UK why aren’t we clamouring for the creation of better systems of government/finance/administration in an independent Scotland so that the needs and desires of the electorate are better reflected in what the government, at all levels, actually does.

      If we take your street analogy and scale it down to Scotland with the Smiths representing the central belt, the Murphys Galloway, the MacDonalds the Highlands and Islands, etc. we end up with exactly the same scenario. I don’t believe that the systems are going to work any better for someone from Uig or Kirkcudbright or Stromness or Brechin (or Castlemilk or Wester Hailes, for that matter) just because the people who control the resources are in Holyrood rather than Westminster. Our politicians, no matter how well-intentioned they might be individually, will still have to work in the same dysfunctional system, being cajoled into doing what’s best for their party/career, jostled along by the press and the guys who pay the piper.

      Even more important, our financial system will continue to seriously malfunction to the extent that it might well collapse into chaos.

      Much of the desire for independence comes from frustration at the way that things are currently done. Independence presents us with a real opportunity to reform our democratic and economic systems for the better. There are huge advantages for the Yes campaign of presenting ideas for systems that could give Scotland a stronger democracy and economy. If the ideas are plausible and well-presented they will lay down a serious challenge to the No lot who have no alternatives on offer.

  6. It seems we are generally in agreement. The current political system is a shambles, with MP’s self interest taking precedence over sound and rational judgment. The whole system just isn’t working and needs a total shake up from local councils right to the top. I’m sure you have many suggestions to improve politics or even make democracy democratic.
    A couple of things I would like to see implemented are :
    (1) An exam for prospective Councilors and MP’s to ensure they have a reasonable level of intelligence and a good understanding of finance plus all the other areas of expertise they require for the job.
    (2) They should declare an interest and withdraw from voting plus be disallowed from relevant government departments/committees when their is a conflict of interests. eg, they stand to make financial gains from ensuring the success or failure of a bill being passed.
    I also agree, just as the South has the most clout at Westminster the Lowlands will have the most clout at Holyrood but as things stand at Westminster we are a whisper at the back of the choir and they don’t care that we are singing a different song.
    At least at Holyrood they know where Portree is!
    Independence would be a fantastic opportunity to reform our democratic and economic systems for the better. Do you have the ear of any one in Scottish Government? I’m sure they would be more than interested in your ideas.

    • I love the idea of an entrance exam for elected representatives. I’d take your second point even further and make it illegal for a councilor or MP to belong to any political or commercial organisation (including parties) and make it mandatory to record in a public diary any lobbying by such organisations. But I haven’t done enough work on democratic dysfunction to make any coherent suggestions for reform.

      I have, however, done a lot of research and given a lot of thought to the economic side of things, the results of which you can find in my book. Probably too radical for most people but hopefully sets enough of a challenge to get people thinking about alternatives.

      I don’t know anyone in the Scottish Government. Do you?

  7. I used to be on friendly terms with Rob Gibson but lost touch with him through the years. My parents are frequently in touch with Dave Thompson and he usually visits them when he us up on Skye. I will mention your book to my parents and suggest Dave Thompson may have a lot to gain from reading it.
    P.S. I was thumped by Fergus Eweing in the boot of our Morris Traveler about 45 years ago but I don’t think that counts. lol

  8. Pingback: Scottish Independence: “No” Is Not Good Enough | Views From The Boatshed

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