By Stephen Bowman
The Proclaimers have a pro-independence song called ‘Cap in Hand’, one small part of which neatly sums up what it is to be Scottish. The line ‘We boast – then we cower’ captures the essence of a nation that spends half its time bragging about its distinctiveness and its achievements, and the rest of the time suffering from a crippling lack of self-confidence. “Sure I’ve got ‘Scotland Forever’ tattooed on my backside, but we’re too wee and too stupid to become independent. Can’t I just listen to the bagpipes and wax lyrical about how pretty the mountains are? All this self-government stuff…”
It’s the kind of mindset that sees us apologise for our accents and sees one of our national football managers play with no strikers against a mediocre Czech Republic team. It’s also an attitude that results in too many of us meekly laughing when people say how dangerous and unhealthy Glasgow is, when, really, it’s a place that, yes, has its problems, but which is also an outward-looking, cosmopolitan, big and big-hearted European city in ways that most people – including those who live there – don’t fully realise. It is, moreover, the kind of mindset that Better Together hope will result in a No vote in September.
The Unionists don’t really believe that Scotland can’t become independent. The reason they’re so scared of independence is they’re scared Scotland will make a success of it. But Better Together know that a lot of people in Scotland lack confidence, both in themselves and in their country’s capacity to improve. This is less true, I think, of the younger generation, which has grown up with the Scottish Parliament, but it’s certainly true amongst large swathes of the population. Older generations have had a lifetime of Project Fear.
It is because of Scotland’s traditional lack of confidence that the Unionists have fallen over themselves in their excitement at Barack Obama’s comments on independence this week. There’s something depressingly sycophantic about a press statement that says that ‘the overwhelming majority of Scots share the view of the president of the United States Barack Obama that we are better together’, which is what Scottish Labour said this week in response to the news that a Labour MP in England was now supporting a Yes vote. Heck, Barack Obama must be right. He’s the president of a country that isn’t Scotland.
Whenever Better Together use Obama’s comments – and they won’t ever stop – they’re displaying a sycophancy which is itself symptomatic of a lack of self-confidence in themselves and their vision for Scotland, while simultaneously cynically trying to play on Scotland’s traditional anxieties and insecurities. It is, in short, pathetic.
It’s time, however, for Scots to start taking responsibility for themselves. A Yes vote in September is one step along the road to doing that. A Yes vote will show that Scotland has rejected the type of sleekit politics that thinks it’s okay to court outside influence – be it from big business, Barack Obama, or Vladimir Putin (and all three have been attempted by Better Together) – on an internal democratic process.
Though I doubt it’ll make much difference to the outcome of the referendum, I am angry at Obama’s intervention. I am familiar with the US and have undertaken research there. I think it’s a great place with warm and open people. It’s a country with a tangible can-do attitude which I’ve always wanted Scotland to emulate. This week doesn’t change that.
But it’s a reminder about who the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US is primarily for. In large part, it’s a relationship between the political and commercial elites of London and the political and commercial elites of Washington D.C. and New York. That’s why Obama thinks from ‘the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well’ in the UK. For people like him and David Cameron, or people like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, it has worked pretty well. With Trident in mind, and with the Scottish soldiers who will no longer be available to fight in illegal wars in places like Iraq, Scottish independence is certainly not in the military and strategic interests of that elite. It is, however, in the interests of the Scottish people and that – despite the skin-crawling sycophancy of Scotland’s Unionists and the majority of its press – is all that matters.