Save the Date. Save Scotland.
Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation, painted Alasdair Gray, the Michelangelo of Riddrie, perched under the ceiling of the Oran Mor.
That phrase wasn’t Gray’s own; he took it from a Canadian poet. It became a pro-indy maxim. In 2014, it defined how we campaigned: the positive case for a fairer, stronger and more creative Scotland.
We know, from history, that the gestation and birth of a new nation affect what kind of country it grows to be. Conceived in brutality, India and Pakistan fight bitterly to this day. Palestine has never recovered from the lop-sided formation of Israel in 1948.
Violent divisions plagued Ireland and Northern Ireland from the 1920’s up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 – now threatened by Tory recklessness.
On the other hand, the velvet divorce which separated the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 seems to have left both states unscathed and, relatively speaking, thriving.
During indyref1, many of us in the YES movement felt that how we sought and fought for independence was key to the nation we would become. Not just YES versus NO, but what kind of society Scotland could be. Our approach was willfully idealistic, seeking ideas from as many people as possible.
But we lost. 3 years later, I went for a drink with a couple of friends who’d voted NO. Seeing the mess of Brexit and the broken promises of Westminster, they’d changed their minds. Let’s face it, said one, independence couldn’t be any worse! Picture the tee-shirts: Vote YES – it couldn’t be any worse!
Since then, things have deteriorated sharply. The UK’s in crisis: shortages and steep price rises in food, fuel and energy; a chronic dearth of labour; a widening gulf in wealth; ballooning national debt; soaring levels of poverty; barely functioning state services; the worst public health failure in history (say a cross-party group of MPs) and corruption rife, with Tory donors winning lucrative contracts and ministerial posts.
Recent verdicts on Britain couldn’t be more damning: an Orwellian state (American writer); they don’t keep their word (Irish deputy PM); EU workers won’t help the UK out of the shit it created itself (Dutch TUC) and the UK has no intention of keeping to what it signed up to (CEO of the European Policy Centre).
The Houses of Parliament are falling to bits. The head of state is nearly 100 and the heir a septuagenarian. The UK may not yet have failed like, say, Lebanon, but it looks like a failing state.
All this from a bull-headed right-wing government to which Scotland remains tethered. Most of the money and power remain firmly in Westminster’s hands. However we vote, whatever we do, we’re bound to the Tories’ chaos.
The Scottish government has made a good fist of softening the cruellest blows from Westminster and handling the pandemic more competently. But mitigation and management can’t solve our deeper issues. How much longer can we cling on with the current devolution settlement – itself under attack by the Conservatives?
We urgently need greater control of what happens in our country. It’s becoming clearer by the week that the only way that’s going to materialise is if we get a chance to vote on independence, one way or the other. Gordon Brown and Labour’s perpetually promised federalism is moonshine.
The Tories are making it clear how they see Scotland. Andrew Bowie, Scottish Tory MP, recently published Strength in Union, essays by leading Conservatives. Its grasp of history and its analysis are so shallow, they wouldn’t drown a gnat (or a nat).
In the book, Alister Jack asserts: the UK is one great nation, not four. The Scotland-England border is just a road sign and Brexit’s in the rear-view mirror. Would that be the rear-view mirror where you see all the parked lorries?
The British government provides a transparent tax regime. Just don’t read the Pandora, Panama or Paradise Papers.
But what if this isn’t just a set of essays, but a manifesto? Are the Tories planning to realise Theresa May’s view of Scotland as just another region, like Yorkshire? Away with your separate legal and education systems and your parliament! It might seem hare-brained, outrageous and unworkable, but would you trust them with Holyrood?
Unless we do something to fight back, Tory chaos and disruption will destroy us all.
One thing could move us on. Name the date now for an independence referendum.
The tactics of such a move – what if/when Boris says no to a section 30 order? How can we set up an alternative plebiscite? What are the legal options? – are bound to be laboriously discussed.
But beyond process, the idea and the reality of a second indyref would seize the initiative, shift the political momentum and capture people’s imagination. And the campaign for a YES vote would reinvigorate our politics.
Let’s rekindle the idealistic spirit of 2014. We still need vision, ambition and creativity to lift us out of the present deadlock and into the future.
Things will change. Daring to look beyond the referendum (assuming the right result this time!), fresh ideas and new voices will arise. We’ll need them to tackle the most pressing issue of all – the climate emergency. Could the SNP-Green alliance prefigure a broader rainbow of pro-indy forces? Could Scottish Labour, or a reformed part of it, join in?
Further ahead, a newly independent Scotland will need international leverage. Rejoining Europe could be a two-way street. Ask not what the EU can do for you, but what you can do for the EU? The European Commission is battling with illiberal member states like Hungary and Poland. Scotland’s enlightened democratic traditions should make it a welcome returner to the fold.
But first things first. Save the date. Save Scotland!
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