Letter from a Yes future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted Yes — not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a No future.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland by Berit Watkin, on Flickr.
Today, twenty years after Scotland voted Yes to independence, it can be hard to understand that many Scots genuinely believed the scaremongering from the No side.

Of course the financial markets panicked for a few days after the result was known, but they quickly calmed down once the negotiation teams started their work and it became clear that everybody was being constructive. Of course David Cameron had to stand down, but nobody seemed to think that was a big loss.

About a year after the Yes vote, the Scottish job boom started. Lots of companies suddenly realised they needed to have a presence in the new country, and the number of new jobs outweighed the ones being lost to the rUK by 4 to 1. Within a short amount of time all the No voters realised they had worried needlessly and it became really difficult to find anybody who admitted to having voted No.

A couple of years after Scottish independence day, Northern Ireland called a referendum on reunification. It became clear that a lots of Unionists there just couldn’t relate to being in a Union without Scotland, and the reunification referendum resulted in a huge victory to Yes.

Once Northern Ireland had left, Wales decided to become independent, too, inspired by the Scottish economic and intellectual renaissance that was now very evident.

Inspired by all these events, the Labour party reinvented itself in England, merging with the Green party in the process, and started implementing an English version of the Scotland’s successful Common Weal programme.

Amongst other things, this programme had caused the Scottish Government to encourage the creation of new companies all over Scotland, and the former industrial wastelands created by Thatcher were now starting to thrive again. Also, the Highland clearances had effectively started to be reversed, due to improved infrastructure, land reforms and new towns being created all over Scotland.

Of course not everything has been smooth sailing. Trident remained in Scotland a wee bit longer than we had hoped for, and we did go through a small recession in 2026. However, there is now full agreement in Scotland that independence was the right thing to do.

Letter from a No future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted No — not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a Yes future.

Abandoned building
Abandoned building by Paul Macrae, on Flickr.
I’m writing this during the 2034 independence referendum campaign.

After the No vote in 2014, many people thought things would revert to how they had been before the referendum was agreed on, but this didn’t happen.

The popular Yes movement had become an important part of Scottish life, and BBC bias demonstrations in Glasgow and independence marches in Edinburgh became a part of Scottish life. This really scared the stock markets because the future of Scotland and the UK remained uncertain, and lots of money was removed from the entire British economy, but especially from Scotland.

Scotland got a few new devolved powers, but it quickly became clear they didn’t make any real difference, and most Scots started to realise they had been conned into voting No. The Herald for instance published a heartbreaking mea culpa editorial where they lamented their naïve optimism about the prospect of federalism being implemented after a No vote.

An opinion poll five years after the referendum showed that 75% of people claimed to have voted Yes in 2014, and fully 85% now supported independence, helped no doubt by the exit from the EU implemented by the new Conservative-UKIP coalition in Westminster.

However, Westminster had now learnt its lesson and blocked a new referendum.

At the same time, the repeated cuts to the block grant meant the SNP government had to introduce tuition fees and privatise part of the NHS, and they lost the subsequent Scottish Parliament election. The new Labour-Tory coalition imposed legislation to make it even harder to call another referendum.

In the years after that, the independence marches grew and grew, and recently we formed a human chain from the West Coast to the East Coast, consisting of three million people.

The pressure was now incredibly strong, and the Scottish Government is now organising a new referendum, although it’s not approved by Westminster, so it’s anybody’s guess what will happen afterwards.

Also, Scotland has suffered a lot under austerity and repeated recessions since then, and the new Treaty Against Fossil Fuels will enter into force soon, meaning that the remaining Scottish oil will be worthless.

If only we had voted Yes back in 2014!

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.)

The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation

I’ve had enough of the BBC! They’ve been biased against independence forever (which is perhaps to be expected given the first ‘B’ in its name stands for ‘British’), but in the past week they have gone from being biased to being a campaign organisation that should be called The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation.

Wings over Scotland found a perfect example today: Here’s a question by the BBC’s Nick Robinson and a very complete answer by Alex Salmond (the footage is from a news conference for foreign media, so it’s apparently foreign correspondents that are laughing and applauding in the background):

However, in the 6 o’clock news this exchange had been reduced to the following:

In other words, Salmond’s answer is being summarised as ‘Salmond didn’t answer’. That’s simply a lie.

There’s also a helpful list of examples of BBC Scotland being manipulative during the referendum campaign on Newsnet Scotland. Some of the examples are simply outrageous.

I don’t have an issue with privately owned media having an agenda and campaigning for this, especially when they’re open about it. However, we’re all forced to finance the BBC if we want to watch live TV at all, and people clearly expect objectivity from the state broadcaster, so this is an absolute scandal.

If we vote Yes in a week’s time, the new Scottish public-service broadcaster (the SBS) will have to be created from scratch to avoid any bad habits from being taken over from BBC Scotland.

On the other hand, if we vote No (which is sadly a possibility due to the manipulative and mendacious behaviour by the BBC) the Scottish Government must request and require broadcasting to be devolved as a matter of priority. If that is denied, we must find a way to create a new broadcaster (using crowd-funding, perhaps) that can deliver unbiased news to people in Scotland. This will be much harder than simply voting Yes in a week’s time, however.

If I hadn’t already been planning to vote Yes, the BBC’s outrageous behaviour would have been the final straw. It’s completely clear that Scotland needs to escape the Westminster bubble and its broadcaster. The sooner, the better!

Den skotske uafhængighedsafstemning

Danish media are finally starting to show an interest in independence referendum, but many journalists seem to be getting their information through London-based media, so there are a lot of misunderstandings. I have therefore decided to write this brief introduction to the topic in Danish.

Mig med et Yes-skilt
Mig med et Yes-skilt
En af de hyppigste misforståelser, der dukker op, når danske medier behandler den skotske uafhængighedsbevægelse, er, at Det Skotske Nationalparti (der har regeringsmagten i Skotland) nok minder lidt om Dansk Folkeparti, men intet kunne være længere fra sandheden. SNP definerer sig selv som et socialdemokratisk parti, og det bekæmper fremmedhad og racisme. De andre partier i Yes Scotland (Ja-bevægelsen) er De Grønne og Det Skotske Socialistparti (der mest minder om Enhedslisten).

I danske termer ville det altså svare lidt til, at dansk uafhængighed blev støttet af Enhedslisten, SF, Socialdemokraterne og De Radikale, mens alle de borgerlige partier var imod.

Nogle vil måske indvende her, at jeg har glemt Labour, men det parti er i de sidste tyve år gledet længere og længere mod højre, og iflg. meningsmålingerne støtter en stor del af deres almindelige vælgere uafhængighedsbevægelsen.

Disse venstrefløjspartier støttes af bl.a. Kampagnen mod Atomvåben og et stort flertal af skotske musikere, forfattere og kunstnere.

Som man nok kan begynde at ane, er det altså ikke en drøm om et etnisk rent Skotland, der motiverer alle disse mennesker, og heller ikke et dybt had til englændere. Tværtimod! Formanden i vores lokale SNP-kredsforening er englænder med muslimsk svigersøn, næstformanden er undertegnede, og sekretæren er jøde af typen med en stor Davidsstjerne tatoveret på underarmen. En af de vigtigste undergrupper i Ja-kampagnen er Scots Asians for Yes.

Det, vi ønsker, er, at Skotland skal styres af folk, der bor her, og ikke af en fjern elite i London. Vi opfatter os som tilhængere af borgernationalisme (engelsk “civic nationalism“) — vi ønsker et blomstrende demokrati med deltagelse af alle, der bor i Skotland. Som journalisten Ruth Wishart sagde ved den første uafhængighedsmarch i Edinburgh: “A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.” (“En skotte er en, der er født her i Skotland, og enhver, der har givet os den kompliment at bosætte sig her.”)

Man skal som dansker gøre sig klart, at de fleste skotter, walisere og nordirere (og mange englændere) ikke opfatter Det Forenede Kongerige som et land, men som en politisk union, der består af fire nationer, så det føles forkert, når London træffer beslutninger, som de fleste vælgere i Skotland ikke er enige i.

Hvis London altid traf de samme beslutninger, som vi selv ville have truffet, ville det måske ikke have været et stort problem, men siden Thatcher kom til magten for snart mange år siden, har Sydøstengland og et flertal i Westminster-parlamentet flyttet sig længere og længere i en neoliberal og fremmedhadsk retning. Der er en anden vej! Vi vil af med atomvåbene (der er stationeret 50 km fra Glasgow), vi vil bevare og udbygge velfærdsstaten (som den liberal-konservative regering i London gør sit bedste for at afskaffe), vi vil forblive i EU (og der afholdes jo sandsynligvis en folkeafstemning om tre år i Storbritannien om at melde sig ud), vi vil have mere indvandring (Skotlands befolkning ældes for hurtigt, og vi har brug for mere indvandring end England, der har større befolkningsvækst), vil vil have billigere børnehaver som i Skandinavien, så kvinderne ikke tvinges til at blive hjemmegående. Alt sammen ønsker, som ikke kan realiseres uden selvstændighed.

Når man som dansker besøger Skotland, kan landet mange steder godt virke ret fattigt. Det skyldes, at mange skattepenge forsvinder ud af landet og betaler for prestigeprojekter i London, atomvåben og mange andre ting, som ikke kommer almindelige skotter til gode. Skotland er grundlæggende et rigere land end England, og iflg. nogen undersøgelser kan det som selvstændigt land ligefrem overhale Danmark. Skotland har i dén grad det økonomiske grundlag for at klare sig.

Men man skal altså ikke regne med, at Skotland bliver en neoliberal “keltisk tiger” som Irland. Skotland stræber efter at blive et velstående nordisk land med et stærk velfærdsstat.

Skotsk uafhængighed kan derfor godt vise sig at få overraskende konsekvenser for Danmark. Den danske debat virker ofte, som om venstrefløjen har givet op — neoliberalisme og udlændingeangst har frit spil. De to års Ja-kampagne i Skotland har imidlertid skabt grøde på den intellektuelle venstrefløj, og kampen mod neoliberalisterne i London har hærdet aktivisterne. Det skulle ikke undre mig, hvis dette bliver startskuddet til en genfødsel af venstrefløjen i Norden.

Det undrer mig oprigtigt, at ingen ser ud til at have opdaget, hvad der lige nu sker i Skotland. Alle venstrefløjsaktivisterne burde været fløjet herover for at hjælpe til, men de troede måske på Nej-propagandaen i London-aviserne.

Stemningen i Skotland lige nu er elektrisk — som det blev forudsagt af National Collective for over et år siden:

There is no place more revolutionary and no time more exciting than here and now in Scotland. Of all the eras I would choose this one. Of all the places to live I would choose this one.

Der er lige nu dødt løb i meningsmålingerne, men det er Ja-siden, der har vind i sejlene, så mere og mere tyder nu på, at Skotland på torsdag otte dage stemmer Ja til uafhængighed.

The strange death of Great Britain

Made in England
Made in England by Daniel Kulinski, on Flickr.
When my Georgian friend Kakha visited me six months ago, he made the following prediction:

The reason the Westminster politicians aren’t offering you Devo Max at the moment is because they think they’ll win without doing anything. However, if the Yes side manages to close the gap later in the year, Westminster will suddenly offer Devo Max or whatever it takes to preserve the Union.

Because Kakha had already watched another Union — the Soviet one — implode from the inside, I thought this was a sound piece of advice, so I’ve been watching intently for offers of Home Rule since the recent YouGov poll came out.

But no. Nothing. Not a sausage. It’s like they really don’t care.

Unionist-leaning Spectator blogger Alex Massie put it well:

From a Unionist perspective, it does not help that, in general, London has been useless. Even now Westminster seems more interested in the Clacton by-election than in the referendum that will decide the future stability and integrity of the United Kingdom. Viewed from North Britain, this seems desperately petty and small. There is, whether one likes it or not, a sense that perhaps they’re just not that into us.

Westminster Scots are clearly starting to panic. For instance, Fraser Nelson today suggested that ordinary people from the rUK should make a mass rally in Scotland:

What the Canadians then did to save their country offers plenty of lessons for us now. […] [T]here was another last-minute tactic that the Canadians used, which proved as powerful as any speech. […] [The fisheries minister] found out about a unity rally being held in Montreal, and decided to turn it into a rally with thousands of Canadians flying in to join it. […] And this is what saved the country. The “stay with us” message was delivered by more than 100,000 Canadians.

All Scots I’ve suggested it to so far seem to think it would backfire spectacularly.

Of course, I might be wrong. Westminster might have something huge up their sleeve. It sounds unlikely, but a friend of mine completed a YouGov survey today asking questions like this: “If the UK gave Scotland control over oil revenues, would you vote No instead of Yes?” Of course it might simply be an academic exercise, but it does sound a bit like Westminster is searching frantically for a panic button to press next week if Yes is suddenly in the lead in the polls.

Personally, I think it’s too late. No matter what they suggest now, most voters are likely to dismiss it as a last-minute stunt.

Future history books will most likely discuss the outrageous complacency displayed by Westminster, the way London-centric politicians spent their time rearranging their deckchairs while Scotland was busy building up the confidence to vote Yes.

I believe independence will be great for Scotland and ultimately good for the rUK too, but it will almost certainly be a disaster for the Westminster elite. It’s hard to understand why they’re just shrugging their shoulders instead of doing everything they can to protect their cosy wee world. We’re witnessing the strange death of Great Britain.

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.