A deeply divided Scotland will be the result of a No vote

Heart Wrenching Position
Heart Wrenching Position by Kat N.L.M., on Flickr.

Better Together’s Campaign Director, Blair McDougall, wrote something rather odd on their blog (thanks to Newsnet Scotland for the link):

[A narrow victory to Yes] would be the worst of all worlds: a legitimate but unconvincing mandate leaving behind a deeply divided Scotland. There is a better alternative to a divided Scotland, separate from the UK. An idea we can unite around as Scots. Distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom.

Obviously a clear result is always preferable, but here he claims a narrow Yes would be worse than a narrow No. This is very odd. Sensible Unionists (like for instance Michael Moore) have always said that they’ll change sides after a Yes vote and will start working to achieve the best result for the independent Scotland state. That doesn’t sound like a divided country to me.

In fact, almost no newly independent countries have significant political forces advocating a recreation of the country they broke out of. People get used to independence, and after a few years nobody wants to go back.

It’s a narrow No victory that will leave behind a deeply divided country. A landslide No victory would perhaps have finished off the independence movement for a long time, but that’s simply not going to happen. If the No campaign manages to scare enough voters into reluctantly voting No that they narrowly win the referendum, does anybody think the massive grassroots movement that has sprung up in favour of a Yes will just wither away? Of course it won’t, so the demand for independence will just grow stronger and stronger.

Thinking that Scots could possibly unite around the idea of being “distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom” is just ludicrous. Two years ago, I would have said Devo Max could have satisfied most people, but too many people have now realised it’s independence they want (and Devo Max isn’t on offer anyway).

I don’t know whether Blair McDougall really believes it himself. Surely he should also be able to recognise that only a Yes vote will bring closure.

Darling, I am NOT an ethnic nationalist!

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling by Downing Street, on Flickr.
Like many other people I feel offended by the infamous Alistair Darling interview:

NS: Salmond has successfully redefined the SNP as [representing] a civic nationalism . . .

Darling: Which it isn’t . . .

NS: But that’s what he says it is. Why do you say it isn’t? What is it? Blood and soil nationalism?

Darling: At heart . . . [inaudible mumble] If you ask any nationalist, ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no. It is about how people define themselves through their national identity.

It’s clear the inaudible mumble wasn’t a clear No, so he clearly agreed with the interviewer’s Blut und Boden provocation.

This is outrageous! I’ve been fighting ethnic nationalism all my life, I’m an internationalist. I’m even an Esperantist, for crying out loud!

I’m also a proud member of the Scottish National Party. The party that calls itself “National”, not “Nationalist”. As I’ve argued before, we independence campaigners should really have been called sovereigntists (or independentistas as suggested by Wee Ginger Dug), not nationalists, but that’s just a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare wrote.

In Scotland the word “nationalist” has come to mean “a member of the SNP” or even “a Yes campaigner”. I don’t have a problem with this, and I’m happy to call myself a nationalist in a Scottish context. However, outwith Scotland the word has the wrong connotations. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world — because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

I agree with Angus Robertson. In some contexts it’s useful to talk about civic nationalism (which Wikipedia defines as “a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights”), and I’m very happy to identify myself as a civic nationalist. However, if you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t really know about civic nationalism and assumes nationalism means ethnic nationalism, it’s better to say you’re not a nationalist.

Finally, I feel I should answer Darling’s question (‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’). Yes, generally speaking — I think there are countries that would benefit from forming a union with a neighbouring country. However, the United Kingdom has so many flaws that I find it hard to think of anything the No campaign could say that would make me vote against independence. The union might have served a purpose during the age of imperialism, but these days it’s better to be an independent country. Even if there was no oil left and Scotland couldn’t remain the EU, I believe an independent Scotland would be much better at responding to the needs of its citizens than a corrupt and remote government in Westminster.

My national identity is complex. I guess you could try to define me as Scottish-Danish-German-Esperantist-European with a few sprinkles of Georgian and Basque, but it’s really a bit complicated. It’s not how I define myself, and it’s not the reason I’m voting Yes.

Alistair Darling should feel ashamed of himself. There are plenty of neo-fascist movements appearing all over Europe at moment that he could spend his time fighting. Ethnic nationalism is a horrible ideology, and applying that term to an anti-xenophobic party that welcomes foreigners like me with open arms is insulting, demeaning, harmful and evil. We are not amused.

Real home rule

Tory anti-Home Rule poster
Tory anti-Home Rule poster by Plashing Vole, on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering for a while whether modern Scottish Labour Unionists are right when they invoke the struggle for home rule by the founders of Labour in Scotland as an argument in favour of devolution and against independence, so I read George Kerevan’s article about Gordon Brown and James Maxton in The Scotsman with great interest:

Here is the authentic James Maxton speaking at a rally in Glasgow in support of the 1924 Scottish Home Rule Bill. Maxton declared that he asked “for no greater task in life than to make the English-ridden, capitalist-ridden, landowner-ridden Scotland into a free Scottish Socialist Commonwealth”. He went on to say that “with Scottish brains and courage … we could do more in five years in a Scottish parliament than would be produced by 25 or 30 years heartbreaking working in the British House of Commons”.

Just try referring to “English-ridden” Scotland today and you will be rightly ticked off. But James Maxton was an angry man. […] His anger was understandable to everyone in Glasgow. It expressed not an anti-Englishness, but a hatred of a class system run from London.

The Home Rule espoused by Maxton has nothing in common with the drip-feed of powers by London Labour. […] The Red Clydesiders […] wanted Home Rule in the sense of the full, de facto autonomy already enjoyed by Australia and New Zealand.

At the time, it made good sense to aspire to home rule like in Canada, Australia or New Zealand. These places had been running their own affairs for a while already. For instance, the modern-day Parliament of Canada came into existence in 1867 (and full legislative autonomy would be granted in 1931), and Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament was opened in 1901.

To a large extent, the British Empire consisted of countries that had a lot of independence (notable exceptions being foreign affairs, defence and international shipping). In other words, they had significantly more independence than Scotland has at the moment.

One could argue that the British Empire was the equivalent of EU and NATO of that era, maintaining an internal market with free movement of goods and people while providing a reciprocal security guarantee.

It made sense to want independence within the Empire. It wasn’t easy being a fully independent small country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To take but one example, Denmark got her capital bombarded and the fleet confiscated in 1807, went bankrupt in 1813, lost Norway in 1814, lost Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1945 without being able to liberate herself. If Scotland had remained an independent country instead of forming a political union with England in 1707, it’s quite possible similar national disasters would have occurred.

To return to the present, it’s still the case that most Scots want the Scottish Parliament to handle everything with the possible exception of defence and foreign affairs. (According to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (PDF), 32% of Scots agree that “the UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else”, and another 31% want all decisions to be made in Scotland.)

The various devolution plans put forward by the three main Unionist parties don’t go nearly far enough. They’re mainly concerned with letting the Scottish Parliament collect a few more taxes, but they’re not even close to offering Devo Max along the lines outlined by the SSAS.

To be honest, I’m not sure many Scots really want Westminster to make decisions about defence and foreign affairs (gauging from the Scottish reaction to the Iraq War and all that). What people want is to make sure Scotland won’t get attacked by foreign countries and that we can continue to trade and travel freely.

In fact, a large majority of the Scottish population agrees with Keir Hardie, James Maxton and other early Scottish Labour politicians. We want real home rule, meaning independence with free international trade, the ability to travel and work abroad and a security guarantee. That’s what we’ll get by voting Yes.

Move to London if you want a promotion

Yes, Minister
Yes, Minister by D Huw Richardson, on Flickr.
I used to work in the Scottish branch of multinational corporation that — like so many others — has its UK HQ in London. During my years there I observed how management in London kept bringing more the people reporting to them down south to make things work more smoothly there. The effect might have been positive there, but the effect in Bishopbriggs was a dwindling number of employees and a strong feeling that you had to be willing to move away if you wanted a career.

My dear wife has also told me plenty of stories about uni friends who were told to relocate to London if they wanted a promotion. Some of them were able to move back to Scotland after a few years there, but others got stuck for life.

It was one of the consequences of moving to Scotland that I just wasn’t prepared for at all. In Denmark, it’s possible for almost everybody to spend their entire working life in that country without emigrating. In a few multinational companies, it might be preferable to spend a few years in other countries, but that’s generally only required for top management, not for people in the middle. So when I moved to Scotland, I naturally expected I would be able to have a career without flitting abroad once again.

I therefore found the Tories’ Devo Jam proposal (PDF) very interesting. Apart from the proposals for giving the Scottish Parliament full income tax powers, it contained the following on page 12 (my emphasis):

Civil servants obviously play a key role in the development and
commissioning of policy. We believe that the Scottish Government and Parliament should be able to call upon the best and brightest from across the Civil Service UK wide. We also believe that the rest of the UK would benefit from a Scottish view and accordingly recommend that civil servants who expect to reach the higher echelons of their profession in Scotland should spend a part of their career development in other parts of the UK.

In other words, they want to ensure that what I encountered in my previous job becomes obligatory in the Civil Service. You shouldn’t be able to spend your entire working life in Scotland unless you’re happy never to get promoted. If that means that your children grow up in England and effectively become English, that’s just the how things are if you’re Scottish. (One shouldn’t forget that because the education systems are different in Scotland and England, it’s not easy to move back and forwards if you have school-age kids — it’s the equivalent of moving between Copenhagen and Stockholm, not between Århus and Copenhagen.)

Would it be possible to imagine this rule applied to everybody, so that civil servants starting their career in Whitehall had to spend a number of years in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast in order to gain a promotion? Of course not! It’s a way to enforce a UK mindset and to emphasise London’s role as the only place in the UK that really matters.

I want to live in a country where moving abroad is an option for the adventurous, not an obligation for a large part of the population. If my kids want to move abroad like I did, that’s fine, but I don’t want them to be forced to do so because there aren’t any decent jobs to get at home.

Incidentally creating more managerial jobs and company headquarters in Scotland will also increase the tax base, making it much easier to create a Scandinavian-style welfare state here. We can create a country where nobody is starving or homeless and nobody is forced to emigrate. We just need to vote Yes in September.