The ratchet effect

A guest post by Gerald Baird.

Spirit of Independence
Spirit of Independence by Màrtainn MacDhòmhnaill, on Flickr.
Of course I would rather there had been a Yes vote, but I don’t feel gutted and empty like so many, and here’s why.

All along I have been unhappy with the timing of this referendum; Salmond was over a barrel; the unexpected landslide in 2011 made it well-nigh impossible not to go ahead with the referendum in the current session of parliament, and that’s what the SNP conference decided that year, although Salmond was too clever an operator not to realise the problems. Wendy Alexander’s notorious “Bring it on” call was just one example of the pressure on him to call it, but of course he knew that the population was not yet ready.

The Yes campaign, fascinating and revolutionary as it has been, always seemed to me to have something a bit febrile, a bit attenuated about it. It lacked the breadth-in-depth needed for its position to be incontrovertible. Though the White Paper did a remarkable job, there were too many openings for malevolent opponents to aim at and to nail with a lying headline.

It’s all to do with education, in the widest sense, and the process is only half done. It has developed amazingly quickly, but it does need time for new ideas to be introduced and for people to become aware of them and go through the stages of shock, ridicule, knee-jerk opposition, growing understanding, admission of possibility, passive acceptance and finally active endorsement. The awareness of the issues is vastly more widespread than it was even a year ago, and above all, the idea of independence has become naturalised within the political landscape as a perfectly legitimate option available to Scots if they wish to take it.

The sudden realisation in England that the Union might soon have been over without their being able to do a thing about it is a further indication of how things have moved on. This is an enormous advance, and given the universal hostility of the corrupt press, the unspeakable BBC Scotland, the unanimity of the official parties in Scotland, Labour, LibDems and Tories, Cameron’s calling-in of debts from folk like Obama and other worthies, all the scare stories from business, banks and supermarkets … and yet, given all this, forty-five per cent of the population voted, not for the SNP, but for independence! That’s a barely credible change that has taken place in a very short time, and it seems to me a very healthy base indeed on which to work for a final push.

I think the situation will have changed radically again in two or three years (it’s changed pretty fast in two or three days so far!) There’s no chance at all of Westminster being able to satisfy the needs of Scotland with their insulting back-of-a-fag-packet “More Powers” legerdemain, as their current (highly diverting) disarray demonstrates, and the best recruiting officers for independence are already taking up their positions: Cameron, Miliband, Boris and Farage.

The genie is out of the bottle, and although I won’t say all we have to do is sit back and wait, really the best arguments for control of our own affairs are going to be displayed in front of us. An enormous number of No voters are putting their trust in Westminster to come up with the goods, and that’s just not possible. I can sympathise with the English on this; if I were an MP for somewhere in Norfolk or Hereford, my reaction would certainly be, “What? Still more Westminster time for the Jocks? They had their chance and bottled it; time to move on.”

When widespread disenchantment sets in among the No voters, as it inevitably must, we will be told that we can’t have another referendum. Westminster, having made the mistake once, will not assist in the legitimising of a democratic vote a second time. So what’s the procedure? There are two ways of doing it: one is for the Scottish Government to have a referendum anyway, and stuff Westminster. It would have to be supervised by international bodies, of course, but I don’t see a problem.

Secondly, my last resort proposal is what I call the Sinn Fein option, not a helpful title, since it immediately makes folk think I’m advocating violence. Not at all; in the UK general election of December 1918 Sinn Fein stood in every seat in Ireland on a manifesto of declaring independence; they won a substantial majority of seats and immediately declared themselves to be the Dáil Éireann, packed their bags and left Westminster. The UK government declared this to be an illegal move, and the Dáil said effectively, “So what?” (I’ll say in passing that one of the things about life in Britain which really irritates me is the near-universal failure ever to consider the experience of other societies in dealing with similar problems. Whether it’s education, health policy, local government or whatever, the debate is conducted largely by assertion on both sides rather than thinking, What do they do about defence in Finland? How do the Germans provide health services? How important are private schools in Italy? How did Czechoslovakia manage the split? More to the point, how did Ireland?)

The Scottish situation is immeasurably simpler than was the Irish, with an immovable and sizeable Ulster bloc of hostile and implacable bigots ready to take up arms with the less than covert support of half of the UK establishment, and I adduce this evidence just to make clear that, given a properly prepared electorate, whatever may be said (and it will be) there is no problem at all about the future mechanics of producing a legitimate end to the Union. And that’s what it is, of course. I wish the Yes campaign had squashed early on the terminology of “leaving” the Union, as if it would survive, if in a lesser form, after Scottish independence.

It’s connected with all the tedious nonsense one has heard, and will hear, about Manchester, or Yorkshire, having just as much right as Scotland, blah, blah. The whole point is that Scotland, unlike Yorkshire, is one of the two (not four) constituent nations of the Union, one of the two signatories of the Treaty of Union. A marriage ends when one of the participants has had enough; the position of long-term boarders, or live-in aunts, is not a factor, however problematic it may be for them.

Winnie looks on in the campaign war room
Winnie looks on in the campaign war room by Ewan McIntosh, on Flickr.
Ultimately that has been the main problem in the long and complex history of the Union: the fact that the English (and because of non-existent education in these matters, very many Scots) have never seen Scotland as England’s constitutional partner in the enterprise of Union, but as a troublesome province with ideas above its station which has had to be appeased from time to time.

Anyway, to my own surprise rather than feeling despondent I find myself astonishingly optimistic about the future, and the next time, since everyone has been through it before, it will be much better prepared for.

Really since Winnie Ewing in Hamilton all those years ago, the progress of self-determination for Scotland has been a ratchet effect: a bit forward, a bit back, but never quite as far back as it was before. The events of this year have moved the ratchet nearly to its end; I see the current position as a reculer pour mieux sauter, not a setback. As I’ve been saying for decades now, It’s comin yet, for aa that!

7 thoughts on “The ratchet effect

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optimized with PageSpeed Ninja