It is unhealthy to shut down discussion on why Scotland’s Referendum was lost. That only frustrates understanding. It blocks debate on how to go about it next time. These truisms have engaged my thoughts these last days maining this is an exploratory essay.
The burden of history
The problem is hundreds of years of Scotland’s history sits heavily on our shoulders, almost impossible to throw off. Invasions, massacres, population clearances, colonial power and entrenchment, sustained economic strangulation, all contribute to a feeling of powerlessness in the face of Westminster control.
Fear and loathing manifests itself on the terraces of football fields as much as it does in the dining rooms of bourgeois Edinburgh.
Doubt about convincing areas where English have congregated and settled in large numbers, Edinburgh, the Borders, and Orkney three good examples, clouds judgment. (Each voted a resounding No!) The leader of the Orkney Yes campaign readily acknowledges her task was an impossible one.
If a transitory individual, planning to return to their homeland after their time of study, can vote having been here the minimum numbers of years to do so, it is hard to reconcile that right with the exclusion of expats who will have lived in Scotland decades and left Scotland only a few years or less. In the event it was agreed the vote went to anybody domiciled in Scotland, living and working.
Analysis published and reasons voiced for defeat of the Yes side, by only a few percentage points, range from, not enough people were convinced by the economics of the argument, to Nicola Sturgeon should have been in charge a few months before the vote, she is more affable than Salmond.
Too many English, sir!
Another reason proffered was too many English living in Scotland with allegiance to Westminster. To argue that puts a person on dangerous ground. For a start, participation in any SNP meeting enjoys the comradeship of English keen to see Scotland get a fresh start and greater democracy.
Post-referendum research points to Britishness as the culprit. ‘Britishness’ is an illusion, part of the propaganda of state control. English see the UK as ‘their’ country. It is a comforting illusion to believe the bigger the land mass the greater the safety.
Tackling the argument in four distinct ways.
- POLITICAL: In large measure a person’s politics is based on the place of their birth, as well as parental nurturing, adult experience, and state propaganda. It is quite legitimate to challenge all perceptions that arise from those sources. Ignore them and hone in on place of birth alone is perilous. It does not matter that the other side continually belittles Scotland’s history and its people, we should avoid responding in like mind. What we are fighting is an alien ideology and political orthodoxy imposed upon Scotland by a government that seeks only to enrich its own interests. Not sharing in the instruments of power and having real influence leaves Scots exasperated in the face of so many vested interests.
- CULTURAL: I meet lots of placemen in my work. Discussing anything with them can be soul destroying. In his seminal essay, ‘Why Scots Should Rule Scotland’, author-illustrator Alasdair Gray describes some residents as incomers, colonialists promoted to high office, put in charge of Scottish institutions, who have next to no knowledge of Scottish history or contemporary culture. They hold tight to their own cultural norms. The problem there is such people not only control the purse strings, but also promote those of a like mind. Add to them Scots happy to follow suit and report to Westminster or Whitehall, and you have effectively a nation controlled, unable to promote its own values and cultural outlook.
- ECONOMIC: Not being an economic expert should not dissuade anybody from arguing about fairness and justice. Food banks and hundreds of charity shops are not Scotland’s doing. They have been described by Westminster politicians as a sign of a caring society. That beggars belief – create poverty, throw scraps of food at it, and call it ‘caring’. Next we shall be told dead left in the street because of burial costs demonstrate a caring society that likes to feed urban foxes.
- VIVE LA DIFFERENCE!: The outcome of all this anodyne ‘British is Best’, and ‘we share the same humanity,’ is conformity, a blandness that reduces humans to numbers and categories. We are shuttled into an economic system, identified by our consumer likes and dislikes. Concern for a better society should impel us to find ways to cultivate human development in its richest diversity. A good place to start is with John Stuart Mill’s classic “On Liberty.” Its epigraph formulates the same clarion call as vive la difference – “The leading principle … unfolded in these pages directly converges: the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.” [My emphasis.]
The common good
Humans are social beings, and the kind of creature that a person becomes depends crucially on the social, cultural and institutional circumstances of his life. A successful outcome to the Referendum hoped to address the social arrangements that are conducive to people’s rights and welfare, to help fulfill their just aspirations – in brief, what we call the common good.
It is for the common good of the people of Scotland we seek a better society, irrespective of where they were born. But the dichotomy is, we can not achieve it while a dominant nation rules over us and all we do, telling us how what we should think, and how we should act. Furthermore, that nation controls the outlets of expression and information.
What we have in Scotland currently is faux democracy, cousin to neoliberalism. It is not real democracy but we are told it is. And if we can get through each day reasonably fed and happy, we won’t question it. That is why so many felt comfortable voting No – they felt life was at worst tolerably good.
Making choices seems to some a kind of freedom, or free will exercised. Unfortunately, those choices are only the ones placed before us, not the ones we can create for ourselves. At the lower end of the income scale seventy percent of the populace have no influence on the policies that control those choices. It is not until you go up the social scale, way up, do people feel they can make a difference.
We should convince unbelievers in sharing the common good, the common weal, if you like. They should understand it follows that institutions that constrain such development are illegitimate, and that means England and all Westminster calls one-nation British.
If you are happy clap your hands
To finish on a hopeful note: a recent survey discovered that southern England (Devon and Cornwall – two areas of population without a love of Westminster) and most of Scotland had more emotionally stable populations than the rest of the United Kingdom, where people came over as more calm and relaxed.
Researchers put that down to the way the local population looked after each other. The survey concluded, “These traits might in some way be infectious, with emotional feelings spreading and taking hold in other communities.”
And if you meet somebody who is in agreement with all that you argue for self-governance yet still insists Westminster is best, you might just be talking to a fool.