Writer’s Bloc

The Guardian recently published  a panel of views from Scottish writers: AL Kennedy, Iain Banks (‘I support the idea of an independent Scotland’), Shena Mackay and Janice Galloway (‘The SNP needs to establish that its motivation has more in common with Small Is Beautiful than “Scotland the Brave” if it is to be the credible answer. But if it can – and that’s a big if – the risk of secession will be worth taking.’) The unanimity is an exciting prospect. What struck Bella reading it was how some writers previously associated with a different song had come to a new understanding.


If the Union between Scotland and England has been a marriage, then the Holyrood election was like the moment when the wife looks at her husband and realises – suddenly and clearly – that it’s over. There’s been love in the marriage, there’s been strength in adversity, there’s history, financial issues, kids even… but it can’t be avoided any more. This couple have drifted apart, they’re interested in different things, they argue all the time, they fight about money, and… there’s something else. Something more serious. She doesn’t really recognise him any more. He’s not the man she fell in love with. It’s a moment without rancour, without bitterness: a great sigh of relief at the inevitable acknowledgement of the obvious… it’s time to go our separate ways.

I’m an old-fashioned social democrat and while my heart is marbled through with love of country my head has always distrusted nationalism. I have equated nationalism with racism, xenophobia, inward-looking-ness and militarism. I have spent my adult life voting and campaigning for a British Labour party. All the while, I’ve kept my eye on Scottish nationalism, watching and waiting, distrusting it, expecting it to reveal its true dark heart.

But it never has.

For 25 years, Scottish nationalism has been a civic, social-democratic, multicultural movement. Nationalists have opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they opposed Trident. They have openly campaigned for more immigration. The SNP proudly asserts the multicultural nature of modern Scotland with its MSPs taking the parliamentary oath in Urdu, Gaelic, Italian and English. Nationalists promote and engage with the EU. They advocate sustainable energy, land reform, arts funding… the list goes on.

And in the meantime what about Britain? The Britain I grew up in: the Britain of the BBC, of manufacturing, of university education, of council housing, civic theatres and libraries? That Britain has been torn up by successive Westminster governments that have pandered with increasing desperation to a middle England that seems determined to live in a low-tax, high-inequality, American-style future. I don’t want to live in America. I don’t want to live in Thatcherland.

So there comes a moment when we turn and look at each other – England and Scotland – and realise we just want different things. No matter how hard I try, I can no longer rationalise voting for parties that can never give my community what it wants.

Scottish independence is not a matter of ethnicity. There are plenty of English people in Scotland who would vote for independence. I am sure there are many Scots in England who would prefer to stay plugged in to the economic energy of the south-east of England. The Scotland whose independence I seek is more a state of mind: cautious, communitarian, disliking of bullying or boasting, broadly egalitarian, valuing of education, internationalist in outlook, working class in character, conservative with a small c. It’s a polity formed by the virtues of the manse. And, given that the virtues of the manse are not dissimilar to the virtues of the mosque, the gurdwara or the Women’s Institute, it’s a multicultural, shared, open polity.

Of course, as an independent country Scotland would make mistakes, it would do stupid things, be crass and ugly at times. I just think it would be those things less often and we would be able to right them more quickly.

The only rational reason I can find to vote against independence is that it would condemn the English left to perpetual opposition. I still can’t resolve that problem. Solidarity might still stay my hand in the voting booth. But at the moment I expect I will vote for independence. I think a majority of Scots will too. Perhaps not independence red in tooth and claw. Perhaps independence “lite”. But I don’t think there’s any going back. The Union is an unhappy marriage. I think it’s time we both sat down and said it out loud – it’s over.


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  1. What disappointed me about the article was the absence of any opinions from genuine Scottish Nationalists. Most of the contributors seemed to have chosen the independence option not out of any real belief or commitment but as a sort of least-worse-option. The worse option being the traditional centre-right domination of British politics derived from the combined vote for the Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP, etc. that reflect the views of the majority choice of English voters.

    I can’t help but feel that this was a deliberate choice by the Guardian, part of the broader series of propaganda yarns being spun in the British media that the Scots don’t really want independence and that they only support the SNP out of unhappiness with the Conservative-Lib Deb coalition, or the London-based Labour Party leadership, etc.

    It is a subtle but insidious narrative being playing out beneath the surface in most British news media reports on Scotland these days.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I disagree. I think what was striking was that the very best of our writers and poets – a huge swathe of our cultural thinkers will be backing independence in the upcoming referendum. This is significant. People like Alasdair Gray were missing from this line-up – but as a well known supporter his voice wouldn’t have been a surprise. People like David Greig have international standing – and it’s hugely significant that such voices are speaking out and up openly at this time.

      For Bella it shows the mindshift that’s still underway across our whole cultural and political landscape. If there’s doubt and complexity in there thoughts, all the better, this isn’t a time for simplistic sloganeering.

      1. Carandol says:

        I agree with bellas response here… one of the key points in the energies that have reinvigorated the scots polity recently is the immediacy of Nats to each of us…..somehow it seems that ‘it’ really is ‘us’ and not some distant class of politicians and pundits presenting us with a pro-forma set of choices from some inescapable structured conflict with which we have to be happy as there is (of course) no other choice.
        Wether the opportunities that seem to be offered truly show fruit is irrelevant at the moment what matters is the shared experience of possibilities on a near horizon……… The Wird on the pavey is, cannney though we are, that we really should, can and will gie it the chance it deserves and it doesn’t matter that the ‘political classes’ don’t get it. As a matter of fact that just maks it soooo much more appealing, and, beyond that it disnae matter if it disnae work gi’en that this world is hitting so many of it’s edges recently (and so many mair obviously upcoming) we’d a’ be dumb no to gie it a chance……….
        In the last few hundred years it can be fairly said that the Scots hae done a lot to invent the modern world and, patient as we are, we are presently reinventing it.
        Politics is not an abstract game of idealogues – ‘it’ IS people.

      2. I agree to an extent, but some of the points from the contributors indicate their lack of full commitment to the cause of Scottish independence. So Iain Banks can state:

        ‘These days, I support the idea of an independent Scotland. It’s with a heavy heart in some ways; I think I’d still sacrifice an independent Scotland for a socialist UK, but… I can’t really see that happening. What I can imagine is England continuing to turn to the right and eventually leaving the EU altogether.’

        I’m not saying this is not progress, it undoubtedly is, and reflects in some ways the changes in thinking that took place in Ireland in the lead-up to the Irish Revolution when many writers and commentators found themselves thinking increasingly about a free Ireland, some with enthusiasm, some with a sort of heavy acceptance for the inevitable. Going with the flow as it were.

        However, I do think you are correct about a political mindshift in Scotland. If generally Unionist-minded Scots are now thinking in Nationalist terms, even with a ‘heavy heart’, then it is a very good sign indeed. But it should also be taken that there is much work to do to fully persuade and enthuse the fence-sitters, especially with the possibility of a complex referendum (referenda?) facing Scotland in the next five years.

        So keep up the good work! 🙂

    2. Carandol says:

      mmmm ‘subtle’ ????
      ‘teacher walks into class and says ‘Today we are to do double negatives but before any of you start in no language on the planet does a double positive make a negative.’ and a wee voice from the back pipes up;
      ‘Eh, right.’
      One of our (many) strengths.

  2. Kenneth Nicol says:


  3. Kenneth Nicol says:

    Canada to their States. Please legalise weed for the following reasons.

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