2007 - 2022

Divided Together

CX1hpp1WAAAOnNuJo Swinson’s claim that Scotland is a country irrevocably divided has taken some beating in recent days. The two maps are instructive.

The former East Dunbartonshire MP  is we’re told “focusing on an exciting new career”. But speaking to the Herald she said: “I think one of the things which is disappointing about the political environment is things are still so divided along the lines of the referendum. From the experience I had speaking on the doorsteps, while people do still have strong feelings about the future of the country and its place in the UK or otherwise, there was also, I think, a growing feeling for people who don’t want to live in such a divided society.”

You’d have to assume she wasn’t talking about the 100,000 of Britain’s poorest children who go hungry after their parents’ benefits are cut?  The bleating from Unionist MPS about ‘division’ doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny as the most severe austerity agenda kicks-in and the next round of cuts closes libraries, playgroups and basic council services across Scotland. In a country where the government plans to reduce out-of-work disability benefits it’s a bit cheeky for people like Swinson to talk about how we’re ‘divided’ by the constitution. If we’re divided at all its because we get a government we didn’t elect, that’s imposing a punitive economic culture that is destroying peoples lives. Zero-hours contracts, a low-pay economy and a culture of background racism and war-mongering, that’s what leaves us divided and efforts to ‘bring us all together’ seem to backfire in parody.

But this sense of heightened division has a pre-history. In fact it’s been used to argue that we either aren’t a country at all, or that we are but we are so divided as to be broken. This pre-dates the referendum by some time. As Gerry Hassan has noted:

2015UKElectionMap.svg_“One of the recurring stories of Scotland in the referendum and after has been to say that politics and debate have become bitterly polarised and divided. This sense of a divided Scotland links into history: that once upon a time we couldn’t surmount our own differences: Highland/Lowland, West/East, Glasgow/Edinburgh, Protestant/Catholic. This had a feeling of powerlessness – pathologising differences to the extent they became disabling. These were identities found everywhere in the developed world but in Scotland we were so abnormal we couldn’t handle them and ourselves.”

Actually, if polls are taken to be true then we are in Scotland remarkably united. That may be problematic, but it’s unquestionably true.

In a report published earlier this year (‘Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty’) Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack tracked changes in deprivation and paint a devastating picture of the reality of poverty today and its causes. They shattered the myth that poverty is the fault of the poor and a generous benefit system, and showed that “the blame lies with the social and economic upheaval that has shifted power from the workforce to corporations and swelled the ranks of the working poor, a group increasingly at the mercy of low-pay, zero-hour contracts and downward social mobility.” They found that that more than twice as many people today reported skipping meals as did in the early 1980s, and that twice as many households – 33 per cent – don’t meet minimum living standards. Since the 1990s, the number of households without adequate heating, or enough bedrooms, has tripled. Fewer can pay for healthy food, rid their homes of damp, or put away regular savings. But then, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.

Unity and harmony are great things to aspire to but not if they are based on a false prospectus. Should we clean up litter in our communities? Sure but not as a sop to prop up 21C celebrity feudalism. This desire for a false peacefulness just offers up another soporific quietism. If there’s any sign a truly ‘infantile political culture’ it’s one where people can’t act like grown-ups and share their differences as active citizens. It’s the safety of passivity that the Unionists want.

The reality is that the constitutional question remains unresolved. The Unionist community would be better to face that reality and build a case rather than hiding and trying to paper over the cracks.

No campaigners spent most of the campaign moaning about how the referendum was ‘tearing the country apart’. Their energy would be better spent opposing the welfare cuts and work practices that leave us united in poverty.

Comments (26)

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  1. Alex Buchan says:

    Everything you say Mike is true but Swinton’s words only have traction because they resonate with a certain sizable section of society that didn’t like the referendum.

    The wider independence movement needs to discuss and plot a way forward and not get bogged down. It seems clear to me that instead of discussing the next independence referendum the way forward is through concentrating on changing Scotland radically so that independence becomes more of an inevitability rather than the outcome of one more vote.

    In that respect Scotland’s differences do matter. But rather than arguing that these are false we need to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy around difference in Scotland. Having lived much of my adult life in England, I’m struck by how difference is approached in Scotland compared to England.

    One example of this is over attitudes to Catholics from an Irish background. In England there is a widespread acceptance that people from Ireland have over the decades suffered from discrimination and extensive measures have been put in place to eradicate this. Coming from Scotland this seemed like an over reaction but I’ve come to realise that it was Scottish attitude that was the problem. Compare England to Scotland. In Scotland no widespread awareness exists, outside of academic circles, of the discrimination people from Ireland experienced in Scotland over the decades. Maybe it’s because their is a shame attached as if this only happened in Scotland, but, of course, that’s not true.

    Instead in Scotland there is a tendency to want to deny it and see it as a problem restricted to the West of Scotland; to see it as to do with sectarianism; to see it as intractable. This leads to a stigmatising of the working class as irredeemable and a denial the prejudice pervades the whole of Scottish society, just as it does the whole of society elsewhere.

    The SNP’s legislation against sectarianism follows in this way of viewing things. A way of seeing things where there is a need to isolate troubling difference and criminalise it, rather than, as in England, trying to understand it’s historical roots and injustices and deal with the core underlying problem.

    The debate on twitter over faith schools shows the effect of this on wider society. Instead of that debate being informed by an awareness of the historical background, people take absolutist stances on either side. It’s not our differences that are the problem in Scotland but the way that we address them.

    When William McIlvanney stood on top of a bus and said Scotland is a mongrel nation people were moved to give him an ovation, but we haven’t understood and we haven’t followed through.

    1. 1314 says:

      There’s a bit in one of Ian Rankin’s books where Rebus is talking to a local politician who is of Asian extraction. During the conversation Rebus brings up the subject of racism and the politician replies – ‘We’re all racist, it’s how we deal with it that matters’.

      Apologies to Mr Rankin if I have that wrong – but I wish I’d thought of it.

  2. Big Jock says:

    Alex you are correct to a degree about Scottish attitudes to Irish/Catholics. However remember the real problem came about when Ulster Scots came back to Western Scotland in the 18th & 19th century. That’s when Scotland became a sectarian nation in the west.

    The Ulster Scots are what feeds teams like Rangers. The Scots in the rest of Scotland do not carry the bigotry of Ayrshire/Lanarkshire and Glasgow Ulster Scots.

  3. Alex Buchan says:

    Jock, thanks for that. But I’m not sure that there isn’t a wider issue though that fed into how we’ve reacted to that.

    I’d be interested in whether there is anything been written on this, but one thing I notice that’s different between England and Scotland is the idea that Scotland should somehow live up to certain absolutes, it’s how they are defined that characterises much of the ‘debate of the deaf’ between pro-indy and pro-union people. It probably dates back to Presbyterian doctrine which never saw the Church’s scope as limited to converting individuals but, in seeing itself as the national church, it saw it’s role as transforming society in the image of the godly society that was first pioneered in Geneva.

    We’ve been moving away from a narrow interpretation of that during the course of my lifetime and Scotland now prides itself in being a model of liberal attitudes with legislation being used since the inception of the Scottish Parliament to entrench that. But I think the basic underlying frame of reference that underlay Presbyterian Scotland still persists and this is where I think we need to concentrate so as to make Scotland truly pluralist. The reason I say that is because it feel to me as if there is an assimilation aspect to all this. To be Scottish has become to be progressive. Evidence of backward behaviour, as in sectarian chanting, is demonised and othered, rather than seen as part of the weave and weft of society to be understood and slowly eradicated through greater understanding. To that extent there is an element of truth in Swinton’s point. No voters are perceived by many yessers as aberrant.

    My point is that we won’t change Scottish society so that it feels comfortable enough in its varied and multiple Scottish identities to take the massive decision to risk independence. Instead of demonising we should, for instant think of promoting Glasgow first and foremost as a world of diversity; encourage St Patrick’s Day Jamborees as well as Ramadan and Diwali celebrations and hopefully in all of this changed attitude we’d hope to wean the flute bands away from hate and bigotry by celebrating them as a cultural expression of working class identity.

    Does all this sound far fetched? That’s my point this is already a reality in places like London Birmingham and Leicester.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      That should have read “Glasgow as a world city of diversity”

  4. Big Jock says:

    Agree Alex- Glagow was once described as a Highland,Lowland Scots, Irish hybrid. To that you could now add Asian, Italian and Polish.

    Surely a town with an Irish heritage should be happy to celebrate St Paddys day. However it might be good if we also celebrated St Andrews day and put some Scottish statues and street names back in Glagow. Ditch the slave trade names of a failed union.

  5. Alex Buchan says:

    Precisely! These kind of ideas would I suspect do more good in overcoming the worst aspects of sectarianism than everything tried to date.

  6. Jim Bennett says:

    Another good article by Mike, enriched by interesting and thoughtful comments above.

    To take the issue of division in some context, Loki recently raised some points regarding the received wisdom of what Scottishness means vs. its often unholy reality. Our received wisdom about Scotland is of a tolerant, liberal society which is and always has been a welcoming environment. We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns. Scotland is perceived as a broadly social democratic country which raises itself well above the Little Englander xenophobia that mires Westminster politics; empire and militarism.

    However, the truth about divisions in Scotland is somewhat more complex than that. Reference:
    – The lack of conscious recognition of Scotland’s post-union historic economic development being based on the slave trade.
    – The split of the Free Kirk from the Church of Scotland being funded by Southern U.S. State slavers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06kb0g2
    – the anti-Catholic stance of the Church of Scotland in the early to mid 20th century which had political expression in the most poverty ridden areas of both Edinburgh and Glasgow (confronting the idea that sectarianism was/is a West of Scotland phenomenon)
    – anti- Italian and anti Jewish immigrant riots in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Campbelltown (!) in the early to mid 2oth century http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=224 and http://www.newstatesman.com/2012/05/britains-last-anti-jewish-riots
    – the spoken experience of people like poet Jackie Kay http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06sq1pd
    – and although there are reasonably significant differences on immigration between Scots and the rest of the UK, the reality is that Scots just tend not to be quite as anti-immigration as the rUK rather than actually pro-immigrant. http://www.thenational.scot/comment/are-scots-more-tolerant-views-about-immigration-are-never-clear-cut.959

    To be honest, I’m a victim of being taken in by my own hope for Scotland being an open, tolerant liberal democratic, welcoming country. I was shocked at the naked loyalism on display in George Square post-referendum; appalled by 10% of my compatriots voting UKIP and continue to be appalled at reading anti-Muslim comments on social networking sites by not insignificant numbers of fellow Scots.

    There are divisions in Scotland and the cracks are papered over and not confronted by many YES people. Those divisions are simply different from those envisaged by unionist apologists.

  7. DB1 says:

    Good article.
    Those who see division rather than democracy need to get a grip.
    Imagine the Tories in England tried to silence other voters by saying they were causing division in society.

    There is no acknowledgement amongst unionists that they are equally causing division by holding Scotland back in the eyes of many. And the fact is that many no voters also want far more powers, and aren’t really happy with the feeble Scotland bill.

    The overall message I get from the division crowd is “Why can’t we just go back to the days when Scots just knew their place?”

  8. Drew Campbell says:

    “This sense of a divided Scotland links into history: that once upon a time we couldn’t surmount our own differences: Highland/Lowland, West/East, Glasgow/Edinburgh, Protestant/Catholic. This had a feeling of powerlessness – pathologising differences to the extent they became disabling. These were identities found everywhere in the developed world but in Scotland we were so abnormal we couldn’t handle them and ourselves.”

    Not sure if you quoted Gerry Hassan in context, but the idea that other nations in the developed world don’t have conflicting identities is utter nonsense. Our divisions are barely even particular to us, much less a peculiarity per se – ask the Walloons and the Flemish, the Prussians and the Bavarians, the Catalans, Basques and Castilians (etc., etc. for every European state, ad nausem) not to mention religious war, territorial grudges and racial tensions shot through the history of every single nation on earth. And that’s before we even get to class divides!

    Jo Swinson’s whinge is just more meaningless grist for the mainstream media mill and fair play for the rebuttal, but really there is no need to ascribe exceptionalism to Scotland’s divisions. We really are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns in that respect.

  9. MBC says:

    I would love to know what No voters now think. I think there is a hard core who would never vote for independence no matter what, and they are bitter, and increasingly angry and aggressive as they see plainly that the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future has not died with the referendum result as they’s hoped, but as Mike says, is simply unresolved.

    No may have won, but the lasting outcome of the referendum is that Scotland has changed forever.

    The Lib Dems are finished, the Labour Party is finished, at least as a majority party that is ever likely to hold power again.

    I’ve found my attitude to No voters softening, in as far as I realise they were a spectrum, and many voted No reluctantly, whilst others were simply confused but have since become clearer. So I wonder what their attitude is now towards us Yessers. Do they now realise that Scotland is a perfectly viable country, and the issue is not can we be independent but should we be independent? Is it dawning on them that the future of Scotland in the UK is as the unwilling captive of an uncaring English Tory government?

    1. Common Sense says:

      Well lets be honest, we No voters are either, Stupid, Evil or Selfish, or some combination of two of these if not all three simultanousley. After all in the minds of many on the Yes side their can be no other possible rational explanation as to why otherwise aparantley normally functioning adults, could possibly hold a view that the interests of Scotland and her people is best met by remaining in the union in one form or another. That we might negatively judge the very high possibility of severe economic dislocation at the very least in the short to medium terms which independence would most likley bring, (and in reality would hurt the already weakest and poorest in our society the most), just makes us irrational cowards, Quislings, and fearties. In fact possibly we must be so deeply psychologically dysfunctional verging on the psychotic, and filled with a sub conscious self loathing so deep rooted, that we actually hate the country and culture of our birth, have no pride in it, and wallow in its obvious subservient state.

      1. Valerie says:

        Well, you don’t sound bitter. For all of those names, supporters of independence can match all of it.

        Most of us are interested in debating the facts, or we wouldn’t hang around places like this. Personally, what I have found frustrating, is the blind loyalty to the Crown/Monarchy/Union, for no reason, and that’s fine, that’s their choice.

        However, in your statement here, you are saying your reasoning for staying within the Union is economic, and the burden would fall on the weak. Did you see the pic from the Trussell Trust? National debt at £1.6trillion makes this Union a basket case. The weak? They are targeted by IDS. Almost everything is being privatised down south, which must have financial consequences for our block grant shortly.

        This is why I don’t understand Unionists.

        1. MBC says:

          Common Sense is amongst the diehards who would never vote for independence Valerie under any circumstance. He is well known on these boards.

          1. Common Sense says:

            With all due respect, you know nothing about me.. Perhaps I could be persuaded that independence is the best thing for Scotland and her people, which is my only concern in these matters, yet you make no attempt to, just assuming and belittling, to make yourself feel good. Well their you go, any chance you ever have of winning my vote pushed just a little further away.

        2. Common Sense says:

          Valerie, I mean this with due respect to you response. I haven’t accused Yes supporters of anything in this post, I have called them no names, nor have I questioned the certanty of their beliefs, which for the overwhelming majority is the same thing as the great majority of No voters, which is for a compassionate, tolerant and successful Scotland. Yet what I will accuse many of the most vocal in the Yes movement of is setting themselves up in a position of self appointed moral superiority, belittling their opponents, in personal and vindictive ways. Most of all insulting their patriotism and love of there country and regarding them as somehow “other”, not fellow Scots with the same basic desires for the wellbeing of our country and people, but as something alien, foreign, not really one of us… That is what I and many other No voters find deeply and personally insulting. That is genuine and honest insight into the mind of a No voter, that MBC claimed he was interested in at the start of this thread.

          1. 1314 says:

            Hi CS

            A while back some independence supporters would say that Labour voters were stupid. I tried on numerous occasions to point out that –

            1) There were, and still are, an awful lot of Labour voters and that if they are all stupid we really are in trouble.

            2) You are unlikely to persuade people to your point of view by calling them stupid.

            I hope you agree with the above and also that this applies in both directions.

  10. Alf Baird says:

    Perhaps the greatest legacy from the past couple of decades is the clear evidence that the Scottish people now fully appreciate they are able to completely remove any political party from power in Scotland. This started with the demise of the Tories and has now been extended to both Labour and the LibDems. All three unionist parties have been found wanting and the people have removed them. The majority of Scots voters will soon put their faith in the SNP and that will be to deliver independence, and to do so quickly. If the SNP make the mistake of thinking the vote in May is simply to allow them (and the mainly unionist elite who still run Scotland’s 200 public/semi-public institutions) to continue ‘managing’ Scotland ‘responsibly’ on behalf of our Westminister Tory masters, I expect they will be sorely disappointed at subsequent elections.

  11. Big Jock says:

    Common sense you are a Brit get over yourself. You don’t have to hide beneath a veneer of Aye Scottish But!

    If you want London to run Scotland, then you have to accept Scotland is a region not a nation. I think Scotland is a nation end of. A nation has it’s sovereign parliament in the said nation not in another.

    The myth that you can co-exist as an inferior/superior nation is falacy.

    1. Common Sense says:

      Big Jock you are just the perfect example of what I complain about, and arrogant, self aggaradising and opinionated bully, who believes yourself to be a true Scot, which I cannot possibly be in your black and white moral views. You call me a Brit as a derogatory term, and by inference attempt to deny my Scottish identity. I have to accept nothing, and I most defiantly don’t have to accept my concepts of my personal national identity and culture from you. Maybe you should get over yourself, I am more than happy to accept you identify yourself as only Scottish, but you despise me and obviously many others, who see themselves Scottish & British. To quote a line that is so often used on this site with reference to Yes supporters, No voters also “aren’t going anywhere”, so you also will have to learn deal with that, just as I accept your Yes campaign continues.

      1. MBC says:

        Pot. Kettle. Black.

        Would you just listen to yourself rant?

      2. 1314 says:

        Hi CS, again – I noticed that you have replied to Big Jock where you have something to argue against, which is fine. However you have not seen fit to respond to my thoughts about calling other people stupid in the hopes, presumably, that they will be persuaded to your point of view. My points are repeated below – what’s your opinion?

        A while back some independence supporters would say that Labour voters were stupid. I tried on numerous occasions to point out that –

        1) There were, and still are, an awful lot of Labour voters and that if they are all stupid we really are in trouble.

        2) You are unlikely to persuade people to your point of view by calling them stupid.

        I hope you agree with the above and also that this applies in both directions.

        1. Common Sense says:

          1314, (I do like the handle by the way), my apologies for not replying sooner, the original thread did not seem to give that option. In answer to your points, I completely agree, accusations of stupidity, belittlement or any other form of abuse, are as a unacceptable from the No side as it is from the Yes side. Also amongst some (thankfully in my experience a very small number) of No voters I have come across an element of social class based sneering, which is a particularly repugnent trait, and as bad as anything dreamed up by the most virulent on the Yes side.

  12. Big Jock says:

    Common Sense -Inventing the truth!

    The only one person who has used the word hate is yourself. I don’t hate the Brits like yourself, I just don’t share your lack of conviction in your own nation. In other words, we can be Scottish but are terrified of Scots ever running the nation!

    You represent the past the cannae do attitutude that most of your Brit/Scots share. Nae confidence scared into believing we are lesser than London or westminster.

    You voted to allow another nation to decide the governement of Scotland. That government is right wing and anti Scottish. Don’t lecture me on morals when you voted to maintain it. Scotland voted SNP by over 51% and we have a Tory government because you made sure Scotland’s voice was not heard.

    Food banks, welfare cuts, wars in Syria are all at the door of no voters. Guess what the 85% of Scotland that didn’t vote Tory are sick of it. Your Britain is a failed state and it’s time to free Scotland of it’s yolk.

    1. Common Sense says:

      Big Jock. I am impressed how do you know what I do inside a voting booth, I have voted in seven general elections, and in not one have I voted Tory (i.e. Conservative, before we have a smart Red Tory remark). I even once voted for Nicola Sturgeon, although to be fair it was a University of Glasgow SRC election and she had bought me a drink the night before.. Scotland did indeed vote 51% for the SNP, and they got a spectacular 93% of the MP’s for it (although those are the rules of that game and that is fair enough).. Equally the rules of the referendum were fair, and No got 55.3%, so we have to put up with the Tory majority that was elected in Westminster, as a majority of the Scottish electorate wanted to stay in the Union. I am in reality far less of a “Brit Nat”, than you might think, I am a higher rate tax payer who wants to be pay more tax for a more equal society, and if the SNP truly believed in equality and they put that in their manifesto and Labour didn’t I might even be persauded to vote for them at Holyrood. What I believe in is democracy, if Yes had won the referendum even by 1 vote, I might not have been happy but I would have accepted it.. No wins by more than 400,000 votes, and in your mind we are all cowards.

  13. Cecil says:

    Common Sense, I appreciate the polite way you put your views. I think you’re quite right about how objectionable it is that some who are in favour of independence should assume an attitude of moral superiority to those who do not. In my view you’re also right to say that the referendum result settles the issue of independence for the present.

    However, it’s the issue of how long that “present” will last that concerns me. I’ll try to put the point as neutrally as I can: is it not possible there will come a time when the democratic politics of Scotland and those of the rest of the UK diverge to the point where a problem arises for democracy in Scotland? There are a number of situations I can imagine – for instance:

    – Scotland continues to vote in 2016 and 2020 for a party that supports social redistribution, but the UK as a whole continues to elect to government parties ideologically committed to withdrawing such welfare provision as we still have.

    – The circumstances that informed the last referendum vote in Scotland change radically: – e.g. the UK decides to leave the European Union against the wishes of Scotland;

    – the UK government continues its movement from payment for common services by taxation (health, education, infrastructure) to payment for such services by user charging, thus causing a crisis for the Scottish budget through deductions consequent upon the Barnett formula;

    – the UK government or parliament interferes in a devolved area in Scotland without consent from the Scottish Parliament. This is less far-fetched than you might think: the UK Government has not yet clarified that it will obtain the Scottish Parliament’s consent for repeal and replacement of the Human Rights Act or for introduction of legislation to curb “extremism”, even though both areas are devolved.

    – the UK Government will not agree an equitable method of calculating Scotland’s block grant such that the Smith Commission tax powers cannot come into effect.

    – the UK Government abolishes inheritance tax and cuts are imposed to balance the UK budget – the Scottish Government is left with the invidious choice of increasing the Scottish rate of income tax to make up for consequent cuts in its budget (so shifting the balance of taxation further from the wealthy and landed onto working people) or cutting its budget in line with the UK Government.

    I do not suggest that Scotland is morally superior, simply that Scotland may have different political aspirations or, at the very least, a different political trajectory at present from the rest of the UK, and that this is likely to cause problems, to which the resolution will either be for Scotland to knuckle under to the will of the UK Government, or to obtain greater autonomy or independence such that it can take its own decisions on these matters. You seem to accept that Scotland is a polity that is entitled to self-determination – that the referendum was legitimate. Don’t you agree that in any of my imagined crises, Scotland at least deserves a democratic choice as to whether to insist on further autonomy? Wouldn’t you at least entertain a move for further autonomy or independence in those circumstances, even if it meant significant economic disruption in the medium term?

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