I’ve been struck over the years, but especially recently, that the No campaign’s “Solidarity” argument is as psychologically revealing as it is weak. There seem to be three strands to it: first, the heartstrings (“I care as much about poverty in Southend as Scotland”); second, the disloyalty (“we can’t abandon the UK to perennial Tory rule”); and third, (“we achieve more as the UK, it represents us fine, our interests are basically the same anyway”).
Even worse, I’ve seen a couple of more extreme manifestations of it in recent weeks which have spurred me to my laptop to try to put this feeling into words, and untangle it from inside my head – the idea that independence will make us and those remaining in the UK “foreign” to one another.
I want to face this mindset down hard and publicly, because it is at best wrong and at worst cynically divisive.
I’ve always struggled to understand any aspect of this attitude, and I’ve only recently started to realise why. Simply, I don’t limit the boundaries of my, or Scotland’s, interests or ambition (in any sense) to the boundaries of the UK. Why would I? We, as Scots, have links of kith and kin, love and affection, to individuals at home and across the globe.
For my part, I grew up in Saudi Arabia, studied in Leeds, Heidelberg, Warsaw and Nottingham, worked in Glasgow, New York, Spain, India, Belgium and London, and have immediate family in Kuwait and San Francisco who I FaceTime every day, crossing 11 time zones at the click of a mouse to sing Ba Ba black sheep with my wee (American/Orcadian/Glaswegian) niece. Perhaps I’m an extreme case, but there’s not a family in Scotland that doesn’t have links and memories spanning all across the world. How many families grew up sending a Broons Annual or the Sunday Post to Corby, London, Auckland or Vancouver?
Whatever constitutional future we choose, all the memories, links, bonds and ties we have, we keep. We’ll always have Paris (or Brighton), that holiday in Nepal (or Northallerton). My second cousin is going to remain Canadian, and just as accessible. Your English uncle will be the same; your French sister-in-law still French, and your Scottish siblings who live in Ulan Bator will still not be foreigners to you. On the page it even seems beyond daft that I have to spell it out, but the No side has made it so.
So hey, No side! Gonnae just stop? And you accuse us of the politics of division, sheesh.
So to come back to the various manifestations of the No argument. The first argument – heartstrings – is especially iniquitous. I care about poverty everywhere. I’ve spent years working against it at home and abroad through trade, effective EU budgets, useful international development policies and the science and energies of the future economy. The idea that poverty in parts of England necessitates us sharing a government is not an argument for the UK, it is a damning indictment of it. Where I was born, Balornock in Glasgow, has a lower life expectancy than the Gaza Strip. Don’t tell me we’re all in it together. The UK may well do OK, for some. I want to be part of a country that does better for everyone.
The second No shows contempt for UK democracy; and it’s wrong; it doesn’t even stand arithmetic analysis. I’ll be the first to agree the Westminster voting system is archaic and decaying and reform seems a distant hope, but it is not that reform is impossible if the good people of the UK wish it. But here’s the thing, most don’t. The North East of England had a chance to vote for an Assembly. Didn’t. Remember the AV Referendum? No, me neither. Independence offer us the chance to do things differently, to put people back in charge of their lives and their communities, and I just don’t see Westminster as capable of delivering that sort of radicalism. Largely because the majority of the good people of England don’t see the need, and that is their right, same as the political complexion of their future governments will be their choice. They should be allowed to choose the colour of their future governments in the manner that they think suits them best.
The third No is based on two presumptions; that the UK is a force for good, and that our interests are the same. It doesn’t stack up. See picture above.
We live in a multilateral and interdependent world where a prosperous future relies on cooperation and solidarity with other nations. Some nations have realised this long since and have been working towards a better future, others still believe in superpowers and supremacy. In this regard the UK suffers delusions of independence. A permanent seat at the UN Security Council proves nothing than the urgent need to reform the UN to suit our times. Smaller countries do multilateralism better, largely because they lack the delusion that they can get away without it. Scotland’s international interests no longer closely match those of the UK – if they ever did, but we’ve only recently started flexing those recently reacquired policy muscles. I don’t believe in fabricating differences where none exist, and where the interests of an independent Scotland and the UK coincide then I’ll be the first to work with friends and allies. But for the best part of 300 years, we have not been asked what Scotland’s priorities are, we’ve been told. Yes, of course, we were part of the decision making, but hardly as an equal partner. Only recently, with the re-establishment of our national parliament, have we had the capacity to decide our own priorities and forge a modern, international view for Scotland.
And at policy fork after fork, Scotland has taken a different path from the UK, one which better suits our different needs and wants. Prescription charges, tuition fees, freezing council tax, protecting the NHS, improving justice, eschewing xenophobia, offering an international hand of friendship – we’ve chosen a different future already, and the more we walk that different path, the more we seek a different future, and the more we’ll build Scotland in our image.
Independence isn’t about being separate or foreign, get with the times. It’s about joining and taking part. Taking the tools to do what we need to do to build a state that works for the many not the few, that we can be proud of and one that engages with our interconnected world on terms that suit us. And puts the people of Scotland back in charge of their own lives, their own communities and, as a result of that, gives us our own voice in the world. In that order. And all the personal ties we have, we keep. That sounds good to me.