Category Archives: UKIP

Why I’ll be voting Yes on Thursday

Although I've written hundreds of blog posts over the past couple of years, I've never described my personal journey to Yes. With just a few days to go before the referendum, here it is.

Getting to know Scotland

When I moved to Scotland from Denmark in 2002, I hadn't thought much about Scottish independence, but I was broadly in favour of it. It would be hard not to when you come from a successful independent country the same size as Scotland.

Yes Scotland's first annual Independence rally
Yes Scotland's first annual Independence rally, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
However, at first I wasn't really aware of the differences between Scotland and the other UK nations. I think I thought the differences were mainly cultural and linguistic, but I gradually started to notice the differences were much more fundamental than that, that Scotland really isn't just another region of Britain (something which most English people never seem to have realised).

Indeed, surprisingly to foreigners, most Scots seem to consider Scotland to be a country within a political union called the UK. Sometimes believed to be too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent, perhaps, but a country nonetheless. This is very different from how the UK is seen abroad. In most languages, 'Britain', 'the UK' and 'England' are used with exactly the same meaning. For instance, I have often received letters from Denmark addressed to '..., Glasgow, Scotland, England'.

The reason that it took me a long time to work out that Scotland wasn't just a region wasn't helped by the media. At first I watched BBC News, Channel 4 News and all that, and it took me some time to realise that half the news stories they were reporting weren't relevant to Scotland. (Thank goodness I picked The Scotsman as my daily newspaper -- I could just as easily have gone for The Independent!) The lack of devolution of the media is bizarre -- it should have been a very easy thing to devolve.

However, once you start to realise that Scotland is indeed a country, a lot of things fall into place. You also start noticing how the native culture of Scotland is considered inferior by many people. For instance, although I had learnt some Gaelic before moving to Scotland, I only really started learning Scots after I moved here. It was very difficult, however, because most people will look at you like you've got three heads when you speak Scots with a foreign accent. It's such a strange situation -- a language that is spoken by almost half of the population but that people treat as an embarrassing dialect. The language of Dunbar and Burns, for crying out loud! It should be celebrated and be an obligatory subject in all schools as far as I'm concerned!

A political journey

During my first few years in Scotland, very little seemed to happen on the independence front. The SNP wasn't getting close to power, and I started to think there would never be a majority in favour of independence in the Scottish Parliament (those were the days before Salmond returned to Holyrood), and so I gradually started thinking that perhaps a more realistic solution would be a reformed UK -- a written constitution, proportional representation in Westminster, proper federalism, an elected House of Lords. I even joined the Liberal Democrats, thinking they had the determination to reform the broken union.

However, I rapidly grew disillusioned with the LibDems. I think it started when they refused even to sit down with the SNP in 2007 to explore whether a coalition could be formed. It started dawning on me that their commitment to federalism was just skin-deep, and that their real instincts were pro-Union and pro-Empire.

When the LibDems entered government with the Tories, I was initially hopeful that they would manage to get some meaningful reforms out of it. However, they repeatedly got outsmarted by the Conservatives. The introduction of tuition fees was of course a huge betrayal, but from a Scottish perspective it was even worse that they failed to introduce the AV system and to reform the House of Lords. Clearly the voting system referendum should have been about proportional representation (and not AV) if the Tories were going to be campaigning against it -- AV should only have been accepted if the Tories committed themselves to campaigning in its favour.

More importantly, if the UK political system couldn't even implement such a minor reform, what hope was there of ever enacting the far bolder reforms that I considered necessary?

These political events (on top of the Iraq war and the numerous other scandals that New Labour presided over) convinced me that the UK was a failed state that couldn't be reformed. Many political parties seem quite idealistic when they're far from power, but as soon as they get involved with the civil servants, they become part of the establishment machine and become carbon clones of the previous government.

In the meantime, the SNP had demonstrated that they could do things differently at Holyrood, and as a result they gained an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, which then made an independence referendum an inevitability. I finally realised that I was a member of the wrong party, and I joined the SNP.

A different journey

At the same time I had been pursuing a career at a large publishing house in Bishopbriggs. Every other year, a redundancy round would move more of the best-paid jobs down to London, and I realised that you can only progress so far in your career in Scotland -- at some point, you need to spend some years -- or even the rest of your career -- in London.

This might seem obvious to Scots, but to a Dane like me it was hugely shocking. Unless you want to be CEO of a multinational company, Danes expect they can have fulfilling and rewarding careers without leaving Denmark. If people do move abroad for work reasons, there's not a single destination that dominates -- Brussels, London, Berlin, New York, Oslo and Zürich are all equally likely.

I also fell in love with one of my colleagues, and one thing led to another. With five children in the house, I now see the educational aspect of devolution, too. Because they're at Scottish schools, you can't easily move to England for a couple of years, and you worry whether they can have a good career here. You also notice that the school holidays here aren't in sync with the BBC's school holiday programming and with the back-to-school products in supermarkets. The separate school system is making it hard to move to England and back, but you need to do that for your career. In this regard, the current system gives us the worst of both worlds.

Reforming the UK

If it was likely that the UK would be fundamentally reformed soon, my natural instinct would be to give it a chance. However, given that very few meaningful reforms have happened after more than a decade of Labour governments followed by a coalition government that includes the Liberal Democrats, I cannot see where the willingness to reform the UK will come from.

The main political parties in Westminster don't seriously want to overhaul the system (because it's working exceptionally well for the Westminster and City of London elites), and there's not even a party that can carry the beacon of hope (in the way the LibDems did before 2010). The only untested party that has a chance of gaining power within the next decade is UKIP, and that will most certainly be a change for the worse!

If we have a choice between being part of a failed state or a new, potentially very successful one, the choice is easy.

Some people have suggested that the main diving line between people voting Yes and No is whether they feel Scottish or British. This national identity question is not what makes me a Yes. I don’t feel British in the slightest — I would probably describe myself as a Danish-Swabian-Scottish European, but I'm not against unions per se.

If somebody suggested creating a single country out Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I would look carefully at the proposal. If the new Scandinavian Union could achieve things that the existing countries couldn't do themselves, and if all three countries were going to get a fair share of political power, I might be in favour. If, on the other hand, the Union simply meant putting Stockholm in charge of Denmark and Norway too, making Swedish the official language in all three countries, and the main benefit of the Union was to give the Swedish generals a bigger army to wage wars with, I would most definitely be against it.

The same applies to the UK. I haven't found any area where we're better together inside the UK. Externally, the UK might be stronger than its constituent parts when the country tries to punch above its weight in the UN and on the world stage generally, but unfortunately the result is not anything that furthers peace, democracy and the rule of law elsewhere on the planet, and what's the point then?

Scotland can lead the way

Then what? Nordic Horizons!
It's also very clear that Scotland and the majority of the rUK have very different visions for the future. An independent Scotland would want to retain and improve the welfare state (the Common Weal), whereas the rUK (led by London) is on its way to becoming a terribly unequal global city state. I believe Scotland could even inspire the other Nordic countries, where a certain degree of welfare state apathy has set in, but where Scotland's experiences with living under Thatcher and Cameron will galvanise the resolve to do better.

What I want

I want to live in a rich, egalitarian country. Where my children can have a decent career without moving away. Where a welfare state provides healthcare and education for everybody. Where people get a hand when they're down instead of being kicked further down. Where important rights are guaranteed by a constitution. Where immigrants are welcomed because most families consist of immigrants and emigrants. Where people are focusing on building the best small country in the world, not feeling disempowered and disenfranchised. Where nobility has been abolished, and ideally where the monarchy has been voted out too. A country that is growing at a normal speed, rather than seeing all other countries overtake it. A country that is a happy EU member state, not suffering from the Little Englander syndrome. A politically normal country, where people discuss the economy and foreign policy, not independence all the time.

The choice is simple. It has to be Yes.

(I haven't mentioned the currency of Scotland, the transition costs or anything like this, because those aren't reasons to vote Yes or No to independence -- they're purely practical problems to be resolved.)

EU citizens in Scotland must vote Yes to independence

UKIP election propaganda
UKIP election propaganda by mia!, on Flickr.
Twelve and a half years ago, I was still living in Denmark when I got an attractive job offer from a company in Bishopbriggs, and the EU made it easy to accept the job -- I didn't need to apply for anything in advance, and after I started my job, I could simply get a national insurance number and other necessities. By far the hardest bit was getting a bank account, and it took me two years to get a credit card, but the public-sector paperwork was minimal and straightforward.

As EU citizens in Scotland, we are treated as normal members of society. We cannot vote in Westminster elections and UK-wide referendums, but otherwise there's not really anything we cannot do. We can even vote in the independence referendum, which surely is the ultimate sign that Scotland accepts us as New Scots.

Compared with Denmark, which is a very homogenous country without a strong tradition of emigration, Scotland has always been a multilingual, multicultural and multireligious melting pot, and emigration and immigration are simply facts of life here. The result is a very tolerant society that is welcoming to people who want to make Scotland their home.

In this regard, Scotland seems very different from large parts of England (I don't know Wales and Northern Ireland well enough to comment on them). Of course there are many wonderful tolerant people there, too, but UKIP is clearly very attractive to many voters there, and that scares me witless. UKIP reminds me in many ways of the Danish party called Dansk Folkeparti, not least because both parties are very successful in planting xenophobic seeds in the minds of their political opponents so that the entire country shifts decisively towards unpleasantness.

However, there is one big difference between Dansk Folkeparti and UKIP: the former is strongly anti-Muslim, while the latter hates the EU more than anything, and they clearly aren't friends of EU migrants.

This means that the UK is likely to get tougher and tougher on us. Even if the country remains in the EU, UKIP's influence is likely to make it harder and harder for us to access the NHS, get unemployment benefit if we lose our jobs, or be reunified with family members.

Of course, if the UK actually votes to leave the EU (and we won't have a vote in that referendum, of course), all hell will break loose. The consequences don't even bear thinking about.

Because of this, voting Yes is a no-brainer for EU citizens in Scotland. Even if an independent Scotland was forced to leave the EU (and most experts agree that's extremely unlikely, e.g., Yves Gounin, John Palmer and others), Scotland's tolerance and acceptance of us means a solution would be found to allow us to continue to live here.

It's even likely we'll continue to be allowed to vote for the Scottish Parliament after independence. At least the draft constitution white paper included this: "[As] in the referendum, the current Scottish Parliament franchise will continue except that it will be extended to include 16 and 17 year olds."

I understand if some EU citizens in Scotland occasionally feel worried about an independent Scotland's continued EU membership, but that's really not the danger to our future. Scots don't want to get rid of us, and we'll be allowed to remain here as New Scots, even if Scotland ends up an EFTA member like Norway.

The real danger to us is living in a country led by a Westminster bubble where everybody is dancing to UKIP's tune. We must vote Yes to protect our future.

Lessons on the rise of UKIP from Denmark for Scotland

Dansk Folkeparti's Pia Kjærsgaard
Dansk Folkeparti's Pia Kjærsgaard, a photo by Radikale Venstre on Flickr.
It's clear that UKIP did extremely well in yesterday's local elections in England.

Some people like to compare UKIP to the BNP or to proper fascist parties, but I actually think the closest parallel is to Denmark's Dansk Folkeparti ("Danish People's Party").

Dansk Folkeparti was founded in 1995 by former members of Fremskridtspartiet (the "Progress Party"), which had been troubled by large numbers of loonies and a prison sentence for its founder and chairman. Because of this, they have always been quick to chuck out all extremists and weirdos so that they can't be easily dismissed as a loony party.

Dansk Folkeparti has never been a great success in electoral terms, typically gaining between 10% and 15% of the votes in national elections (which is approximately the level UKIP is polling at currently).

However, ever since its foundation it has had a tremendous effect on the policies of the other Danish political parties.

The typical pattern has been like this: Dansk Folkeparti make a suggestion (e.g., to limit the number of immigrants, or to put some restrictions on Denmark's EU membership); the other parties at first dismiss it, but the media give it plenty of coverage (because it's always a good story from a journalistic point of view), and some dissenters within the other parties are quickly found that agree with it, and eventually the other parties implement at least 50% of the original proposal. As soon as this has happened, Dansk Folkeparti start demanding even more, and the whole process starts again, with the result that after 10-20 years, the mainstream parties have adopted policies that are more extreme than those originally advocated by Dansk Folkeparti.

The reason the other parties adopt Dansk Folkeparti's policies is because they fear the voters will otherwise start voting for them. In other words, it's not because Dansk Folkeparti has actually won any elections, but because the opinion polls make the mainstream parties worried they'll lose lots of seats in the next election if they don't do something. We can see this in England at the moment, where many Tory MPs (and some Labour ones, too) fear they'll lose their seat at the next general election if they don't win back the voters who appear to be shifting to UKIP.

I left Denmark in 2002, and looking at Denmark from the outside it became abundantly clear to me that the whole society was shifting to the right every single year. The effect is that while I used to define myself politically as slightly right of centre, the only party that appeals to me now in Denmark is Enhedslisten (the "Unity List"), which is the left-most party (I used to compare it to the Scottish Socialist Party).

We're already seeing how the English parties are starting to adopt UKIP's policies. I don't believe the Tories would have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership if he hadn't felt threatened by UKIP's rise in the opinion polls, and I also think Ed Miliband's hardening stance on immigration is largely caused by UKIP.

Unless they suddenly self-destruct, I'm therefore extremely worried that the presence of UKIP will cause a gradual adoption of their policies by Labour and the Tories in England. The way to defeat them is relatively simple -- their policies need to be opposed rather than appeased. However, I don't see any signs of that happening.

There's not much Scotland can do if England decides to make UKIP its lodestar.

UKIP isn't even on the political horizon in Scotland, so we will probably see the political divide between England and Scotland widening drastically over the next ten or twenty years.

Independence doesn't prevent this political change in England, but at least it means we won't be ruled by a government that has stolen UKIP's clothes. I'm extremely worried that England will pull us out of the EU and start making life intolerable for all immigrants. Scotland has to get off this train before it's too late!