I’ve been reading Labour websites. Don’t be surprised – some of the contributors are people I know and it’s a way of understanding the counter arguments since it seems all but impossible to get intelligent Unionists on this site. (Is that a more general phenomenon, do you think? I know there are the rabid anti-Nats, just as there are barking Nats, who pop all over up but is there a place where sensible Unionists go to converse and engage with doubters and put their coherent case for the UK?)
I dropped in on Labour Hame, Brian Wilson Writes, Anas Sarwar and Ian Smart and, although I didn’t exactly find my hand hovering over the No box on an imaginary ballot paper, it was revealing.
What emerged for me was how the differences aren’t really about the on-the-ground stuff like public policy so much as the way our radar is facing. It’s as if the top one per cent, as the sports gurus say, is what makes the real difference. It’s what’s in your head that counts, what you believe and where it points you. I’m a Scottish Nationalist which means I put Scotland first. It is the centre of my thought process and my ambition is for the Scots, all Scots, first and foremost, just as a British nationalist puts Britain first. Scotland is my starting point and from there I look outwards to the world, including the rest of the UK with which I feel a special family and neighbourly bond.
But I’m left with a clear impression from Labour people that, however pro Scotland they are (and I make no judgement on personal commitment) it remains the case that their ultimate loyalty is to Britain. I appreciate that is hardly earth-shattering news about unionists but it is the message that clearly resonates through the online pages so that while Scotland is under examination, to Labour the answer is always Britain. Even when it is a power devolved, it is only comfortable for unionists when it is bolstered by the back-up of Britain. Are we talking about the same thing? It could be that these different perspectives mean there is no possibility of minds meeting because we’re actually talking about two associated but different things. A nationalist envisages his country self-standing and dealing with other countries as equals but a unionist cannot imagine the country outwith the confines of the bigger state…not that he doesn’t want to, but can’t. Or if he can it is only to shudder at the awful possibilities…therefore it’s better not to go there. It is in itself a belief system and it is as powerful as nationalism and, there can be no doubt, as genuinely held. I sometimes find myself so sure of my own views that I puzzle over why anyone can disagree. But then it isn’t about economics, defence or currency at all, it is about outlook – which way you see the world, who you identify with and, as I’ve said before, belief. On this basis, believing your country should rightly be part of the UK isn’t really a rational choice at all, just as independence isn’t. Sure, you can make the case on incomes, welfare, education and health etc – on either side – but ultimately you aren’t going to vote for something you can’t believe in, in are you?
This Britishness can however sound suspiciously like anti-Scottishness to someone like me, although I acknowledge it isn’t meant as that. I picked up from LabourHame an article which played into the Ian Smart/Jack McConnell curiosity of inert racism in us Scots. Peter Riddell writes under the title Xonophobia and Independence about a friend who is leaving Scotland after many years and who gives us her views on what’s happening. She deals with workers rights in emergent nations so has an interesting outlook. Part of her piece about independence says: When the going gets tough… and it will … then the enemy without easily translates to an enemy within. Individual Russians, European immigrants, white farmers, Serbs or Asian traders come to signify all that is wrecking the dream.
Friends tell me that this won’t happen because Scots are different… this special pleading worries me even more. No nation is composed of ‘special people’. I’m not saying don’t go for independence – only do it in full knowledge and preparedness for the consequences and accept the inevitable 10 years or more of frustration and austerity which lie ahead of any new, small nation.
I’m with her on the idea of preparedness and a difficult transition – although I’m not convinced about the suggestion of lasting austerity – but it’s the first part that I struggle with. I bet she can point to countries where Russians or white farmers have become targets – the Baltic states and possibly Zimbabwe and I suppose that’s true of Serbs in the Balkans – but does that translate to Scotland? Is this a picture you recognize? Are Yes people hiding from the evidence obvious to unionists? Surely, in the previous examples people turned against their traditional enemy when independence freed up their hatred to do so. That would mean we will turn on English people. I don’t know whether to throw my hands up in mock horror or face the awful truth that the Scots are bigots awaiting our chance to hit Mr Jandoo’s shop in an Asian Kristallnacht. I’m sorry to trivialize the woman’s point but it seems a real shame that having lived here since the 70’s she is leaving with this idea of who the Scots are. Her final words are: After 37 years.. I’ll not be here to suffer it… or take the blame for what’s gone wrong …I’m British and will decamp over the border to enjoy my twilight years.
The originator of the article Peter Riddell and presumably LabourHame nominally at least approve of this argument, that a consequence of Scots’ independence will be outbreaks of racial hatred.
I’m not naïve. There is most definitely racism in Scottish society as there is everywhere but isn’t the point to eradicate it not encourage it? If it hasn’t broken out against English people in this age of austerity, how likely is it after independence? While writing I had the LabourHame page up on screen and could see a Twitter thingy, you know, a thread, in which various contributors, presumably some Labour and including journalist Euan McColm, who were, bluntly, sneering at Edi Reader for apparently suggesting there was no racism. They took a relish in telling her she was wrong with examples of language like “fucking monkey” and “fucking Afghan” that they had heard. They are anti racists, of course, and it’s true we have to face the reality but should Scots revel in berating anyone trying to distance themselves from one of the ugliest manifestations of bigotry? Should we willingly shout aloud that we believe our countrymen are racists as if there is nothing to be done. Should we connive in a game that laughs at a movement’s claims of racial equality as if all it proves is that the Scots are just like everybody else so you can stuff your claims to be superior and your high-minded ambition and your welcome mat to immigrants because the truth is you’re no different?
I’m not sure Ed Miliband’s planned Immigration Bill, a priority for a Labour government, to create a tougher regime, and designed to win over voters, mainly in England, worried about immigration, is quite the welcome mat that the Yes campaign envisages with the clear indication of an immigration and asylum system that welcomes and works (close Dungavel) in the White Paper. It seems to me there is a determination on the Yes side generally to reject the institutionalized racism of UK policy-makers…dawn raids, the sexual abuse of inmates and illegal death of Jimmy Mubenga. Why wouldn’t someone on the Left welcome that? Perhaps it’s that British radar again.
There is a active part of the Unionist campaign now to say Scotland isn’t different in any meaningful way, that it is a myth perpetrated by nationalists and the opinion polling supports that, they say. But I think first that the Scots rather like the idea of being different and more liberal than England even when it’s not entirely true and are open to being flattered. If I’m right then the Unionists make a mistake in denying it. But most importantly, it isn’t what people say to the pollsters but the policies they vote for that tell you what they like. And it’s here that Labour are proved wrong. Scotland has the beginings of a land reform programme, a public sector living wage, no compulsory redundancies in the public sector, a no privatization of health plan, a rejection of rigged PFI contracts, a fair voting system, free prescriptions and bus travel for the elderly and taxpayer funded tertiary education. Its policy is to be nuclear free – of energy and weapons. That is where Scotland is different, where it matters, in legislation affecting people’s lives. Labour’s British radar is even now turning away from the very things they themselves introduced in order to find some point of difference with the SNP but it is a contrived difference that only takes them further from the people who support them.
The real disagreement remains the top one per cent and it dictates everything else. It’s why I think the Don’t Knows, those who really haven’t yet thought if their deepest allegiance is to Scotland or Britain, are still there to be won, not by policy or even appeals to Nordic economic models, but through belief. It is the biggest test for Generation X and it’s winnable.