Scotland Your Scotland

“The Union hasn’t been saved, it’s over” argues Andrew O’Hagan in his Scotland Your Scotland keynote lecture to the Edinburgh Book Festival. “Scotland is a place in which to live and breath and vote and argue, but it is also a place in the mind, a moveable feast, and self-improvement will be our greatest export” he stated  O Hagan is an author and editor who has won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.  Here is the transcript of his talk.

THE vanity of each generation is to believe we are living through the greatest period in history. Each generation imagines it is germinating a brand new world, that the times are glorious, that their period is the most interesting ever to occur, that earthly progress would turn around now for a thousand years and their names would be written on water. The Romans believed it, and their civilisation is now a heap of lovely ruins and a dead language. And yet there are good reasons to trust that the 21st century will indeed be a time of times, a period for the ages, as we proceed toward new formulations of what it means to be human, of what constitutes a society, of what characterises a culture and what makes a nation.

My ancestors came to Glasgow from Ireland with soil on their hands. They soon replaced it with engine grease, but not before they had fought themselves clean with the local culture, and I enjoyed a Scottish childhood in which 400 years of history was inscribed at the level of daily life. In the town in Ayrshire where I grew up, the Catholic church was adjacent to a blue hut in a field, a hut that lay dormant for most of the week. But on Sunday morning, about 2 minutes before 10 o’clock Mass, the hut would thump into life, a big bass drum at the centre, as the local Orange Band embarked on its weekly rehearsals. You could see the funny side of that, and, in time, the blue hut was replaced by a library, which carried books by people for all over the world who feasted on the different kinds of loyalties that make a world. My Glasgow grandparents weren’t just poor, they were Victorian poor, subject, when I examine the records, to privations and self-defeats that would’ve made Charles Dickens blush. Yet we had added to the country that took us in by helping building a Labour movement at the centre of it. Even in my post-industrial childhood in the 1970s and 80s, the old arguments died hard, yet only at the end of it, and after a few harsh doubts of my own, did I realise a modern Scotland had been born around us. We were immigrants, after all, but now we had inside bathrooms and national healthcare and jobs. It took a while for some of us to get over the grief of the journey, and we hadn’t the literature yet, to soothe or express it. But that came in time, the poetry and the prose, the drama and the art, and the Scotland I’d always known in my head and in my day began to exist in the literature of our country. The title of this lecture is ‘Scotland Your Scotland’, tipping a hat to that famous essay of 1941 by George Orwell called ‘England Your England’. It was a brave essay at the time, characteristically unflinching in naming those parts of the national character that should be named. At the time of writing it, Britain was facing the greatest threat to its existence since the Norman Conquest: wolf-packs of German U-Boats surrounded the coast, bombs whistled overhead, yet Orwell trusted that the fighting spirit could still endure a few incendiary home truths. The English were a ‘sleep-walking people’, he said, and ‘smutty’ and ‘snobbish’. He said they were ‘hypocritical about their empire’; ‘they are insular’. But, for all that, Orwell observed that the English nation, for all its promotion of class differences and proud stupidities, ‘is bound together by an invisible chain’, even if it was ‘a family with the wrong members in control.’ I grew up hearing jokes about the perennial Scotsman, the English, and the Irishman, jokes that in our house had a 66 and 2/3rd chance of scoring a direct insult. But national stereotypes used to be more fun, or so it felt, and the reason that we have always had such resourceful comedians in this country is that we generally find our misfortunes to be more diverting than our triumphs. (Quite handy that, as it goes.) Entertained by our own kitsch, remorseless about our own vanities, it is not accident that Scotland fostered the best variety theatre in the world. There were comedians in our house, and in the house next door, and my late father spent his last moments on earth trying out new material. ‘You told a lie on Radio Four last week,’ he said to me.

‘A lie?’ I said. ‘On Radio 4? I don’t think so.’ ‘You did so,’ he said. ‘You told them we had no books in our house when you were growing up. That isnae true. There was one; it was green; it sat on top the fridge for ages.’ ‘That was the Kilmarnock Telephone Directory,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t count.’ For years, in Scotland, my Scotland, I felt that England was all the better for having Scotland attached to it, and vice versa. I’d grown up with a strong sense of solidarity and had a natural Leftist belief in the commonality of these islands, of a joint commitment to decency and shared destiny, presenting a united front up and down the land against barbarian elements, which first meant, for my generation, Margaret Thatcher and her notion of ‘no such thing as society’. It was in my veins, that belief in land-hopping progress: such magical thinking always seemed to me to be sewn into the literary imagination of Scotland. We are a thinking people, quite literally — we had an intellectual Enlightenment based on the notion that strong philosophy could outwit suspicion any day. Scottish intellectual life, furthermore, has been distinctive in its dedication not only to speaking its own mind, but of entertaining opposites to its own certainties, dealing in the places where extremes meet and where contradictions come alive. It is no accident that the great progenitor of the myth of human opposites living in one body, Robert Louis Stevenson, grew up in Heriot Row not ten minutes from here. No coincidence that the thinking mind, in Scotland, is a brain not addled with conventional wisdom, but speaking truth to power, as Robert Burns deathlessly does, and where power changes, so will the mind criticising it.

I grew up loving all that, and feel it is germane to our situation now. More than any parliament or studio, a literary festival, this one above all, is therefore not only the ample but the perfect place for a rumination about the nation. Once upon a time, reading Adomnan’s Life of St Columba, I imagined the seas around us could come alive and speak truths about our existence as old as the rocks. There is a moment in that book when St Columba raises his staff and summons the snakes out of the sea, and they rise, these talking beasts, live from the depths of Iona Sound, to tell him who he is. In every corner of Scotland, and in the seas that mark us, it is magic realism of that sort that is the order of the day. Not old certainties. Not opinion polls. Not fears and the fear of further fears. Not isolationism. Not trolls. Not what you used to say or what your mammy said that time. Not Reporting Scotland or Newsnight. Not Donald Trump or the Chief Whip or that guy who used to play the pipes outside the Playhouse. Not previous convictions, or pension funds, or old school ties or something I wrote before. Newness in thinking is like loyalty in love: it doesn’t just exist because it was there before; you have to create it fresh every day.

Scotland used to feel too sorry for itself, and was once addicted to historical injury, but that notion is now as old as the people who said it, and I should know because I’m one. Every nation with a rich past has sectarianisms to deal with, but our job is to engage them, not simply by denouncing them, but by supplanting them with bigger thoughts and more exacting passions. That is where we are today, where we are in these gardens of the imagination, digging for fresh truth amid too many old prejudices going nowhere. Rather than pretend, as various politicians do, that they have all the answers, why not start, in this place, by admitting we are boldly searching. Our perplexity is our situation. Our perplexity is our opportunity. ‘How do I strengthen the better angels of our nature?’ Barak Obama recently asked. ‘And how do we tamp down our tribal impulses?’ A beginning — I would suggest — might lie in our simply admitting we are in a situation that is new both to our political certainties, our party loyalties, our tribal impulses, and our sense of what was previously admissible. That’s what writers are for — to replenish the imagination, and to steer, nowadays, by magic realism through the portals of virtual reality, into an open space of fresh possibility that we will soon constitute the nation. In a time of fake news, the journey has been very real, and relates not to some fictional realm or conjuring of the Net, but to a real place, a terra firma, one of the most beautiful on earth, this very place, Scotland, where some of the most original thinking about humanness has taken place and will take place again. The statues you see around you were not put there by Walt Disney: they were erected by the will of the people, and are of David Hume and Walter Scott, James Boswell and Robert Fergusson, geniuses for whom Scotland was a stately, multifarious mind, a place where epochs could be enlivened, histories recorded, and Constitutions pre-written. When the Scottish Referendum was going on, I found I was asked to speak about it every single day. In the morning, the Today programme; in the afternoon, the New Yorker or CNN. But I didn’t answer and I didn’t say a word. I knew they wanted me to reaffirm, or spin upon, things I’d said 20 years ago, or passages I’d written in novels, or to contradict the captivating talk of some nationalist or other, but for my own part I wanted to do something I’d been taught to do in a Scottish primary school 40 years ago — Watch, Listen, and Learn.

Quietly, I went to the rallies. I attended the conventions. I heard all the speeches and stood in the shadow of the flags that fanned the people cold. A writer, I learned, has a responsibility to the political life, as well as a superiority over it. Politicians believe in power; writers believe in dreams. The thing was to avoid the microphone. Keep it shut. Let reality do its thing. ’I have never seen myself as a spokesman,’ wrote James Baldwin. ‘I am a witness.’ Yet I noticed something beginning to happen that didn’t happen when I was a younger writer: I began not so much to build defences around my own arguments, as to awaken to their weaknesses. It’s often a failure of intellectual curiosity that causes us to learn nothing form our own experience: we merely defend what we’ve said before, make a god of what we are known to believe, regardless of changes in the circumstances before us, because that makes us feel better, and feel that we were right all along. But what happens if you try to understand the look in the eyes of my opponents? What if the No voters in the country allowed themselves the luxury of imagining without prejudice just exactly what they think they would be losing? Me first. A writer’s job, after all, is not to defend what she believes in, but to animate what she can barely imagine. Many people in 2014 felt that the argument had not yet been made. And perhaps it hadn’t. It certainly hadn’t, in some respects. But it began to seem to me that the ground was shifting nonetheless, regardless of opinion, and that a re-constituted Scotland was already in process. Despite the seeming defeat and the constant punditry and a comic debility of Westminster power, what if we were already in the early days of a better nation, with the idea carefully minted and the coin merely to follow?

I was at the count in Glasgow the night of the Referendum. As I walked among the tables, hour after hour, I realised something strange, especially strange to someone like me who had always believed these islands were better united. It hardly matters whether or not I wanted the Nationalists to win, it was more than it felt they already had. They would lose that night, but as I drove back to Ayrshire at 5 o’clock in the morning, passing down to the coast and a view of Arran in the early light, it seemed like a different country. The major parties won the referendum but lost the future. And it was their fault and their myopia — Labour had dealt in fraudulent politics and David Cameron, in playing the English card on the morning of the result, may have committed the most stupid and divisive political act in these lands since Margaret Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax. As I drove away from the count in Glasgow in the middle of the night I felt the Union wasn’t saved, it was in fact over. And Michael Gove appearing on Jim Naughtie’s programme, playing on my car radio, convinced me that the main British parties had, for the time being, bankrupted themselves over Scotland. The fight over Brexit would only deepen the chasm. In fact: Brexit has transformed the chasm into a black hole of impertinence and impossibility. Now that the picture is clearing, we are left with an image of a belated Little England posing an existential threat to a Scotland that has seen itself for years as European.

I have never believed writers should have anything to do with governments, and should never hitch their intellectual freedom to the shifting agendas of political parties, or the careers of those looking for votes. I believed Alexander Solzenitzyn, many years ago, when he said that governments should be nervous of writers because each writer is a government in himself. The egotism of writers and that of politicians could scarcely be more different. What politicians want is power and what writers want — if they’re any good — is the truth beyond the facts, and to increase our capacity for wonder. Like the poet Norman Macaig, the first independence a writer must go for (and constantly) is the one he or she embodies in themselves. And I have to say I despair of the political trolls, those who are brutally warped by their own certainties, and can only think ideologically or not at all. We all grew up in a sectarian society and perhaps they still don’t know what it means to value their own toleration, and don’t know how to honour the change they feel is necessary. Yet you can forgive a certain amount of dander being up. After Brexit, it seemed overwhelming to many, and not only in Scotland, that Teresa May’s high-handedness — and lack of political courage — has already compromised Britain’s trading position within Europe. Yet Scotland’s vote against that outcome was simply too clear for the schism to be papered over in the old way. Teresa May, by blankly ignoring this, and by seeking again to appease the right wing of her party, a group yet alien to Scotland, supplied an insult to Scotland’s intelligence that it didn’t take much intelligence to see.

I didn’t stay home with my questions: I took them to the Supreme Court. I was the only novelist there during that week of the Appeal, and it was stale manna from the gods, I can tell you, listening to the government’s lawyers argue that a constitutional alteration the size of Brexit did not require an Act of Parliament. I won’t enter into May’s cavalier — and I mean Cavalier with a capital C— attitude to the balance of power in the constitutional arrangements of these islands, but it was too little commented on at the time how events in the Supreme Court revealed a blundering attitude towards Scotland’s integrity as a political body. For those of us who had always supported the idea of the United Kingdom, it was a shattering moment, to see how willing May was to ride rough-shod over Scotland’s discreet authority, enshrined in the Scotland Act of 1998 and located in the Sewell Convention, so that she could hold onto power and please the Brexiteers whom she had formerly opposed. In a major respect the Yes campaign had been right: it wasn’t really about nationalism, it was about fairness and self-definition, about sovereignty in a much finer sense and now it was also about the march of history. It took the full unfolding of the case to see with total clarity that the Union was corrupted. It was the end of another old song, and it was hard now to resist the fact that Britain was being smashed by those who claimed to defend it, and that Scotland would probably be a better country for all that.

“Can we with a fresh conscience now say that Britain is taking us forward? Can we say that leaving Europe, without our consent, is set to enhance our children’s lives and connect them more constructively to the world of the future? Some would say so, some unionists and some nationalists too, but a heavily majority would not, and many young people in Scotland feel they are being sold out by their own grandparents. Strangely, it is the younger ones who are more profoundly in touch with Scotland’s intellectual traditions. It is not at base a political argument, but a philosophical one, a humanitarian one, an ecological one, putting the rights of all men and women, and all children, before the fears of a class of account-holders.”

I speak for no political movement, but must say, that no party will do for this country that is not in touch with the growth of ideas. In the national song, it is proud Edward that is sent homewards to think again, but what if — all along — it was us who must think again, as our native philosophers taught us to do? Should we not send ourselves homework, our proud army, to think again about what is was we said No to? ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,’ said our friend Orwell. And what is the truth now? Can we with a fresh conscience now say that Britain is taking us forward? Can we say that leaving Europe, without our consent, is set to enhance our children’s lives and connect them more constructively to the world of the future? Some would say so, some unionists and some nationalists too, but a heavily majority would not, and many young people in Scotland feel they are being sold out by their own grandparents. Strangely, it is the younger ones who are more profoundly in touch with Scotland’s intellectual traditions. It is not at base a political argument, but a philosophical one, a humanitarian one, an ecological one, putting the rights of all men and women, and all children, before the fears of a class of account-holders. And it’s a task of bravery for the account-holders to see that: there are much larger accounts at stake. The world is not right, and the task of our combined generations is to put it right, or leave the possibility open. Letting Scotland takes it place at the table of modern nations relies on your bravery in thinking again.

In 1926, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, W.B. Yeats railed against those who objected to the uncomfortable truths embedded in Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. Yeats told his audience there was a difference between national pride and national vanity. Only an immature nation was vain, ‘and did not,’ he said, ‘believe in itself…and wanted other people to think well of it, in order that it might gain a little self-confidence. The moment a nation reached intellectual maturity it became proud rather than vain.’ England is not Goliath to our David — it is, rather, a sister nation in troubled times. But a sister is not the same as a self. And history is not the past, it is the present. Scotland must now define itself against the small-nation retreat-ism of not just England but of any small country that has rouble leaving behind a 19th-century model of existence. Our moment has arrived. We are where we are. And it may be that the bigger unity, the modern union meshing Scotland with Europe and the world, is now a journey Scotland makes alone. Sitting in the Supreme Court, listening to successive lawyers for the Westminster government commanding Scotland to toe the line, I felt the UK’s ruling council suddenly appeared absurd. The moral mandate, and the imaginative mandate, more importantly, must lie with Scotland itself, when it comes to Scotland, and Westminster must answer to itself for how it dismantled a project that it claimed to adore. Britain has mismanaged itself out of existence, and Scotland may not be the beneficiary, but it can certainly be the escapee, free to succeed or to fail in its own ways. At least we will enjoy the dignity of not endlessly repeating a history that we know has come to an end. We were addicted to that narrative, the imperial story and then the neoliberal account of how a capitalist society must be, and it built many buildings, deregulated many a city, and boosted many a criminal network, whilst keeping the powerful in power and the poor in their place. But when the imagination awakens to something better…what then for the old guard? What then, when the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’, as William Blake called them, are broken off, when the illusion of dependence is shattered, when the imagination does it stuff, and some sweet new air comes up from the glens, singing ‘From the river to the sea, modern Scotland will be free’? The problem, in a sense, with 2014, was that Alex Salmond was too emotional and so was David Cameron. The thought of a reconstituted Scotland might give rise to emotion, but it should not be an emotional decision, and too much emotion has always unbalanced the case. If Mr Salmond had thought more about the currency question and less about how to unfurl a saltire flat over the Centre Court at Wimbledon, we might be standing now in the independent republic of Scotland, but equally, if David Cameron had thought less about what was won and lost on the playing fields at Eton, and denied himself a round of silly buggers over Europe, the death-knell of the Union might have been delayed. But Brexit gives the lie to the notion that Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland have sovereign force within the system of power at Westminster. As Edmund says in King Lear, ‘The wheel is come full circle’ — we are here.

A fictional Scotland is one of the world’s strongest brands, in terms of nationhood. So strong that the country has struggled to live up to it. When Arthur Freed, the great producer in charge of musicals at MGM in the 1950s, hired Gene Kelly and wanted to make Brigadoon, he came to Scotland to scout for locations. On his return to California, he told the executives at Metro that they should just build a set on the studio lot to shoot the film on. ‘The problem with Scotland,’ he said, ‘is — you know — it’s just not Scottish enough.’ In the last analysis, we have parried skilfully with out own image, have made merry with the fake news about us, when in fact, Scotland is a world capital of clear thinking and sustained imagining. Scotland did better than most in the Age of Reason, it also did well in the Age of Sentiment. It did brilliantly in the Age of Steam and will do even better in the Age of Digital. For my sins, I have spent a great deal of the last six years in the mirk of the new technology. I spent the best part of six months in a house in Norfolk with the head of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, a man under house arrest, and I later followed him into the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he tried with dark brio to evade his memoirs. I spent a further period working with the man who may have invented Bitcoin, the digital currency that in time will replace paper money and kill the authority of the collapsing and corrupting banks. These and other ethical mires of the digital age led me to see that the world is no longer round: it is as flat as your computer screen, and as endlessly deep. After 2008 and the banking collapse, through to the recent American election, when it became clear that the manipulation of digital forces, including Facebook, decided who would be the most powerful man on earth, it became no longer possible to treat of nations as if they were simply conglomerations of old habits. At the back of my mind was the question ‘what makes a nation?’, and at the front: ‘what makes a person?’ Those late nights with Assange in the Embassy, a place where he has now been practically imprisoned for 5 years, he seemed a modern parable. Actually stateless, he has become, as one writer said, ‘a global influence, proving that with simple digital tools a single person can craft a new kind of power—a distributed, transnational power, which functions outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries.’ And this is how an entire global generation see the question of politics in the future, not as a matter of polling stations and ‘I kent yer faither’, but a matter of arms-linking and marching through the liquid borders of the Net. Those of us, including many of you here, who can remember a simpler world before hand-held devices — devices with more computing power than it took to put a man on the Moon — may believe the Net is just another of life’s spaces, but it is not — it has become the space of all spaces, and it seems inevitable now that nations will be, in some important respect, subsumed by it. The Net provides a social infrastructure for international Scots, and not just for technicians, music lovers, environmentalists, and political activists, but for people who want to live in he world in a different way, and don’t want be kettled in physical space. Scotland can’t resist that any more than any other modern nation. It is arriving. The question for us is how to transform our institutions to make a a triumph of it.

“In the digital age it knows itself, and such knowledge is not a confinement. The land is so distinctive, the songs are so good, the poetry is so vital, the whisky sublime, the humour like no other, the sense of enquiry so rigorous and flexible, the stones so ageless, the spirit so fierce, that Scotland will in the future be a wellspring of algorithms as strong as memories. In my view, in the Internet of Things, Scotland is due to become one of the world’s strongest digital republics, a place whose institutions are daily enhanced and purified not only by the life of the country but by the life of all countries.”

Compared with the new communities of the Internet, Britain seems like a minor abstraction — all pomp and no circumstance. ‘GREAT BRITAIN’: the name we once gave to a situation we were in, where we traded our sovereignty for empire, before the empire was gone. Increasingly the experience of life in Scotland is not one of feeling bordered by old constitutional abstractions, of sentimental attachments, of fattening prejudice and deflated pomp, but of being open to a sense of energetic existence beyond the fetters of geography. I went to Afghanistan, and the young Scottish and Irish soldiers there seemed alienated from all national stereotypes, and they spoke as if blimpish Britain had died when their parents were young, somewhere on Goose Green. Their accents were clear, and they were proud of each other, but there was, for them, no hallowed corner of any foreign field that would be forever Britain. The young Scots felt Scottish in an international way. And Scotland itself, these last 15 years, has moved on from the old stasis I used to criticise. In the digital age it knows itself, and such knowledge is not a confinement. The land is so distinctive, the songs are so good, the poetry is so vital, the whisky sublime, the humour like no other, the sense of enquiry so rigorous and flexible, the stones so ageless, the spirit so fierce, that Scotland will in the future be a wellspring of algorithms as strong as memories. In my view, in the Internet of Things, Scotland is due to become one of the world’s strongest digital republics, a place whose institutions are daily enhanced and purified not only by the life of the country but by the life of all countries. We could one day be part of a neural network whose strongest boundaries are decency and goodness. The laws of Scotland will one day be both discreet and universal; right for the people of Leith, augmented by brilliance, and right for the people of Calcutta, restored and revised every minute in according to what we know and decide. After that, our political institutions may not lie to us because their lies will immediately be obvious, and our churches will be colourful and wise, offering a sense of the magical and the sacred beyond the bounds of reason. Scotland, your Scotland, is in the earliest days of a digital renaissance, when its greatest thinkers — David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson — are redeployed to address the questions of rights and responsibilities in the coming age of artificial intelligence, and where new thinkers, as yet unborn, will address what it means to be a Scottish person with Scottish instincts in a world of code and algorithms and digital money, in an endlessly open society of nations, Scotland teaching the world perhaps how to author a new Gettysburg Address for Peace; showing the globe — with historical examples — how to author a Vindication of the Rights of Robots. The daily fluctuations of the news in Scotland keep us to the old tasks, of looking at party leaders, polls, the ups and downs of the old order, whilst underneath, a new way of being in the world is drawing on Scotland to show the way to a future human environment, where the wealth of nations, where a theory of human sentiments, where a new history of civil society, becomes beautifully ripe. Already, today, Facebook’s sinister priorities as an advertising space is being mobilised to influence the outcome of the next election more than all the media outlets in the UK combined. It was certainly so at the last US election. ‘We simply couldn’t have won without Facebook,’ says Trump’s digital strategist Theresa Wong. As a result of all this, ‘America’, as a concept, now has its nose pressed right up against the foggy glass of its own Constitution, and it is no less true of Scotland. It turns out we have exemplars in this country, people not afraid to wave a Mexican flag in Donald Trump’s face when confronted with his bullying tactics and lies over the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. People not afraid to boycott the odious Daily Mail when it characterises the opponents of Brexit as ‘saboteurs’. People of Scotland with a mind of their own, and a whole deep history of mindfulness, when it comes to opposing the banning of Muslims or the condoning of white supremacists who wish to fence off the world, as if the 20th century had never happened. Scottish people, and the best of their leaders, show they are a century beyond all that, the isolationism that Trump and Teresa May would venture to make a credo of patriotism. Here and there, home and away, we have all changed with the growth of Scotland, and we do not believe that our identity can only grow strong by means of expulsion and intolerance. That is not who we are today. Scotland has problems galore, as any nation does, but I’d like to think our problems are honest ones, with no passion spent on hating others in the attempt to raise ourselves.

“The rhythm will be felt in the way we work for a future we could hardly believe, in a world we could scarcely know, where nations are imagined communities, and its legislators are imagineers at the centre of world events, and our people, Scottish to their core, can bring their native intelligence and bravery to the constant fixing of a world that needs it. From the river to the sea, from the Advocates’ Close to the streets of Dundee, from the ridge of the Cuillins to the graveyards of Ettrick, from Castlemilk to Rothesay Bay, from Selkirk to the Saltmarket.”

‘Politics may be reduced to a science,’ posited David Hume, and it is by science, computer science, that a new form of politics is being established. The question for us will be how to install a spirit of Scotland into these progressions — as it did, indeed, in the original Declaration of Independence in 1776, where Thomas Jefferson drew words and heart from the Scottish Enlightenment — and to deploy Scotland’s influence too as a wellspring of philosophical common sense in opposing the regressive, brutal, and vicious elements of digital life. We are heading towards a neural network, towards a strong chain of digital republics, surrounded in our lives by super-intelligent machines that will in time demand rights as well as responsibilities, and it is simply anachronistic to fight to keep things the way they were. Modern statehood is as much in flux as natural selfhood: what does it mean to belong to a nation, when you are 16 year old kid in Erskine, addicted to Facebook, producing and starring in your life on Instagram, playing X-Box half the night with any one of 40 million other 16 years old kids like you from Pasadena, Fiji, and Gdansk? In time they will tell us, but we must prepare our minds to listen. Given Scotland’s experience and its excellence as a progenitor of new conceptions of the human, I think of it as the Jimmy Stewart character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. We may be pressed by the turbulence and and violence of the times to take up the gun, and protect what we had, but we will not bring weapons, we will bring the new books on civil society, we will write them ourselves, and we will make as well as print the legend of our own creative participation in the globe of the future. Yes, there are challenges galore, there are buses to run on time and hospitals to equip and schools to turn into beautiful cathedrals of the new aspiration — but that is the task, and, as I said, our perplexity is our situation, and our moment. It is for Scotland, your Scotland, to write the Magna Carta of the Internet, to author its Bill of Rights, to play its part in securing decency and opposing chaos, in advancing liberty, and finessing our passage from a world of closed borders.

To those alarmed by the speed of change, take heart: a true national culture feasts on change and adapts to it and stakes its claim upon it. Imagine how the Scotland of the 1950s would have appeared to Robert Burns: the Firth of Clyde he looked down at as he drove the plough at Mauchline now a byway for nuclear submarines. Imagine how the Dumfries of 1840 would have seemed to him, while his own children still lived, and a steam-train puffed over the fields where he once had driven his donkey for the Excise. Burns arrived in Edinburgh on 28 November 1786, with a passion for intellectual enquiry, and, well, a passion for passion, and within a blink of an eye, in cosmic time, the Lawnmarket he bided in would be a hub of international information and augmentation arriving by the second. Yet still his Scotland would persist, and so would his voice, so melodious, finding the human pulse at the centre of change. Blood and soil nationalism wasn’t repugnant to him, but it wasn’t the hallmark of his empathy either: he felt for all creatures, and in his modern universe of human imagining, there was a place for everything. It’s in the nature of Scotland, at its very best, to give everything its due. A glass of water on a table, so beautifully caught in the light of an afternoon by Francis ‘Bunty’ Cadell, the Scottish colourist. The attitude of a Glasgow couple, as rendered by the great Chic Murray, a couple blown out of their Gallowgate tenement during the Blitz by a flying bomb. ‘Ah, we’re fine,’ said the husband, speaking from the street where they still lay in the marital bed. ‘It’s the first time we’ve been oot the’gither in years!’ Everywhere, the Scottish attitude towards particularity: Miss Jean Brodie, and her famous ‘girls’, who seem still to march in a perfect line of viability down the road from Marcia Blanes High School. We see them, as we see many products of the continuing Scottish imagination, particular specimens of the human case, and they are bathed in the light of a reality being fully given its due. They are made the more instantly available every to the world by digital means. Burns knew his culture, and it brought the best of itself forward as it marched steadily ahead, capturing life in the ebb and flow. A rage for fairness and equality was Scotland gift to Burns and Burns’ gift to us. Hear the particular, hear the empathy, lift the farm like a lid and see, as another poet wrote, ‘farm within farm, and in the centre, me.’

To a Mouse by Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty, Wi’ bickering brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee, Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion, Has broken nature’s social union, An’ justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, An’ fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve; What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave ‘S a sma’ request; I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave, An’ never miss’t!
Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane, O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin, Baith snell an’ keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste, An’ weary winter comin fast, An’ cozie here, beneath the blast, Thou thought to dwell – Till crash! the cruel coulter past Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble, Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble, But house or hald, To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, An’ cranreuch cauld!
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain; The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!
Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me The present only toucheth thee: But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!

Not all the waters in the rough, rude seas of the World Wide Web will ever wash the sympathy out of that poem. It is an essence, and Scotland’s essence — despite all the difficulties, all the trials, all the poverties, all the hurdles, and the contradictions — can contribute largely to the next era of life on earth, but only if the deepest reserves of our imagination can guide the mouse. ‘I want you to know,’ wrote a Russian reader to me recently, ‘that the poems of Robert Burns and the philosophy of Scotland, which I found on the Internet, has helped me to life my life. My search engine now leads me to other great minds and I feel that I have come home.’ Scotland is a place in which to live and breath and vote and argue, but it is also a place in the mind, a moveable feast, and self-improvement will be our greatest export. ‘In my end is my beginning,’ said Mary, Queen of Scots at the close of her own torrid life. The line makes an impression in Four Quartets, the late poem by that prince among modernists, T.S. Eliot. The lilt and flow of our own modernism is to be found there among the ashes of the old binaries. Neither nationalism not unionism, but the best of both worlds in a conjuring of the new. It is already happening: history is now and Scotland. The rhythm will be felt in the way we work for a future we could hardly believe, in a world we could scarcely know, where nations are imagined communities, and its legislators are imagineers at the centre of world events, and our people, Scottish to their core, can bring their native intelligence and bravery to the constant fixing of a world that needs it. From the river to the sea, from the Advocates’ Close to the streets of Dundee, from the ridge of the Cuillins to the graveyards of Ettrick, from Castlemilk to Rothesay Bay, from Selkirk to the Saltmarket. From the teenagers in the bus stop at Inverkeithing to the hedge-fund manager in the converted lighthouse; from the family in Melbourne, Australia who took the £10 visa, to the maiden aunt in Canada who remembers the Electric Bray, from the ex-bus conductor in Elgin to the Scottish builder in Camden Town; the Lord High Commissioner to the Russian reader to the wee wummin wi’ the wean, singing to her of a Scotland that will one day become her. History is now and Scotland. There is work to do, and a people to be, and we were never more ourselves than in letting ourselves go forward. ‘We shall not cease from exploration,’ writes T.S. Eliot,

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall

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Comments (46)

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  1. John Fullerton says:

    Marvelous, as is to be expected from one of the country’s finest living novelists – if not the finest.

    1. Charles O'Hear says:

      Hi there. Are you the same John Fullerton who started at Stirling University with me in 1971 ?

  2. Ya’akov Sloman says:

    Thank you for such a lucid and cogent defence of being discretely Scottish. It’s depth mayb be ignored by opponents of independence but many supporters will discover in it their voice, and the ideas they feel being put into words.

    Perhaps in some ways it is easier to see from a distance, but it took little time for me to see the justice of Scottish independence. The Scottish people do exist as a distinct moral consensus. They will act in concert on the world stage to advance a progressive vision of an interconnected world.

    Scotland always has been a special source of innovative thinking, yet its character is buried deep in the land, it is earthy in a way few nations can match. Head in the clouds with feet firmly on the ground.

    There is no bloodline that makes you Scottish, no jus soli that will suffice—being Scottish is the result of seeing, understanding, and joining the Scots in progress and compassion.

  3. Crubag says:

    “The Romans believed it, and their civilisation is now a heap of lovely ruins and a dead language.”

    Actually, the classical world didn’t believe in Whiggish progress theories, rather the Golden Age had already been and gone…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age

    (and probably discrete rather than “discreet authority”, though that kind of works too)

    I’d take a different tack than Andrew on Brexit – but like others he is still processing what it means for a future iScotland. Our future is probably not as an EU member, but that doesn’t make us any less “European” than the Swiss or Norwegians. Being European is a geographical fact, as well as often a cultural, linguistic and economic one, regardless of shifting political boundaries.

  4. Marilyn Mckie says:

    Well, I have had a hard time reading this, through blurry een….. 67… and counting, I hope and wish I am here for our independence, but it’s taken me an awful long time to come round to that notion, always was for being a part of The UK…then, found all these strange folk on here, with their absolute certainty that we should be independent.
    Thanks for this beautifully written piece, it just makes me more certain it’s now a matter of time.

  5. bringiton says:

    Brilliant.
    Very eloquent summary of what progressive Scots seek to be.
    Equals among many and the complete antithesis of where we are being taken by reactionary forces in another country.

  6. Adrian Brine says:

    Beautifully written. It tells me Scotland is a wonderful welcoming place that has produced great poets writers and thinkers (Oddly enough all since the Act of Union).

    But Andrew O Hagan doesn’t like the current crop of English Tory politicians, so Scotland should become independent, even though most Scots fairly recently voted against this proposal.

    1. scrandoonyeah says:

      Open your eyes, clean out your ears and allow your brain to breathe and then start again…….you might…just might reconsider your one-dimensional world of yesterday

    2. Roboscot says:

      Adrian, Scotland produced great poets, writers and thinkers before the Union.

    3. Alf Baird says:

      Ectually, “most Scots” probably voted for Scottish nationhood. One million folk from rest-UK/England living in Scotland (or registering via thair holiday hames) voted for English rule. Much lyke yerguidsel Aa’d imagine.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        ‘Poisonous xenophobic havers, Alf. You have no idea how individual English people living in Scotland voted. Far more Scots than English voted ‘No’. There is an English Scots for Independence campaign. I have many English friends who vote SNP and voted ‘Yes’ in 2014. Our task is to persuade more people living in Scotland to vote for independence next time.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          “You have no idea how individual English people living in Scotland voted.”

          In fact, this is relatively easy to discern from regional census data, then comparing with constituency voting against Scottish independence parties, also taking into account 2014 voting intention surveys which indicated people from rest-UK were least likely to vote for independence.

          1. Crubag says:

            There was a Yougov poll that gave some data – but only c. 1,000 people.

            That had Scotland-born voters splitting Yes/No 54/41, but other-UK voters splitting 27/69 (and other EU 30/55).

            That was in the context of both Scotland and rUK being in the EU – so no border issues within the UK. Depending on the settlement with the Republic, there may or may not need to be a border between Scotland/rUK if Scotland goes for EU membership. That could be a factor in future votes.

          2. Graeme Purves says:

            So what is the purpose of pretending that it is the fault of the English that Scotland didn’t vote for independence in 2014? How will peddling that pernicious myth help to win independence next time?

  7. Alf Baird says:

    I am still struck by how long it has taken for the ‘union’ charade penny to drop for so many Scots, this writer included. This is a fascinating article but it contains some basic misconceptions, e.g.:

    “What if the No voters in the country allowed themselves the luxury of imagining without prejudice just exactly what they think they would be losing?”

    At least a third of No voters in 2014 comprised people from rest-UK who have settled here and who predominantly (80%+) oppose independence; arguably this group took No over the line. They more fear the thought of losing their Britishness/Englishness hence are themselves voting for nationalistic reasons. Given ongoing census trends (i.e. inflows of 500,000 people every decade from rest-UK to Scotland), this group will probably comprise closer to 50% of No voters if/when Scotland is allowed another referendum.

    “events in the Supreme Court revealed a blundering attitude towards Scotland’s integrity as a political body”

    The events there merely confirmed Scotland’s colonial status and the fact that any supposed ‘union’ is a political charade and con trick played out on duped and naïve Scots.

    “the Yes campaign had been right: it wasn’t really about nationalism, it was about fairness and self-definition, about sovereignty”

    Fundamentally independence is about a peoples’ self-determination and this is closely connected to decolonisation (see: http://www.un.org/press/en/2016/gacol3301.doc.htm). At the moment, Scotland’s independence is effectively being blocked by colonists (aka ‘unionists) and as the UN and 80 former colonies will tell you, colonists tend not to vote for decolonisation.

    “It took the full unfolding of the case to see with total clarity that the Union was corrupted.”

    The case proved beyond doubt that there is no ‘union’. Why don’t you and others simply come out and state that? And as there is no ‘union’, there can be no ‘unionists’. What does this make Scotland, rather inevitably? (see: http://newsnet.scot/archive/brexit-vote-underline-scotland-not-country-colony/)

    “It is not at base a political argument,”

    For most of the approx. 2 million people of English birth and/or descent now living in Scotland (and increasing by 500,000 each decade) the issue is indeed political and nationalistic in the sense that their Britishness and Englishness overrides any notion of their ‘Scottishness’; indeed the latter may be viewed as a threat to their perceived ‘superior’ nationality.

    “The moral mandate, and the imaginative mandate, more importantly, must lie with Scotland itself,”

    We are nearing the point in time when, after a century and more in-migration of people from England (amidst the exodus of Scots), and with inflows over the last 20 years accelerating, Scots may soon be a minority in their own land, possibly by 2030/40 on current trends. Will there be any momentum then for Scotland to even exist – in just two more decades? Does anyone in the ‘independence movement’ (or the SNP) actually appreciate the fundamental population changes that Scotland is continuing to experience and the highly negative effect this will have on the quest for independence?

    “it should not be an emotional decision”

    On the contrary this is arguably highly emotional for the approx. 2 million people of English birth or descent now living in Scotland.

    “‘The problem with Scotland,’ he said, ‘is — you know — it’s just not Scottish enough.”

    That is not far off the truth, given the above examples. You quote Burns’ work but in Scotland today the powers that be dinnae e’en lairn oor bairns an aw fowk thair ain mither tung! Such language oppression (a colonial norm lets not forget) is but one major illustration ensuring Scotland is forever going to be “just not Scottish enough”.

    “‘what makes a nation?’” Arguably the main requirement is “our people, Scottish to their core,” yet who are being boosted and replaced by people from rest-UK, most of whom are culturally not “Scottish to their core”, and who vote accordingly (i.e. against self-determination for Scots).

    The ‘independence movement’ needs a reality check. A second referendum is probably already a lost cause due to the constant influx of automatic No voters from rest-UK, as reflected in the polls. A more practical option would be for Scotland’s democratically elected majorities of MPs and MSPs to take Scotland’s case to the UN and its Committee for Decolonization, the latter tasked with bringing to an end what it calls “the scourge of colonisation”. On the other hand the majority of Scotland’s MP’s could simply give notice to end the ‘union’ charade in the same way it began. Thus far they have not done that because they (mistakenly) assume that the majority of ‘Scots’ are not in favour of independence; all they are really doing is pandering to colonists who take Scots No voters over the line.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Hi Alf,

      That’s one approach to identity, belonging and winning another referendum.

      The other would be to welcome those born elsewhere, knowing that such a welcome enables people to put down roots, to care and to Vote Yes next time.

      Many many English born Scots voted Yes last time because of that welcome and because of their care for where they live, and many many more will Vote Yes now, since the energy behind Brexit has shown them that Britain is an unwelcoming place they no longer want to be a part of. I would rather we became independent on a wave of care and tolerance and understanding, since we can. And that we welcome people as they move from No to Yes, rathe than castigate them for not already being Yes.

      Justin

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “..such a welcome enables people to put down roots, to care and to Vote Yes next time.”

        With respect, Justin, this is in part what I mean by being “naïve”. Of course Scots are welcoming, indeed we invite practically anyone who can scribble an address here the opportunity to vote on the very highest level of constitutional matters such as our own nationhood, and to reject and block that nationhood as they so wish. Such a wide open voting franchise does not happen in any other country that I know of, and not even in the UK for Brexit or for General Elections. As for large-scale hypothetical conversions from No to Yes amongst those from rest-UK, clearly the Tory resurgence and LibDem survival in Scotland suggests that in those constituencies the consolidating and hardening anti-Scottish independence vote is not going to be converted, quite the opposite in fact. Given the ongoing population changes, the reality is that the cultural anti-independence No vote is being boosted, year on year. Hence my view is that another open franchise referendum on this basis is not a sound strategy for independence and that Scotland should rectify that (franchise) and/or explore other avenues such as UDI/UN using the current democratically elected majorities in favour of independence to make actual progress in that regard.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          That is, of course, a false and socially destructive narrative. In 2014, a positive, progressive and inclusive ‘Yes’ campaign was very successful in increasing support from independence from around 30% to 45%. It won support from people from a wide range of backgrounds, including many people born elsewhere in the UK. We didn’t make it in 2014, but the progress made shows what is achievable. The notion that the Unionist vote will consolidate as the catastrophe of Brexit unfolds is ridiculously defeatist. We do not need to look far in the world to see the dark places into which attempts to divide people on the basis of ethnicity or origins can lead us.

          1. Alf Baird says:

            There is no ‘union’ Graeme, which means that there can be no “Unionist vote”. This implies that Scotland is simply a region of another nation, or (at best?) a colony. In my analysis (http://newsnet.scot/archive/brexit-vote-underline-scotland-not-country-colony/) Scotland fits any colony definition particularly well, which would suggest, however unpalatable it may be to some, that there must therefore be, by implication, a ‘colonist vote’. This is not to say that such an outcome is necessarily negative for Scots seeking self-determination; if Scotland can be placed on the UN List of Colonies to be decolonised, then that provides for another opportunity (aside from a UK controlled/open franchise referendum) to secure independence, as some 80 former colonies might attest.

        2. Blunt Gaper says:

          Thanks.This needed saying.

    2. Graham Connelly says:

      “The ‘independence movement’ needs a reality check. A second referendum is probably already a lost cause due to the constant influx of automatic No voters from rest-UK, as reflected in the polls”.

      Alf, your contributions here and elsewhere have raised my awareness of this and caused me to research further. If Indyref2 were held tomorrow on the same franchise we could put money on it resulting in another failure for the reason highlighted. And then what? Those serious about independence need to find a feasible means of achieving it. Why are Scots so uniquely feeble at asserting our right to national self-determination? Our political leaders have gone from proclaiming the rights of ‘the Scottish people’, to ‘the people of Scotland’, to ‘those who live and work in Scotland’. The people of a nation reduced to a sound bite, and what of the unemployed, retired and students who don’t work? UDI with UN intervention seems like a sensible option to me. I suggest presenting the data and advancing the case on a dedicated website.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        One has to wonder whether the people promoting this poisonous, socially divisive narrative are flying under false flags or simply useful idiots.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          But it’s not an analysis, Alf. It’s just xenophobic, chip-on-the-shoulder blethers.

          1. Alf Baird says:

            Discussing the implications of substantial and sustained migration on any given territory is hardly “xenophobic” Graeme. You are insulting generations of human geographers as well as those who take the time to compile censuses, which enable others like myself to make observations upon. If you don’t wish to discuss an issue that’s fine, but reverting to name calling merely illustrates you have little serious contribution to make. You may crudely insult my analysis of the evidence I cite all you want, but where is your expert analysis and data on the matter that gives you the justification to reprimand others? You are beginning to sound a bit like a hysterical tabloid headline, and we all know what their analyses is usually based on.

          2. Graeme Purves says:

            My insults are directed more specifically, Alf. I have great respect for human geographers.

            I have no time at all for people who spout socially destructive alt-right nonsense. I am old enough to remember people spouting this sort of tripe after the 1979 Referendum. If we didn’t act soon, Scotland was doomed, they wailed. We would be culturally swamped, they girned. What happened? We won a devolved Parliament in 1997. The SNP won the election in 2007 and has been in government ever since. In 2015, the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats in the UK General Election.

            In the current political climate, political allegiances are fickle and identities very mutable. There is everything to play for.

          3. Alf Baird says:

            Some interesting examples there Graeme, lets explore them a wee bittie:

            “Scotland was doomed, they wailed.”
            The Scottish economy has been trashed, stripped, sold off and decimated since 1979 and is now rather too dependent on ever diminishing public expenditure.

            “We would be culturally swamped, they girned.”
            Any evidence that we have not? The in-migration I cite suggests nothing to you? I would have loved to discover the likes of Michael Marra long before he passed away. Where is the Scottish culture? Where is the Scots Language Act? We dinnae e’en lairn oor bairns in schuil tae unnerstaund Scots langage. Language is culture! Nae Scots langage = nae Scots culture.

            “We won a devolved Parliament in 1997.”
            Crumbs aff the table mair lyke. Which turned out to be the wee pretendy non-sovereign parliament and talking shop that more astute Scots predicted, with a ‘Scottish Government’ run by a (‘UK Home’) civil service appointed by Whitehall as per usual.

            “The SNP won the election in 2007 and has been in government ever since.”
            Aye, a decade of ever so ‘competent management’ of Scotland’s ‘administrative Power’s’ colonial ‘Executive’. Well done the SNP.

            ” In 2015, the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats in the UK General Election.
            And proceeded, as Craig Murray noted, ‘to settle in rather than settle up’ and end this charade and con trick of a ‘union’ in the same way it began.

          4. Graeme Purves says:

            Well, if you hadn’t discovered Michael Marra before he died, you appear to have been asleep n the job!

            Scotland’s imminent assimilation into England has been solemnly predicted since 1707, if not 1296. It has proved remarkably resilient.

            I did not refer to the electoral success of the SNP in order to laud its policy achievements. I am not a member of the SNP. I drew attention to it because it gives the lie to the notion that Scotland’s political identity is being progressively eroded by in-migration from other parts of the United Kingdom. That’s demonstrably not the case. The opposite is true, the establishment of the devolved Parliament in 1999 being a major milestone on the way to the restoration of Scotland as a sovereign polity.

            The crind, exclusive and culturally circumscribed Scotland you evidently desire will never secure majority support, however you may wish to manipulate the franchise.

    3. Camie Stuart says:

      We need to take people with us, all people.

      I recall an incident where a local farmer was demolishing an ancient stone circle on his land, for what reason I don’t recall, but I do recall someone from England new to the area was instrumental in stopping the destruction and getting it protected.

      So in some circumstances people from outside Scotland can be better custodians of Scottish culture and history than indigenous Scots.

      I do agree with Alf that many arrive in Scotland with preconceived ideas of Scotland and Scots. These ideas can be set in deep hard cement, why wouldn’t they be they have been fed the same misinformation by the bbc and MSM as Scots have. A further reason they oppose independence is a lot of these folk have bought houses here and they believe independence will impact the sale of their house when they return to England.

      It is up to us to win these folk round with reasoned argument!

      Andrew asks what progress will be derived from brexit, none plus the negative damage it will do. We have the opportunity to sell Scotland to these folk long term with an inclusive Scotland in the EU, not a low tax island with its doors closed tethered off the north west coast of Europe. We can also point out the depths the tories have sunk to by partnering the DUP and all that they stand for.

      Public services in Scotland, under pressure, public service workers (and those on benefits) bearing the brunt of austerity. The SNP has mitigated austerity as much as humanly possible, whilst public expectations rise sharply on what the state should provide. Services in Scotland in the view of most independent commentators are far better than in England. We, the independence movement need to herald this, rather than let the bbc fed by red and blue tories pick our public services apart with FOIs and dodgey analysis.

      Those coming to Scotland from England will be able themselves to see themselves the greater public service ethos here and be able to contrast it with their prior experience. If not, why not highlight to them as part of a general discussion on what Scotland has to offer them and what they have to offer Scotland.

      Dialogue with these new arrivals based on inclusion and Wecoming is a must!

  8. Fay Kennedy says:

    It’s coming yet for a that.

  9. Monty says:

    i was at this and it got thunderous and lengthy applause and close to a standing ovation from an audience probably not particularly pro independence.

  10. Bryan says:

    Brilliant speach – wish I’d been in the audience. One line from Tae A Mouse since 2011 led me to believe Burns was referring to the banking crash that seriously affected his Father. Their Landlord lost heavily in the Bank of Ayr going bust

    “But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain; The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”

    Aye the bankers promised joy…..

  11. Angus MacCormaig says:

    As Andrew points out, the future is, and will be determined and driven by young people.

    But, and an important but, support and experience of their older comprises is needed.

    So we are all in this journey together.

    Andrew asks:

    “Can we with a fresh conscience now say that britain is taking us forward? Can we say that leaving Europe, without our consent, is set to enhance our children’s lives and connect them more constructively to the world of the future?’

    For me these are two questions are key. Nicola Sturgeon has asked them in various guises, but they remain ignored and unanswered by those opposing independence. Furthermore, I see them as rhetorical!

    Just now we are in a particularly hostile period of anti independence from the bbc and main stream press. SNP bad this, SNP bad that, etc. I believe this in part to be in reaction to the brexit vote, the british state closing ranks. There is not a positive note on brexit either, the objective of the british state appears to be to reduce the the vision of independence through attrition and fear to that of remaining in the british state.

    The only way to combat this is to restart and reenergise the Yes movement working at local, national and international levels using new technology, but not forgetting face to face and personal interactions. Andrew’s piece certainly provides context, analysis and vision, we need more from other writers, artists and sportspeople prepared to stick their heads above the parapets and provide vision. Sticking with the uk is not a vision, it is a death sentence for future generations being asked to live out their lives in the shadow of another.

    For generations the Irish were made fun of, who is making fun of them now as they stand to receive all the banking and multinational HQs as London haemorrhages jobs? The model of independence and its benefits are on our doorstep, lets borrow and adapt!

  12. MBC says:

    I am increasingly of the view expressed by Alf Baird that if there is another referendum it should be on a more restricted franchise. However I would allow the franchise to be extended to those from rUK who had been resident here for 16 years. There is quite a lot of evidence to show that younger working age people who migrate here from other parts of the UK, but who engage with Scottish society through work and friendships, children and schools, do develop a sense that Scotland is a distinct place, and one they like and think worth defending which deserves to have its own government and control of its own resources. As for EU citizens, their rights to vote on a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future should mirror whatever voting arrangements are made for Scots living in the EU. It’s primarily the retirees from other parts of the UK who oppose Scottish independence, mainly because they have little contact with Scottish working life, society and economy and have little sense of arriving in a different place. I think it is crazy to allow people who have only recently arrived in Scotland, whether from rUK or EU a say in the constitutional future of a country they barely know or have come to care about. I heard of several EU citizens who were astonished that they were allowed to vote after being in the country only a short time. They had not expected to be allowed to vote. Despite this the majority who did vote, voted No.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      And how will this rigging of the franchise be achieved, give that no reputable political party would touch the idea with a barge pole? Or do you and Alf propose to stand for election on a platform of denying a vote to anyone not born in Scotland?

    2. Alf Baird says:

      Makes a lot of sense MBC. A Norwegian I know said only Norwegians get to vote in general elections there and even if I had lived there 20 years I would still only be allowed to vote in local elections, if that. A Hungarian and German friends living in Scotland were amazed they were permitted to vote on Scotland’s nationhood, neither knowing anything about the history of our nation or the ‘union’ charade, yet both were then totally confused by the Tories blocking their opportunity to vote on brexit; so, clearly a different rule applying to Scotland relative to the UK or elsewhere. Turkey recently searched the globe to give Turks a vote on constitutional changes, yet likewise folk living in Turkey but not born there were excluded from that vote. The UN has refused to recognise the UK referendum on Falkland’s self-determination because only ‘settlers’ were voting, Argentinians being expelled over a century earlier, yet that vote was still invalid in the eyes of the rest of the world and UN.

      So it is certainly Scotland that is out of sync here; the ‘independence movement’ should really be asking hard questions on this most fundamental of issues, with a proven global standard template to apply rather than depending on a uniquely wide-open franchise including virtually anybody who happens to have an address here at a given point in time.

      1. MBC says:

        Exactly. It is about having the basis to form a judgement and earn the moral right. If someone from rUK has lived in Scotland 16 years then they have invested a considerable part of their life in Scotland, and sunk their money here too. They also have first hand knowledge and experience of Scotland. They have a basis of judging whether Scotland could be a successful nation and also whether it should be an independent nation. Somebody recently arrived here lacks that knowledge and experience. All they have is prejudice and hearsay. Also they have not invested anything of themselves in this country. Not pitched in. It is not an ethnic thing. It is civic thing – civic nationalism. Their rights as citizens. Citizenship is earned, not given; it is established by residence and involvement in the society; it is established not by where you were born, but where you’ve remained. A Scots-born person who has spent the last 20 years living in London should be resident here for at least a few years to re-establish that right. Just as British citizens living abroad for a certain number of years lose their right to a postal vote in UK general elections even if they have property here.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          Given that this isn’t going to happen, what is your real purpose in frothing on about it?

          1. Mark Stephens says:

            Given that the authority to hold an independence referendum is derived from the Scottish Parliament, it is difficult to see how the same Parliament could disenfranchise part of the electorate from which its legitimacy is derived.

  13. GrahamH says:

    Some of these calls for restrictions on the franchise sound a bit like Tebbit’s Cricket Test. “Who do you support when Scotland plays England”. Or, since there’s no nationality test maybe we should have a census and ask “While we’re all British (on our passports) do you think of yourself as Scottish or English or Other?” And anyone who doesn’t answer Scottish doesn’t get a vote. And/Or, “For taxation purposes, where is your main residence?”

    OK, I’m being provocative, but if we are going to take the idea of restricting the franchise seriously then we need a better worked out and principled reason for doing so than I’ve seen suggested so far.

    1. MBC says:

      I suggest the basis of the franchise on a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future should be based on residence, knowledge of, and involvement in the country.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        The Peevers Test?

        1. MBC says:

          Now you’re being silly. I have won the argument. The franchise should be based on citizenship criteria of residency of 16 years; giving voters the moral right and the informed basis of making a decision on Scotland’s constitutional future. Regardless of where they were born.

  14. Mr J R Geddes says:

    In 1999 The Scottish Parliament was recalled along with the Scottish written constitution and the Claim of Right.
    I think we are already independent: just need to clear out of Westminster.

    l

  15. J R GEDDES. says:

    You do not need a Independent referendum:Scotland is already Independent.

  16. Mr JrGeddes says:

    It is very suspicious every time I post a comment the systems has broken down.

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