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19th September, 2014 – The day my country died.

19 Sep

Yesterday, my country committed the equivalent of suicide.

Scotland had a clear choice: be an outward-looking nation with a distinctive voice in the world and assume the responsibilities concomitant with that status; or be an unimportant province of a nation state that has an insular, post-imperial, small island mentality – a dwarf in a deceased giants’ shoes.

The people who voted for the latter, whether they realise it or not, voted for privilege over social justice, corruption over accountability, sentimentality over pragmatism and fear over hope. To me it is utterly incredible that 55% of my people could have fallen for such duplicity. Yet it appears they strained at every YES gnat while swallowing the whole NO camel of bald-faced lies, sly misrepresentations, empty promises, flagrant fakery and fear-mongering, which they were fed by a self-serving, political elite bolstered by a docile and biased press. I have no doubt that in 2015 we will see a veritable gala of gongs for the victorious malefactors from their grateful Westminster puppet-masters. It makes me thank God that I don’t have to live there and immensely sorry for the 45%, who voted for change, who do.

If the 55% think they have voted for the status quo, more fool them. What they perceived the status quo to be when they voted will change faster than they could ever have imagined; and not for the better. If they voted for the empty promise of further devolved powers, they were simply stupid; doubly so given the same empty promise was made in 1979. Perhaps they chose certainty over risk without understanding the risks to health, education, poverty and exclusion inherent in that certainty and must now “accept such a parody of a nation’s life as is offered”[1] by their beloved Union. Yet, doubtless, when things instead of remaining the same go from bad to worse, they will bleat like frightened sheep about how they were duped. However, I for one will not accept any complaint from that quarter. They only got what they voted for – inflicting it on the rest – and only have themselves to blame. Their right to complain is forfeit.

While I have never been a “Proud Scot”™, I was yesterday made to feel ashamed of being Scottish; to be a citizen of a country that while singing of brave deeds is too lily-livered to join the nations of the world as a mature state. Scotland became a laughingstock to the rest of the world, both to those who had seen us as heroes in a struggle for democratic change and to those who heaved a sigh of relief that their cosy elites could continue untrammelled. Where we wanted to unchain the unicorn, they have replaced it with a battery hen, and the thistle with a pansy.

My flag – the beautiful Scottish Saltire – has been reduced to a provincial flag akin to that of Castile & Leon (flown civically but not personally). Edinburgh our national capital, reduced to a provincial capital like Valladolid – a former Royal seat and National Capital, but now just the centre of a semi-autonomous province within a larger nation. The difference, of course, is that Castile & Leon has more autonomy than Scotland.

In place of the simple and beautiful, ancient Scottish flag we are supposed to embrace that dog’s dinner, that butchers’ apron, the Union Jack (which, even in the UK, is as often upside down as right way up), as a symbol of our unity (just as Catalans are supposed to with the Spanish flag). The difference, of course, is that Catalonia, unlike the Kingdom of Scotland, has never been a fully independent country.

Whereas the Saltire is (and always has been) a symbol of freedom and (during this campaign) an inclusive and all-embracing civic nationalism, the Union Jack is not – as is claimed by the BritNats – a symbol of our unity but a symbol of   the division, domination and oppression of Empire, which has its roots in an exclusive, ethnic racism, which like the nationalism that drives it, is both unrecognised and not admitted.  The whole appeal to historical sentimentality for the glory days of the two world wars, while appealing to the over 65s, who overwhelmingly voted NO for a nostalgic Britain that no longer exists, has little if any resonance with the younger generation.

The Union Jack, often crudely drawn, which is plastered across every cheap, sweat-shopped bit of tawdry tat (the equal of any tartanry), has no more (and no less) meaning to me than the EU flag, which also tries to portray unity, where more often than not there is division.

So was it all in vain? Was it all one great big waste of time, energy and money?  Of course not.  There were huge achievements from the YES side.

• They kept their integrity and did not descend to the level of the NO campaign whose slurs and smears and innuendoes served them so well.

• Political parties as diverse as the SNP, Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialists and Labour Voters for Independence were able to present a united front while the Unionist parties bickered among themselves and ignored their grass-roots.

• They were able to inspire a massive grass-roots campaign – the highest level of political engagement in living memory and beyond – which took the debate robustly and (apart from a few hotheads on both sides) good-naturedly on to the streets and into every part of daily life with a wealth of creativity, humour and enjoyment (just contrast the smiling, dancing and singing YES groups with the dour, unsmiling and reticent NO groups, some of which had to be bussed in from other parts of the UK).

• They held open meetings, where questions were encouraged and genuinely answered (no matter how daft), which were packed out; the polar opposite of NO’s closed meetings in secret locations with carefully vetted questions.

• Without groups like Radical Independence and the lead political parties encouraging participation it is doubtful whether the exceedingly high voter registration (97%), would have been achieved, which in turn led to a turnout higher than seen in over a generation.

So why does it feel like the aftermath of the election of George W. Bush in 2000?

Like in that election, canvassing suggested that Al Gore was going to win as did the exit polls, though opinion polls put the race too close to call. On Thursday, the polls put the referendum too close to call, the canvassing by YES (with precise figures) suggested a far higher YES vote than transpired as did the exit polls by YES. Little wonder then that some YES supporters believe that the results had been rigged.

Despite there being a time to weep and to mourn (and it is only right that both sides recognise the necessity of that) there is in the future, unless we wish to emulate Queen Victoria, going to again be a time to laugh and dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  As Martin Luther King Jr so famously said, “Let us not wallow in the Valley of Despair….even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” and as Professor Walter Moberly of Durham University has suggested,”...it can be salutary to remember that the reality of hope in this life may sometimes take the form of continuing just to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and not giving up.”

As so often is the case in Scottish history, we epically lost a battle, but like the Bruce or the Great Montrose, despite a sense of despondency which threatens to overwhelm us, we have not given up.  We will rise up again to fight on.

Yesterday, hope was extinguished but the dream lives on and that can, and will, reignite hope. Saor Alba!

[1] R B (Don Roberto) Cunninghame Graham (who was 1st President and co-founder of both the Scottish Labour Party (1888) and the SNP (1934)) writing in The Scots Independent (1928).

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