Saturday, 15 February 2014

Scottish Independence. A Guide for My Friends Down South

We need to talk. If we're going to divorce then there needs to be an orderly transition. But some of my English friends don't seem to grasp the fundamentals, so I'm going to try to explain why Scotland has to vote 'Yes' in the upcoming referendum and hope that they will understand and support us.

It has nothing to do with hating the English. They've been our neighbours since before time was measured and we live in harmony with them most of the time, but we're different. The real problem is that my English friends can only see me through English glasses. They ascribe to a completely different, a fundamentally different set of norms and values to those that prevail north of the border and it affects their vision as my life experience shapes mine.

English kids are brought up with heroes who represent State and Empire. From Drake, Nelson and Kipling to Churchill, the Union Jack and the Royal Family, a sense of Englishness is rooted deep within them from their early years. They ingest it with their mother's milk and it lasts all of their lives. State and Empire are so deeply rooted that when Scotland becomes independent it might be the first country to become independent of Westminster without a shot being fired. No doubt someone wiser will correct me.

But Scots kids learn about missionaries like Livingstone and Park who, while deeply involved in expanding the Empire in reality, are presented as spreading Christian values in savage worlds. Their heroes are Helen Crawfurd, John Mclean, Willie Gallacher, Jimmy Reid, Mick McGaghey and others who led ordinary people in a struggle against the state to improve the lives of people. (It's just occurred to me that many of my English friends will never have heard of Helen Crawfurd. She stood with the women of Glasgow when they defied the English tanks in George Square in Glasgow in 1919. But it probably didn't make the papers down there). But back to the point, Scots kids are taught that if they have good luck it is a gift given to them so that they can improve the lives of others as well as their own. It's a universal duty of care and share taught to our kids, which doesn't always last forever but is sufficiently deep rooted to make us different. I know that this view is controversial, but please don't tell me an anecdote about a Scot you met who didn't ascribe to these values, I know as many of them as you do, and there are many. But producing an anecdote and trying to pretend that it overwhelms a mass of solid statistical evidence as presented in social attitude surveys is a particularly Tory strategy which might fool Sun readers but is really quite shallow. If I deserve abuse then I'm sure I deserve a better standard of abuse than that.

In Scotland we try to be a more compassionate, caring set of people. Put on one side all of the debate over how much money we get from the Barnett formula. That can be interpreted by either side to get the result they want. Instead look at how we spend the money we get. It is used in the main to improve our society as a whole, to improve the lives of those who need it, students, the disabled, the elderly and others who in England are regarded as a drain on the economy, as welfare junkies.

Look at the social attitude surveys and year after year you will see that we have completely different aspirations for our society from those that prevail down south. We integrate our immigrants to the point that they don't ghettoise themselves, they become part of our society recognising that our national social values are those to which all caring people can aspire. I know that in England they feel excluded in the same way as Scots often do. We don't always understand your ways just as much as you don't always understand ours. Kindness to strangers is an inherent part of our national character.

My English friends believe that the economy will be the deciding factor in the referendum, but they couldn't be more wrong. The economy and the currency come only half way up the crucial factors according to respectable independent polling. It's really more about the psyche of the Scots people. We're different by choice. It's a set of values instilled in us from childhood. And it's not something we want to change. We want our children to have those same values when they grow up. We don't aspire for them to be rich, only to be comfortable and free of the worry of daily financial struggle. That means a welfare system that provides not just a safety net but a platform, it shouldn't be the miserable existence some would wish on them should they fall upon hard times. That's a sacrifice Scots taxpayers are prepared to make which English taxpayers seem to resent very deeply. We don't want to fund a clinging to the last vestiges of Empire by maintaining a grossly over-large military and a nuclear capability which impresses nobody in the world, but allows us to intervene in all sorts of foreign wars so we can claim a seat at the big table. We'd rather have peace and eat with the staff.

I don't blame my English friends for not understanding all of this. They can't possibly understand because their whole lives has been dominated by the values of the society they were reared in just as mine has. Their views of Scotland have been peddled to them by a right wing media because they recognise that the social values we have in Scotland are a danger to the obscene wealth of their owners. So they have been fed stories of whingeing Jocks and subsidy junkies to the point where they really believe it. They have been encouraged to believe that our much valued social housing is an affront to their property values. Housing for them is sold as a competitive sport hence the ludicrous concept of a housing ladder that leaves their kids homeless or burdened with debt. We fight hard for our social housing but our views have been suppressed and ignored by various Governments and media consisting of Tories of all shades.

And the bottom line is this. If Jesus Christ himself came up to encourage us to vote 'No' in the referendum then I would guarantee that if he had an English accent then he would be sent homewards to think again and the 'Yes' vote would increase. We just wont be told that irrespective of whether we vote Yes or No, if Cameron doesn't like it then we are stuck in the status quo. We wont be told that the pound is non-negotiable. If the pound is strong then we have suffered the hard work and austerity that has made it strong along with our English cousins. We have made a proportionate contribution to its strength, so we wont be treated like that … not any more. We're not a colony of the Empire and we wont be talked down to or partonised any more.

The economics are important but not crucial or anything like as important as the English politicians think they are. It's all about pride. There's a feeling abroad in Scotland that it's our time, our opportunity to build the kind of society we want for ourselves without the English Government that we didn't elect coming along every five years with the wrecking ball and setting us back on our heels again.

So I hope my friends down south can understand that it's not about dislike or malice, it's only about difference. You have your way and we have ours, for better or worse, completely and incommensurable paradigms, and if you can't help us in our hopes then at least don't hinder us. We can do this on our own but we can do it so much more easily with your co-operation, and you would end up with a very good friend and neighbour, and you never know when you'll need a friend.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi John, enjoyed reading this and your passion certainly shines through. I do feel though that you make some sweeping generalisations. I was born in England but have never felt imbued with a sense of state and empire (non-existent anyway!) I spent virtually all my working life in the public sector and have always tried to help people as much as I can. I like to think that I am not a massive exception! You courageously admit that not all Scots live up to your traits of kindness to others, welcoming nature to immigrants, support of generous welfare etc and I'm sure you're right. We all have a sense of pride in our country but I do feel that we English are less demonstrative in this area than the Scots, Welsh and Irish. I guess this stems from an historical sense of oppression, justified to a large extent, and a need to counteract this by waving the flag.
I do understand that Scots feel hugely disenfranchised right now because a minority of you voted for the coalition. I can only say that I have lived in the same constituency for 43 years and not once has the candidate I voted for become an MP. I have, like the Scots, however, lived through some (though not enough) years when the party I voted for formed a Government. That's democracy, I guess - not perfect.
In just the same way as the Scottish hooligans that demolished the Wembley goals are atypical, so, I believe are your stereotypical southerners! I'm not saying that there aren't differences between the peoples of our two nations but I don't believe they are as stark, or as clear cut as you suggest. I firmly believe that pride is not a great reason for separation. Pride goes before a fall. The vast majority of Scots, Welsh, Irish and English have an awful lot in common in their approaches to life - more in common than not - and I believe we can be more successful in the long run united rather than as individual outfits. However bursting with pride we may all be, I reckon we will all be diminished by separation. I also believe that the arguments Osborne put forward (and I don't like him any more than you do!) do have some merit and that there are definite financial risks and uncertainties for the Scots in independence? I believe the majority of Scots will not want to take that unnecessary jump into the dark. If I'm right, then there will be a no vote later this year, if I'm wrong then you will have been proved correct. Time will, tell but whatever the outcome I trust we can all remain friendly and civil correspondents! David