Tag Archives: Scotland

An Open letter to Theresa May

14 Jul

First, congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister (albeit by default); I can only hope you make a better fist of it than did your predecessor, who is generally rated the worst in over 100 years.

Your first speech as PM, in front of Nº 10 Downing Street, was impressive.  However, you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a word of your rhetoric which is so cognitively dissonant with your track record in government and more consistent with what you so aptly dubbed “the Nasty Party”.  Austerity is hurting everybody except for the elite who fund your party.  You talked about uniting the country; it will require more than platitudes.

I like that you are rewarding Leave campaigners with senior cabinet posts as it will force them to try and clean up the mess they have created.  I’m sure that Davis and Johnson will both enjoy explaining to the EU and the rest of the world why they should trust them after they deliberately deceived the British electorate with a campaign of misinformation and downright lies.  While I’m sure you also believe that this will bring healing to party divisions, I’m not convinced that it will be anything more than the usual papering over the cracks.

You claim you want to heal the nation of the divisions caused by the referendum, yet you seem hell-bent on invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and starting Brexit despite that

  1. the referendum was advisory not binding;
  2. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted more convincingly to remain than either England and Wales did to leave;
  3. the nationally combined results gave the winning side such a slim margin that a petition calling for a second referendum received more than 4 million signatures in little over two weeks and must now be debated by Parliament.

 

I recognise there is no easy way out of this, though I suggest that allowing Parliament to debate and vote on whether or not to invoke Article 50 would be less detrimental and divisive than for you, as PM, and your Cabinet to do so through the power of Royal Prerogative.

As a “One Nation Conservative”, you have nothing to offer Scotland as we know all too well that “one Nation” means England and that when we are called British it is merely to bestow “honorary Englishness” on us, while treating Scotland at best as a province, and at worst as a colony, of Greater England.  Your precious Union has, as it always has since 1707, less to do with unity than with domination and exploitation.

Furthermore, you have no mandate for Scotland.  You actually have even less of a one than your predecessor claimed!  Though like him, you have but one MP out of 59 in Scotland, unlike him, you do not even have an electoral mandate having been selected by just 60% of MPs from your party, a party which received votes from less than 25% of the UK electorate (just 11% of the Scottish electorate).  Yet, you presume to dictate to Nicola Sturgeon, a First Minister who has a clear mandate from the Scots as her party holds 54* out 59 Scottish seats at Westminster and 63 (more than twice as many as your party) out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament  with 46.5% of the constituency votes cast.  Given that leaving the EU is not in Scotland’s interests and that the Scottish electorate voted convincingly to remain, independence is rapidly becoming the only viable option should you press ahead with Brexit.

13754328_1248419758514041_526702470149273390_n

Given your vociferous criticism that Gordon Brown had no mandate to govern, you will, of course, be calling a General Election at the earliest opportunity and certainly before invoking Article 50.  Not to do so would be rank hypocrisy as well as suggesting that (in your own words) you are “running scared of the people’s verdict”.  After all given the current shambolic state of the Labour Party, what have you got to lose?

Finally, when Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London, seeing the writing on the wall, I got out of the UK at the earliest opportunity and I have not seen anything that would make me regret that decision.  Now  you are asking me (and other emigrants to the EU) to choose between a star filled sky (the EU flag) and a blood-stained butchers’ apron (UK flag) – for me it is a no-brainer; I am a European and I choose the EU (flawed as it is) even if that means renouncing my UKGB citizenship to do so.

*56 SNP MPs were returned in May 2015 but 2 of them have currently resigned the Whip, though they continue to vote with the party.

Advertisements

Reflections on Brexit

7 Jul

 

Now that a fortnight has passed, I’ve had time to calm down, reflect and analyse the monumental Tory Party omnishambles called Brexit, and so here are my views.

What is becoming abundantly clear is that the Leave campaign not only did not expect to win but didn’t actually want to – as is made glaringly obvious by the fact that they did not have any plan following a Brexit win. Cameron, was confident enough of a Remain win that he didn’t even bother to have a ‘Plan B’ for the worst case scenario.

It appears that what they were hoping for was a very slim Remain majority (as Farage demonstrated by his rant at the close of polling), which could be used to call for a vote of No Confidence in David Cameron, triggering a leadership challenge that would install Boris Johnson as PM. Thus, it was never really about the EU, but about fending off UKIP at the 2015 General Election and who should lead the Tory Party (a beauty contest between repugnant and repulsive).

While the Remain campaign tried a re-run of Project Fear (seemingly without realising that there was no one behind whom David Cameron’s personal unpopularity could be hidden or that, unlike in Scotland in 2014, they were having to contend with a hostile press), they hardly covered themselves with glory in terms of honesty or openness. However, the Leave campaign, slogans over substance, have been accused of lying to the electorate “on an industrial scale” – misrepresentations which the Leave leaders all renounced or distanced themselves from within 24 hours of winning.

Though Leave narrowly won in England and Wales, Remain won comfortably in Northern Ireland, convincingly in Scotland & London and devastatingly in Gibraltar. While Unionists love to harp on about the divisiveness of the Scottish Independence Referendum (and never more so than now, when a second one is increasingly on the cards), they are strangely silent about the divisiveness of the EU Referendum. And divisive it has been, with a 500% increase in race-hate incidents; the potential break-up of the UK (which some Leave campaigners like Melanie Phillips see as a price worth paying for English sovereignty); divisions in England between North and South; and Wales showing Bregret, having, too late, changed their mind!

Now the architects of this debacle have all fled the field. First to fall on his sword was the Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose Cammiekazi resignation sunk Boris Johnson’s leadership challenge hopes as he, knowing how necessary the EU is to the UK’s banking sector and trade (see his quote on the EU from Feb 2016!), would not want to be the one to invoke Article 50 (mind you, he was helped out of his dilemma by his back-stabbing pal, Michael Gove). Nigel Farage, having openly incited xenophobia, steps down as leader of UKIP, not for the reasons he gave, but because his party has become an irrelevance now that its sole aim has been achieved. One wonders who the BBC will find to replace him as their favourite bigot at large.

And as for the rest of the “retro-nationals” (as Juncker has described them), IDS, Priti Patel, Lexit have all gone into hiding, while the also-rans Gove, Fox and Leadsom are squabbling over BoJo’s fallen sword, as the country looks on with increasing dis-May.

Then we have Labour. First, there is Lexit – funded entirely by rich Tories and the Tory (UKIP just being Europhobic Tories on steroids) led Brexit campaign – showing the usual arrogant, top-down, we-know-best campaign style so beloved of New Labour (despite its disastrous fallout in Scotland).

If that were not bad enough, instead of capitalising on Tory disarray, the Blairites decide to try and execute a farcical “chicken coup” that was so inept that a primary school class could have done better. What makes it even more ridiculously pathetic is that they had set up Angela Eagle’s leadership website some 10 days prior to the Referendum and briefed the Tory press about their cabinet resignation plans ahead of time.

The wonderfully expendable Angela Eagle was to be the stalking horse to be sacrificed in a leadership contest against Jeremy Corbyn (who refused to stand down), despite the 172 long knives and Rupert Murdoch’s urging people to join Labour to get rid of Corbyn (a plan so half-witted as to be risible – folk are joining Labour in increasing numbers just to vote for him!), the conspirators all meekly crawled back into Jeremy’s Shadow Cabinet when their supposed coup de maître suffer a coup de grâce.

And so the country lurches on through uncertainty; the pound and markets fluctuating and inward investment  frozen until the Tories have chosen a new leader; the Loyal Opposition progress from indulging in kindergarten politicking; and, should a government  ever get round to invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty instead of irritating the EU (not the best strategy to get the best deal for the Untied Kingdom), perhaps the process of untangling 40 years of EU membership can begin; and plans for what a post-Brexit Britain might look like as the island fortress of England sails off to an imaginary past somewhere to the west of Iceland.

Musings on Home and Identity

23 Mar

It is our history and ancestry that whether we want it or not, creates a large part of the cloth from which we are cut.” (Anna Jauncey)

The above quote from a blog exploring the relationship between home and self-identity struck a chord with me and set me to thinking about identity and its relationship with home.

Let’s start with some thoughts about identity.

While I agree that the cloth from which we are cut is formed out of our ancestry, family history and our inherited culture, it is our experiences (our personal history) which form the myriad threads, be they bright or dark, that make up the tapestry of our lives.  Unfortunately, many of us try to make sense of the emerging images, which will ultimately make up the story of our lives, from behind.  That, of course, can  only  lead to a sense of confusion and dislocation.  While this is common in youth, it is by no means exclusive to it.

It is only when we move to the front of the tapestry that we can examine what has already been woven.  Then we can see whether we want to (or should even) continue the pattern or change it – and we alone have the power to make those decisions – if we but have the courage.

Sadly, there are some who never learn to change the perspective and so see nothing but prejudicial patterns that were never meant to be; some are so horrified by what they see that they flee from facing it; some are trapped by the expectations and explanations of others, and lacking either the strength or the courage to escape, live a life interpreted by another.  None of them attain the self-awareness necessary to find their own identity.

But even for those who do find the way to view their tapestry from the appropriate angle, the path may be strewn with riddles and paradoxes that have to be solved before we can move on to the next panel.  This becomes easier with experience and knowing who we can trust to help us interpret and solve the enigmas that confound us.  Age helps, but of itself is insufficient.

But let’s change the metaphor: life is a book.

In this conceptualisation, the cloth, rather than forming the canvass on which our lives are delineated, forms the covers of the book so that the story being written is wrapped and bound in our ancestry and inherited culture, but not necessarily dependent on it.

Just as some never move to the front of the tapestry, some are content never to open the book but to rely on the cover to tell the story for them; others never even glance at the cover but rush past the preface to the story they want told; others want to read the final page first, in the hope that it will  provide the clue to their path through life; others are content to entrust the work to the “Author of Life” who will transform the tale from pulp fiction into a bestseller; yet others are determined to write their own masterpiece unaided.

But does our understanding of home depend on our understanding of our identity? Or is the matter more complex than that?

For some, clearly, it is simple:  identity and home are inextricably entwined. In my experience, these are often people who have never left their homeland and, thus, are submerged in their culture and history without ever examining it or having had it challenged – it is as natural as the air they breathe.  For others, it is more complex: identity and home are (or maybe have become) entirely separate.  Such people have usually been displaced from their own culture and history and so have had to construct a new concept of home that may be independent of their heritage.

When one has been transplanted to another culture (albeit even one very close to one’s own) the sense of home, I think, depends on two factors: the willingness of  the incomer to surrender their existing identity, jettison the past and adopt the local culture (to a greater or lesser extent) and/or for the natives to accept the immigrant (providing s/he at least  respects the local culture) as s/he is.  This view may, I admit, be limited as it is a case study based on my personal experience along with my interactions with refugees and other immigrants to the UK, USA and Spain.

In my own case, I tried for many years to adopt the new culture and discard my past, but the unshrunk cloth from which I was cut would not patch onto the new culture without one or the other tearing.  This was in part because the new culture was unable to comprehend my established cultural identity as being subtly different from theirs and so could not accept me as I was.  Consequently, though I had homes there, they always seemed temporary and neither the towns and cities in which I lived, nor the country, ever became “home” for me.  Yet on the other hand, I am almost as much at home living in Spain, where I am fully accepted as Scot, as when I was living in Scotland despite the culture being patently different.

So where is home?  Is Scotland still my home after so many years away?

I’m not sure.  I still identify myself (and am seen by others) as a Scot; Scotland is very precious to me; I have a deep love of Scotland, its landscapes, people, history and culture; I am passionate about Scottish Independence; and, above all, I feel at home whenever I return.  But I don’t know how it would be to live there after so long away.  Would I still feel as at home as I do when I visit?  Or has Scotland, like an express train (The Flyng Scotsman springs to mind) sped away from the place I knew while I have stood stranded on the platform?  What is clear to me is that it is still my homeland – and always will be – but perhaps no longer my home.  And in that, I think I am typical of the Scottish Diaspora – we have been successfully grafted onto the new tree of our adopted land but without losing our own Scottish identity.

Perhaps my ramblings are best summed up by Zyriacus, who is older and wiser than me, in his comment on Anna’s blog:

The only place you are really at rest with this world will be in yourself. All places, all people you meet on your way through life will be but points, where your self-understanding may take a turn that directs you this way or another. In the end the only safe harbour you will find in your own self. So make you[rself] feel at home there, furnish this place as cosy and comfortably as possible.

The Disunity of the Union Jack

25 Sep

The Union Jack is supposed to be a symbol of the unity between the increasingly dysfunctional “family of nations” that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  Yet, as a flag of unity, it is deeply flawed.  It was designed (whether deliberately or accidentally matters not) to show English dominance over the “Celtic nations”, just as it was in the days of  Empire a symbol of oppression and servitude under a supposedly philanthropic (sic) British rule. It was the design submitted by English heralds, which was most favoured by James VI & I who approved its use, perhaps on aesthetic grounds or more likely to appease his new subjects.

However, many in Scotland objected to having the Cross of St George superimposed over the Cross of St Andrew (just as there was fury during the recent Independence Referendum, when BritNats placed a Union Jack in the top left corner of the Scottish Saltire – which is illegal in Scotland – to proclaim Scotland a mere colony of the UK rather than a “Home Nation”).  Instead they used a Scottish version in which the St Andrew’s Cross cut the St George’s Cross into four triangles.  The Scottish version, which was never official, was banned by law after the Acts of Union in 1707.

Yet, heraldically (and flags are governed by heraldry) the Union Flag does not combine the English flag with the Scottish Saltire as the colour used is a royal blue, which is mid way between the sky blue (or azure) of the Saltire and the navy blue  of the flag of the Island of Tenerife (which, incidentally, the English failed to subdue in 1706 and the British (under Nelson) in 1797.

Thus, heraldically, though the blue is supposed to represent Scotland, it does not (as was recently pointed out to me by the Serbian Royal Herald) as it is neither one thing or the other. It seems that it was assumed that the St Andrew’s Cross would be understood to refer to Scotland even though St Andrew is also the patron saint of Barbados, Greece, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (only one of which has been under British rule!).

However, Scotland, receiving some kind of representation through the cross of St Andrew (though not through the Scottish Saltire) is considerably better off than Wales, which has no representation either in the Royal Arms or the Union Flag.  The English excuse is that at the time of the Union, Wales had been absorbed into England by its Tudor monarchs and, therefore, was not party to the Treaties of Union and so needs no representation other than the Cross of St George.  Yet St George is not, and has never been, recognised as having any role is Wales (other than conquest).  Wales’ patron saint  is St David, whose symbol (a yellow cross on a black field) was used informally on flags in Wales from 1921.   Not until 1959 were they granted an official flag (the Welsh red dragon), which is based on a variant of Welsh flags used since the 1480s.

Ireland is represented by the so-called Cross of St Patrick, though there is no good evidence to suggest that it was ever used prior to the foundation of the Order of St Patrick in 1783.  It has been suggested that the design was based on the arms of the powerful Fitzgerald family who, as Earls of Kildare, were Lords Deputy of Ireland and, as Dukes of Leinster, the premier peer in the Irish House of Lords. Indeed, despite a number of official bodies (eg the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) adopting it between the foundation of the order and the act of Union of 1800, it has never had wide acceptance in Ireland, outside of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  For most Irish people it was seen as a blood-stained Cross of St Andrew, forever reminding them of  the English imposition of  Scottish settlers in Ulster by Cromwell.    The traditional cross of St Patrick, a cross patée, which has been used for centuries, is widely used in Catholic Dioceses, but eschewed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which, unsurprisingly, uses the red saltire of the British establishment.

It has been argued that it is appropriate for the Cross of St Patrick (sic) to remain within the Union Flag as the 6 northern counties which make up the Province of Northern Ireland are subject to the Crown.  However, the red saltire is not widely accepted in Northern Ireland either. The sectarianism there means that Loyalists prefer the Ulster Banner, which was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953-1972, as they regard the Cross of St Patrick as Irish, while the Republicans favour the Irish Tricolour, seeing the Cross of St Patrick as a British imposition. Though it has sometimes been used as a neutral flag, neither side of the sectarian divide is entirely happy with it in that role.  Far from being a symbol of unity, the Union Flag, despite the success of the peace process, is a symbol of on-going division in Ireland.

In the Union Flag, the English Cross of St Patrick has been placed, counterchanged, into the Cross of St Andrew, further diminishing any representation of Scotland it may have had.  The resulting hotchpotch also means that 95% of the British population (and 99.9% of foreigners) have no idea whether the  flag is the right way up or not!  Thus, at least half the time it is flown upside down, which is an international distress signal.

So here we have a flag that is supposed to represent unity but which is actually an offensive mishmash that uses the wrong colour for the Scottish Saltire, uses a detested cross for Ireland (of which only a small Province  tacked on to the UK remains), and gives no representation whatsoever for the Principality of Wales.   It is noticeably absent from the flag of the Commonwealth of Nations, all but one of which were British colonies, as in some parts of the world it is despised for its imperial (and post imperial) connotations and in other parts for its once proud association with  the international slave trade.  Little wonder then that there are moves to extirpate the “bloody butchers’ apron” from their national flags, even in countries which remained colonies well into the 20th century  (eg Fiji),  just as they did their Governors General on gaining independence.  And it is niot confined to countries that were former colonies; even countries which are still under the Crown (eg New Zealand) are debating its removal.

So, if it doesn’t symbolise unity, what does it signify?  For some – a minority to be sure – it represents far-right wing British Nationalism as displayed by the BNP or Britain First; for others – a rising number it seems – it represents the xenophobic “little England” nationalism of UKIP; for others, it represents a corrupt and greedy, self-perpetuating, plutocratic elite that will hold onto power at any cost; and, yes, for an ever-dwindling number, it represents the UK and Britishness (whatever that might be).

But its advocates (who are, by definition, nationalists – British nationalists) will doubtless defend their flag on two counts: a) military campaigns and  b) fashion.

a) They will waffle on about how we fought two World Wars under the Union Jack and liberated Europe, without also recognising that it was used to invade Iraq on the basis of a lie, or that there are only a scattering of countries worldwide that the UK has not invaded (or tried to invade).  Also, they conveniently forget that it was the flag that flew over numerous slave ships and the ships of their Royal Navy escorts (both on the jack and in the top left  corner of the red and white ensigns).

b) Citing the Union Jack’s use in fashion (despite the fact that the days of 1960s Carnaby Street and BritPop fashion in the ’90s have become, like the two World Wars, nigh nebulous memories for many) they claim that it is the most recognisable symbol of Britain.  While it is true that versions, often crudely drawn, are used as decals and designs on cheap, sweat-shopped tat or tasteless souvenirs, the majority of the non-British purchasers of such garments (and souvenirs) don’t equate it with the UK (just like the other instantly recognised symbols: Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the Queen of England – notice a pattern here?), but with England, unconsciously having understood that the UK is just a euphemism for England “writ large”.

Whereas my grandfather, born in the age of Empire, proudly served under the Union Jack, both as a career naval officer and as Lord Lieutenant, I feel no pride in it; no sentiment; just mild indifference.  As with those nations, which want to remove the Union Jack from their national flags, it does not reflect my identity in any meaningful way and so is only of historical interest like, say, the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If the government (of whatever stripe) in Westminster are serious about unity within teh oft vaunted “the family of nations”  (rather than the usual uniformity – the genesis of which is a casual arrogance – they try to hawk), both the Union Jack and the Royal Arms need to be revised and modernised to reflect the diversity and the equality implied in the family metaphor.  Failure by the Union (which was so valuable that  it could only be saved through lies and threats) to do so will merely reinforce the view of the Celtic Nations that they are being not very subtly subsumed, whether they want to be or not, with even less status than a colony, into an increasingly uncaring  Greater England.

It is surely time to consign this ragbag of a flag, which has such a  chequered past, to history, where it belongs.

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).

Why, YES!

2 Aug

As an emigrant I have no vote – and I think that is correct, as I no longer live in Scotland and this must be decided by those who do live and work there – but I do have a voice.  If I could have, I would have returned to Scotland this year to play whatever part I could in the campaign and to cast my vote in September.  These are my reflections as I have followed the campaigns, the news, the blogs, social media and conversations with friends.

I know that some people think that I am in the wrong camp. My demographics – middle-aged, risk-averse, white male, professional, who was privately educated (for the most part) and has completed post-graduate studies – fit perfectly the profile of a NO supporter. How could I possibly be YES?  How could I betray my very British establishment grandfather, who I adored?

All the NO voters I know personally fit the profile as they come from the same privately educated, white, well-to-do background as I did. Such education in Scotland, in my day, had a very Anglo-centric focus with our being taught English history (not Scottish), English news and opinion, English politics, and geography with maps on which large parts of the globe were still marked in pink. This was an education that still sought to inspire a sense of pride in being British and turn out good servants for God, Queen and Empire (just as they did in my grandfather’s school days), despite that Empire patently being in its death throes. It was already an anachronism.

The Scots Leid was disparaged as just a vulgar dialect of the much superior English, less worthy even than Geordie, Scouse or Brummie (which were bad enough examples of how the lower classes communicated); Gaelic was dismissed as a dying language from a less civilised age whose adherents were just a few old folk in the remotest areas. We were taught the Queen’s English replete with the requisite RP accent. We were implicitly taught that this is the way things were and always would be.

But it was, in part, this very education which led me to YES. Between the ages of 6 and 12, I was fortunate to be educated for education’s sake rather than the current trend to educate for exams. This developed in us an intellectual curiosity, which was openly fostered, and the ability to garner facts to generate a breadth of general knowledge.

This early training meant that the unexamined emotional response, which I encounter in my NO supporting acquaintances, was not enough for me. Scotland’s future is far too important to be left to some vague sentiment instilled in childhood.  But what did it mean to me to be Scottish and /or British? Given that one cannot serve two masters, which was more important to my self-identity?

Having lived most of my life outside Scotland (the land of my birth and the most formative years of my young life), along with the effects of having an American mother, I had to find my identity, be it Scottish, British, Scottish American or European, in the world early on.

When I was uprooted from my homeland, I experienced a casual English arrogance that showed itself in unwitting prejudice. The first example of this was my being put back a year in school for no other reason than I had come from Scotland; then, at the end of the year I was awarded the “Progress prize” for work I had covered 2 years earlier in Scotland.

I very soon discovered that people around me were confused (and sometimes irritated) when my world-view differed from theirs, as not having any accent, they assumed I must be English and so must espouse the same values as them. When I did try to claim my Scots heritage, I had an ever-growing sense that I was somehow being difficult and letting the side down. This feeling was reinforced by patronising or jokey comments that usually had a barb in the tail.

Through this I came to see that, for many (if not most) of the people I lived, studied and worked alongside – without malice or thought – British was merely English writ large, and folk like me were perceived to be no different from them, so we should just stop pretending otherwise and shut up about it (an attitude I see reflected in some of the comments of the “Proud Scots” in the NO camp); and that is what I tried to do.  Yet, instead of making me “British” it slowly reinforced my identity as Scottish.  I was always excited and relieved to cross the border into Scotland, feeling I had come back home (which is still the case whenever I return), and sad in equal measure when returning to England where I lived.  So imagine my ire when the claim was made that my country had been extinguished in 1707 while England had somehow continued.

The whole Unionist case struck me as backward looking, appealing to a sentiment I do not feel, and without hope of change. It claims a certainty for the future – the status quo, which it proclaims acceptable through the adoption of the slogan “UK OK” (with its dual implications that the current situation is acceptable and as good as it is going to get) – while claiming unnecessary risk for the other side, even though it is clear that following a NO vote things will get worse before they ever get better as the bulk of austerity cuts come into force, increased privatisation and Westminster’s lurch ever more to the political right.  “Better Together” for whom? Certainly not the majority of Scots!

At University, I was fortunate enough to have lecturers who encouraged us to think for ourselves and question everything, including them.  This meant that I questioned both sides of the debate, analysed what I was being presented and tried to go back to original sources (much harder to do with NO than YES).  I found that what NO were claiming to be facts were often either spin, misrepresentations or outright lies – from the hypocrisy of a Government who could settle the EU question by simply asking the EU for a ruling all the while accusing the Scottish Government of not giving an answer, to the blatant lies of Vote No Borders and Gordon Brown over the NHS (the former over specialist hospital treatment – countered by Great Ormond Street; the latter over organ donations – dispelled by a letter to an MSP from the NHSBT) – which could only make an already discontented electorate more disaffected. To add insult to injury, the blatant threat of denying an independent Scotland a share of assets (like the pound), which are supposedly held in common by this so-called “family of nations”, along with dire warnings of what would happen were the Scots to vote YES were wielded with all the intimidation of a public school headmaster’s cane.

Surely if the Union – that political union which, like a shot-gun wedding, was forced upon Scotland in 1707 as a short-term solution but which has outlived any purpose and effectiveness it once might have had – if that Union of Parliaments and countries as co-equal partners were worth saving, there would be a positive case to be made for its continuance that the NO camp would want to present in debate, without resorting to false information, which would far outweigh any possible benefit to be gained from “Project Fear”.

Yet, Better Together and the political parties in Westminster (with their Scottish branches) have, aided and abetted by a docile pro-Union press, bombarded the people of Scotland with a relentless stream of negativity and fear-mongering. Even on those occasions when something positive appears to be claimed (eg saving the NHS or pensions being safer), it is loaded to suggest that in an independent Scotland there would be a greater risk, even though, with minimal investigation, such claims can be shown to be demonstrably false (if only one can be bothered to check further than the mainstream media). The message of the NO camp, who harp back to two world wars, is at its best sentimentally backward looking and doom laden at its worst.  And then to crown it all, not content to evade debate (secret venues and vetted guest lists), they try to stifle it (trying to have YES events shut down if there is no corresponding NO event or by withdrawing speakers at the last moment).

Contrast that with enthusiastic positive message of hope emanating from the YES campaign. It is a future focused message filled with possibilities for things to be different. And while that is no guarantee that they will be, it is as welcome, in these dark days of austerity and political corruption, as a sunny day in the middle of a Scottish winter. And the Scottish people, who are hungry for information and are engaging with the debate in a way they have not engaged with politics before, are cramming the halls of the open meetings run by YES to have their questions answered.

When it comes to published information again the contrast is striking. The Scottish Government published (before the Electoral Commission deadline of 30 Nov 2013) a detailed 670 page book “Scotland’s Future“, in which it sets out what an Independent Scotland could look like, how it could prosper and how it could be more egalitarian, on the basis of known facts. The information is presented with references to a variety of sources, some governmental (generally statistics which the Scottish Government is mandated to produce) but the majority to independent (and frequently internationally respected) sources.

Set that against the UK government, which only published a 19 page analysis paper in April (some 5 months after the Electoral Commission deadline), in which there are no references for the information presented. The analysis is based on a key undeclared assumption that the neo-liberal policies of the current government are the only ones possible. This blind belief in official policy is crowned by dubious claims, presented as facts, which are misleading and even contradictory (eg Scotland would have to adopt the Euro but won’t be allowed to join the EU).  A simplified 9 page version (in which the only sources referenced are the OBR, whose track record on prediction is frankly embarrassing, and papers generated solely for the purpose of the referendum by the UK government) was published in June 2014 and distributed to every household in Scotland by Better Together.  Its misrepresentations were taken apart amusingly in a tirade by an Englishman called Bill on YouTube and more calmly and surgically by James Maxwell in the New Statesman.

The composition of the two campaigns, despite both being multi-party and claiming to be grass-roots, is strikingly different as well.

YES clearly is grass-roots. There are groups springing up all over Scotland with a wider appeal than just political affiliation to the pro-Independence parties (SNP, Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists). The multiplicity includes: Families for Scottish Independence, Scottish Pensioners for Independence, Generation YES, Women for Scottish Independence, First Time Voters for Independence, Academics for YES, Business for Scotland; Farming for YES, Firefighters for Indendence, Lawyers for YES, Oil Workers for Scottish Independence, Yes – NHS in Scotland, Teachers for Independence, Veterans for an Independent Scotland, Christians for Independence, Scots Asians for Independence, English Scots for Independence, Poles for an Independent Scotland, EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland, Labour Voters for Independence (disowned by the Scottish (sic) Labour Party as a minority fringe group) and Liberal Democrat Voters for Independence (ignored by their party).  None  of these groups is run by YES Scotland.   Many places in Scotland have set up their own YES group and YES events. They have numerous volunteers to canvass, man shops and street stalls, as well as just gossip the message to friends, neighbours and colleagues. More and more people are wearing YES badges or putting YES posters in their windows as they get the alternative view to that peddled by NO and the mainstream media from a range of pro-independence blogs and social media.

NO’s grass-roots have been derided as “Astroturf”. Canvassing is principally carried out by politicians and political activists, with the same small groups reappearing over and over again.  Additionally, there was the embarrassment of the denouement of the supposedly Scottish grass-roots campaign Vote NO Borders, which turned out to be funded by wealthy a couple of Tory millionaires and run from London.  Further embarrassment ensued when it was demonstrated that they were using stock pictures from a Cambridge photo library in their adverts of “ordinary Scots”.  More recently, Labour has been trying to recruit activists from other parts of the UK to come up to Scotland to help with canvassing. This is much needed as there are far fewer NO groups than YES. I’m told that there are a dearth of NAW posters in window and badges in the street (but that could just be that NO voters have been terrified into hiding their voting intentions by tales of “vicious cybernats” or that they are – as one of my NO voting acquaintances openly admits he is – just embarrassed by the whole NO campaign).  Part of that embarrassment arises from the NO camp’s insistence on trying to make the referendum about Alex Salmond and the SNP rather than the issues of democracy, autonomy and social justice that Independence could offer.

Scotland has an epic choice this September between the Empire Model of the NO campaign or the Earth Community model offered by YES. Both have predictable outcomes.

Vote NO and consign Scotland to the status of a mere region of England, whose distinctive voice is disregarded and drowned out by the bellow of the rest of the UK family of nations; accept whatever government England votes for; risk being dragged out of the EU; send vast sums to London to prop up the City and English capital projects that have no benefit to Scotland while seeing the Barnett Formula slashed or abolished; renew the nuclear deterrent; permit the creeping privatisation of the NHS; acquiesce to the continued criminalisation of the poor and vulnerable and ever widening social inequality; leave ourselves unable to blame Westminster as we will have implicitly chosen their agenda as our own.

Vote YES and Scotland resumes full nationhood once more; can make her distinctive voice heard on the World stage through the UN and doubled representation in the EU; have a government that the majority of her people elected; free herself of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy; decide how best to spend her taxes and revenues for the benefit of her citizens; protect the NHS and free healthcare; and try to tackle the issues of social inequality that are crushing so many Scots. We might not be successful, but if we are not, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

No one knows what the future holds, but we do know that it is never static and so the status quo is not on the cards (even were it morally acceptable) no matter how much the NO side promote it. The inconvenient truth for both sides is whichever way one votes there are risks – to pretend otherwise is mere hubris.

Bannockburn 700 Commemoration

24 Jun

No doubt much will be made of the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn as ‘anti-English’. However, to do so would be, as did Ian Davidson MP in the House, to show a startling ignorance of Scottish and, therefore, British history.

First of all, Bannockburn was not so much a Battle between the Scots and the English as a power struggle between Anglo-Normans and Scotto-Normans. Combatants, on both sides, held (or had held) lands in both Scotland and England, including both the Bruce and Balliol. There were “Scots”, who were supporters of Balliol, enemies of Bruce, or who simply feared the loss of their more profitable English lands, in Edward II’s army.

Second, the Battle is not being “celebrated” as Ian Davidson put it, “mainly because Scots slew large numbers of English people”, but being commemorated because it is a date which is as key in Scottish history as 1603. Bannockburn was the start of a 14 year road to the full restoration of Scottish independence, just as 1603 was the 104 year road to its loss. Furthermore, there have been commemorations (though, admittedly, on a smaller scale) of other important battles which the Scots lost (eg Flodden 500 last year).

Third, some will cite Scotland’s unofficial National Anthem, “Flower of Scotland”, as being an anti-English song celebrating the battle. However, to do so would indicate a lack of knowledge of the lyrics. Nowhere does the song mention the English; not once. The first stanza celebrates the winning of independence; the second mourns its loss; and the third expresses hope of its restoration. It is not about the English but about Scotland, past, present and future.

Fourth, people like Davidson, so ignorant of their own nation’s history, seem to imagine that the commemoration of Bannockburn is something new, which was only dreamt up by Alex Salmond to bolster the Independence referendum. The reality is that there were Bannockburn rallies in the 1930s (and even earlier commemorations by advocates of Home Rule). These rallies with their accompanying picnic, which were always well attended, were a highlight in the nationalist calendar with orators such as Don Roberto giving fiery speeches before distinguished guests such as the Duke of Montrose.

On the other hand, the cynical celebration of the start of the Great War (or WWI as it later became more commonly known) is an entirely new phenomenon dreamt up by the ConDem coalition to counter any supposed benefit the YES campaign might gain from Bannockburn. Had Davidson been correct in his assertion, one would naturally surmise that the “celebration” (Prime Minister David Cameron’s word) of the start of WWI (costing some £50m in a time when the government claims it cannot afford basic welfare) must be to celebrate the Allied Forces killing 4 million people from the Central Powers.  Furthermore, whereas Bannockburn broke the dominance of the English monarchy in the affairs of Scotland and led to the Declaration of Arbroath and the 1328 Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, the Great War achieved little except for the fall of a few Crowns and, far from being “The War to End All Wars” was only resolved by a second World War that affected almost 4 times as many countries worldwide.  Truly, something to celebrate!

The organisers of the event at Bannockburn this weekend have done their best to make the event a-political. This is sensible as, being a central part of a Year of Homecoming, it is directed as much (if not more so) at the Scots Diaspora as folk in Scotland.  Politicisation has come, however, not from the Nationalists or Yes campaign but from the Labour-Tory alliance on Stirling Council, who tried to organise a competing 3 day event, which they hadn’t the resources to run properly. How Stirling’s Armed Forces Day will play out is moot but the Bannockburn 700 event promises to be spectacular and fun (and I’m absolutely gutted that I can’t now be there!).

So, on this 700th anniversary, let’s lay politics aside and proudly commemorate Bannockburn for its historical importance to the people of Scotland (and to those of the Diaspora), whether YES, NO or DON’T KNOW.