Stop Press: Scotland Lurches To The Right!!!

By Stephen Bowman

As a result of last night’s shock European election result, it can now be revealed that some voters in Scotland hold right-wing views. This means that Scottish independence is completely unfeasible.

In what was a bruising night for Alex Salmond, the SNP has received the most votes in the election. Finishing a mere three places above UKIP – which clearly won the election after finishing fourth and receiving about ten per cent of the overall Scottish vote – the SNP and the Yes campaign are in complete meltdown.

A Better Together spokesperson has welcomed the rise in xenophobia across Britain, describing it as “clear evidence that we’re all better together. I urge Scotland to vote to stay in the UK so that all of us across these islands can share in the Union’s positive legacy of disliking Romanian men. There are clearly people across England and Scotland who are terrified of being swamped by immigrants – which is in no way a racist thing to say – so it would be a great shame to erect a border between us.”

The spokesperson also insisted that UKIP’s success did not undermine Better Together’s core argument that Scotland’s best chance of staying in the EU is to remain part of the Union. He continued:“The only way for Scotland to guarantee it stays part of the EU until the rest of the UK votes us out in 2017 is to vote in September to stay in the UK until the rest of the UK votes us out of the EU in 2017.”

The Better Together spokesperson also denied that the SNP’s victory-that-was-actually-a-defeat in the European elections, and a recent poll showing that over 75 per cent of Scots opposed UKIP’s policy of leaving the EU, was proof that Scotland supported Alex Salmond’s vision of Scotland becoming an independent European country. He said: “Except for the overwhelming support for the SNP in just about every election since 2007, and polls showing Scots want to stay part of the EU, there is absolutely no evidence that Scottish voters like Alex Salmond or that they hold any different political attitudes to people living in England.”

Asked whether any of this made any sense, the spokesperson said that it didn’t matter as most people who vote UKIP aren’t cultured or educated.


The Cultural Straw Man

By Stephen Bowman

There are some unionists who make the case that Scotland and England are not culturally different and, as a result, Scotland shouldn’t be independent. Both George Galloway and Alistair Carmichael have made arguments along those lines in the past, something which seemed particularly unusual for the Secretary of State for Scotland to say. Meanwhile, you sometimes get Ed Miliband and the faux socialists of the Labour Party arguing that Scottish independence and distinctiveness is incompatible with international solidarity.

Then, this week, the unionist journalist David Torrance wrote in the Herald about the cultural affinities between the peoples of these islands. These affinities of course exist (and I’ve written about them before) and, in fairness to Torrance, he doesn’t argue that cultural similarity between England and Scotland is enough to justify union. But his article nevertheless speaks to a narrative that is deliberately trying to play down Scottish distinctiveness in an effort to ensure a No vote in September.

But when unionists say Scottish and English people are the same and that this means that Scots shouldn’t vote for independence, what are they saying exactly? If it is that nobody from any one country is any better than anybody else in another country, or that parts of our history and culture are shared by virtue of living on the same island, under a variety of constitutional arrangements, then that’s fine.

Except, why does that mean we shouldn’t vote for independence? Humankind the world over is the ‘same’ – in the sense that we’re all of equal worth and, indeed, that people are just people. Anything else about a person is, to a lesser or greater extent, a social construct. Fine, whatever.

There are, however, two aims behind comments like those made by people like Galloway and Carmichael. Firstly, they want to suggest that Yes supporters are nasty nationalists who want to see difference in everything, and who think that Scottish people are better than everyone else. Secondly, they want to argue that because of the underlying sameness of people there is no need for independence.

Aside from wilfully playing down the evident political differences between the two countries (George Galloway might’ve reflect on these when he recently appeared on Newsnight Scotland for a debate with Jim Sillars – how many televised debates between prominent, bona fide socialists are being made in England?), this makes a very large assumption. It assumes that the independence movement is a cultural one – that’s to say, that there is a cultural imperative behind independence. This, however, is a bit of a straw man. Culture is something that has been notable by its absence from the Yes campaign. That’s because Scottish culture – broadly defined – is actually pretty healthy. It’s also very inclusive, something that would potentially be compromised by marrying culture to the nation’s independence. Rather, Scottish identity and distinctiveness seem fairly well safeguarded in or out of the union, despite what people like George Galloway say. There is, in other words, no cultural case to be made for independence. Rather, there is a practical and political imperative.

Something else can be implied from the comments made by those unionists who cry ‘culture’: that there is a cultural case for the Union. This is never really examined in all that much detail – and tends to rely on fluff about the NHS and the world wars – and for good reason. If it was, unionists would need to explain what makes Scottish and English people uniquely similar as to justify an incorporating union between the two countries. As a direct result of their ‘brotherhood of man’ rhetoric (granted, Galloway’s is more than rhetoric), they might, for example, need to explain why such an incorporating union doesn’t also have to include less Protestant, less white countries than England and Scotland. It has a tinge of latter-day Anglo-Saxonism about it.

There is indeed no pressing cultural reason for independence. But unionists should take care when suggesting that there is a cultural case for the union while simultaneously attacking the Yes campaign for a ‘narrow nationalism’ which is, paradoxically, implicit in Better Together’s narrow-minded denial of Scottish distinctiveness. If culture isn’t a legitimate ground of debate for the Yes campaign, nor is it a legitimate ground of debate for the No campaign.

If nothing else, it gets far too complicated.

No, Maybe, Yes!

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By Michael Petri – Michael is currently conducting a PhD at the University of Stirling, where he is a part of the School of Applied Social Science. As well as currently conducting his own research Michael is also teaching on a range of undergraduate Sociology, Social Policy and Social Research modules. Outside of university Michael works as a recruiter for a call centre outsourcing company, and has a keen interest in philosophy and eastern religions, particularly Zen Buddhism.

Back when the prospect of a referendum for Scottish independence was first becoming serious I was completely against it. The values of togetherness and unity are things which I consider to be fundamentally important for humanity, so the notion of separating from the rest of Britain did not sit well with me. Beyond that I will admit I was also a bit dubious as to our ability to successfully run our country by ourselves (an opinion which in hindsight was held without any real critical engagement on my part). I have however over the past year, whilst trying to be open minded on the subject and beginning to seriously look at the arguments made from both the Yes and No camps, went through a gradual but profound shift in my thinking.

The more I read and thought about questions such as our potential for a more environmentally sustainable energy future; our ability to stand on our own feet economically; the possibility of ridding ourselves of Trident, the unelected house of Lords, and our incessant following of American foreign policy; and the likelihood of moving away from the right-wing policies of Westminster which have become crystallised in British policies over the past decade or so, the more I began to not just take the Yes view seriously, but to see it as comfortably the most promising stance for the betterment of our country. Our Prime Minister (who the majority of Scotland did not vote for) argued in Brussels against putting a cap on bankers bonuses and lowered tax for the best off section of the population, whilst simultaneously hitting the poorest in society with the bedroom tax, making huge cuts across pretty much all public services and all the while having the audacity to repeatedly rhyme off the mantra that “we’re all in it together”. So the prospect of a sovereign Scottish government which has the potential and likelihood to move towards a more equal society reflecting the egalitarian roots of Scottish politics cannot help but fill me with optimism for a government that could at least have a serious shot at doing what governments are supposed to have been formed to do: protect and serve the people – and by that I mean the masses rather than the elite (which is what I believe our Westminster governments have been doing since I was born).

I’m under no illusion that an independent Scottish Government will somehow herald a new utopian age for Scottish politics. We will always have problems, and a yes vote would do nothing other than signal the beginning of a never-ending challenge to do what’s best for the people of Scotland and all our brothers and sisters that we share this planet with. I am however confident that an independent Scottish government, with the ethos of looking after the more vulnerable groups and individuals in society, is the best way to go.

I’d also like to touch on nationalism. I understand that in writing a pro-independence article here I am clearly going to come across as a ‘nationalist’. However I’d like to put forward why that isn’t the case and how it is not contradictory to be actually against nationalism, yet still vote for an independent Scotland. Firstly I consider national identity to be a social construction (admittedly one with a lot of meaning and baggage to a lot of people, yet a construction all the same). We are all just human beings living on land, trying to make the most of our fleeting, confusing lives. You don’t need to be a historian to know that borders are not static. They move and come and go all the time. They are not, fixed, inherent or eternal. They are simply useful practical fictions which allow us to group together in relatively smaller groups in order to come together with a sense of common purpose for our collective benefit. This is where I think the practicality and usefulness of the UK as a single collective group does not hold, and the needs of the people of this island would be better served by having smaller distinct sovereign powerful groups which would be better positioned to reflect the divergent social and political needs of localised populations.

Einstein called nationalism “infantile” and the “measles of mankind”. I’m aware that many people on both sides of this debate feel patriotic and have a sense of pride in their country, and I have no issue with that, however I would agree that nationalism is a dangerous prerogative to follow. Flags can be useful symbols to rally behind, just as governments can be useful tools for safeguarding the welfare of the people, however like borders these are all transient and in an ultimate sense illusory idealisations with no concrete essence of any value. To me the vote isn’t about identity but more about the way we want to govern society, and from my perspective there’s far too many differences in general between how the Westminster government functions (neo-liberal policies, elitism etc.) and the direction an independent Scotland would take (increased equality and protection of the vulnerable). An independent Scotland will not kill-off the idea or identity of being British. The geographical and historical connection with the rest of the UK cannot be revoked by having a sovereign Scottish government any more than not having one can diminish the ability for someone to identify themselves as Scottish. A Yes vote would reflect a popular will to have a distinctly Scottish rule of government, but surely when we consider identity, our preferences for particular types of social and national policies play only a small role in the formation of our overall identity?

My values haven’t changed over the past year, however my understanding of the political structure of Scotland and the rest of the UK has. With the seemingly ever-growing popularity of UKIP in England and a referendum on EU membership for the UK starting to look like a serious possibility, I feel the best way to be united and connected outwith ‘oor wee bit hill and glen’ is to vote yes. This is the only way to safeguard our strong connection to the rest of the EU and become a meaningful player at the international table – something which in our era of globalisation is an absolute must. We will only be able to tackle the serious environmental, economic and social problems facing our world today in cooperation and partnership with the wider international community. As things stand the best way to do that is in my opinion to vote Yes in September.

Evil Villains Make Positive Case for Union


By Stephen Bowman

On the day that Lord George Robertson has said that Scottish independence would be ‘cataclysmic’ for Western civilisation, a succession of film and TV villains from the 1960s, 70s and 80s have lined up in support of the former NATO secretary general.

The Intergalactic Empire’s Darth Vader has admitted that Scottish independence is for the people of Scotland to decide, but that he finds the country’s ‘lack of faith disturbing.’ Meanwhile, Davros – the leader of the Daleks – has explained that the Scottish people need to understand the consequences of voting no: namely, that Scotland may find itself either frozen out of Europe or ‘exterminated.’

Michael Myers has declined to comment on the issue, though he has been breathing heavily down telephone lines and standing in gardens wielding a meat cleaver. Freddy Krueger, meanwhile, has warned that the process of negotiating independence will be a bureaucratic ‘nightmare’, in which he may stalk innocent 1980s actors and actresses and slice them open with razors attached to his fingers. Echoing these positive cases for the Union, Hannibal Lecter has said that Scotland can ‘fly, fly, fly, fly’ if it wishes, but that he’ll ‘eat its liver with a nice Chianti’ if it does. The murderous psychiatrist then made an odd sucking sound with his mouth.

One of the Trident nuclear warheads has also broken its silence on the independence referendum. Speaking from Faslane Naval Base, the missile said that it felt that it was unfair that Alex Salmond was forcing it to choose between its Scottishness and its Britishness and that it feared that it would be forcibly sent back to England in the event of a Yes vote. It said that some of the rhetoric used by CND was dangerously right-wing and suggested that immigrant warheads would be targeted in an independent Scotland.

These statements from a number of anachronistic villains and inanimate objects follow a growing concern amongst Unionists about the dangers posed by so-called ‘Cyber-nats’. Half-human, half-robot, these Cyber-nats are allegedly pursuing an online bullying campaign against anyone who doesn’t support their efforts to ‘delete’ the Act of Union. Davros said that he and a number of other Daleks were afraid for their safety following comments made by Cyber-nats on pro-independence websites which criticise the Daleks’ involvement with Better Together.

Meanwhile, it is understood that George Robertson is planning to use a time machine to travel back to 1995, when he said that the creation of a devolved Scottish Parliament would ‘kill nationalism stone dead.’ It is thought that Robertson will attempt to prevent his former self from saying these words, though it’s not clear whether this act – like Scottish independence – will result in a breach in the space-time continuum and the ultimate destruction of the entire universe.

A Dispatch from the North of England

By Stephen Bowman

Last night I attended a public lecture at Northumbria University delivered by Professor Jonathan Blackie on the subject of ‘Can the North East of England benefit from greater Scottish autonomy?’ Professor Blackie has had a distinguished career as a civil servant in the North of England, and is one of the authors of the Borderlands report, which was published recently on behalf of the Association of North East Councils. The report formed the basis of last night’s lecture. Both outline ways in which the North of England can both compete and cooperate with a newly powerful Scotland. As the title of the lecture suggested, this didn’t just mean an independent Scotland, but also a Scotland granted more devolved powers in the event of a ‘No’ vote this September. In either event, it’s clear that the businesses and local authorities of the North of England are fearful of economic competition from Scotland, while at the same time feeling cut off and ignored by London. It was for some of these reasons that the report was commissioned, with some local councillors feeling that the region could benefit from greater collaboration with Edinburgh.

Funnily enough, Professor Blackie was born in Edinburgh and retains his Scottish accent. For that reason, it was slightly odd to hear him speak about Scots as ‘them’. Even so, he’s lived many years in the North of England and has evidently undertaken a great deal of work on behalf of the area in which he lives. He started his lecture (to what was a predominantly older-looking audience) with an outline of the current situation in Scotland and the most recent polling results for the referendum. With the bare polling figures, the audience was given the impression that Scotland was likely to vote no (he didn’t really discuss the swing in favour of Yes) and I couldn’t help but feel that the idea of Scottish independence was regarded as slightly quack. Professor Blackie read a selection of quotes from Alex Salmond saying that he thought Scotland and the North of England were natural friends against the ‘dark star’ of London, all of which were received with laughter by the audience. Notwithstanding the admittedly flowery language, I thought it was a shame that the audience didn’t find more to commend in the First Minister’s sentiments.

Indeed, Blackie explained that many people in the North of England – or at least those to whom he had spoken in the course of writing his report – were sceptical that the region could benefit from Scottish independence, with some feeling envious and resentful of Scotland’s relatively advantageous position. Again this was a shame, though understandable. Blackie described a situation in which the North of England was struggling to compete with Scotland for tourism and inward investment, partly because Scotland has the formidable economic and political backing of Scottish Government agencies, like Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise. There was an odd implication that this was a surprising disparity, as though it was unusual that a nation should have such stronger resources than a region. Surely it’s more noteworthy that national English bodies haven’t better served this ‘borderland’ region?

It was striking, in fact, that the notion of neglect by London wasn’t more directly addressed by Blackie. Rather, it took a number of questions from the audience at the end to raise the question of the democratic deficit in England. Blackie was looking for solid, commercial ways in which the region could benefit, through collaboration on things like transport, energy, tourism, rural and business development and education. He envisaged cooperation between councils on both sides of the border working together to improve trade and infrastructure. His discussion in this respect took place in a sort of political void, and I was left wondering whether Scottish ‘autonomy’ was actually relevant to what he was saying. Indeed, one member of the audience – a county councillor from Northumberland – questioned whether Blackie’s arguments were anything new. Was it not the case that the North of England just needed to ‘get its act together’ and speak with a powerful and cohesive political voice?

And that’s surely the crux of the matter, and the real way in which the North of England can benefit from Scottish independence. With Scottish independence, the idea of a London-centric British Isles is dealt a significant blow. Even though some may laugh at the melodramatic imagery, would a progressive ‘beacon’ to the North not provide inspiration and an example for political change in England? It’s not an easy problem to solve, especially as the idea of an elected regional assembly was overwhelmingly rejected by voters a few years ago, but it’s apparent that the North of England needs to aspire to something greater than it already is, and to do so by appealing to higher ideals than simply cross-border cooperation between local authorities as outlined in Blackie’s report. Another member of the audience – this time a Scot – made this exact point, quoting the words ‘wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity’ which are inscribed on the Scottish Parliament’s ceremonial mace as an example of values to which to aspire.

But the mace just served to remind me of the principal benefit that Scotland has over the North of England. Simply, Scotland, as a nation, enjoys a cohesive political and cultural identity that the North of England, as a region, does not. This was never truly addressed in the talk last night, with Professor Blackie and others displaying the peculiarly English habit of regarding Scotland in the same terms as an English region. It’s not that Scotland’s nationhood is denied, more that it is regarded as a nation with a similar status to an English region. In so doing, Scotland is regarded as an homogenous mass with no regional differences of its own.

But then it occurred to me that you’d never get a Scottish region, say Strathclyde or Lothian, holding a great debate about how to independently address relations with another country. There’s no doubting that regionalism is a much stronger factor in politics in England than it is in Scotland, which means that England as a whole lacks the cohesive political identity that Scotland has.

This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, regionalism could be a way – particularly on the back of Scottish independence – to challenge the centralisation of power in London. On the other hand, regional neglect creates a disenfranchisement from the political process that means that mobilising people to create a more democratic and representative England seems particularly challenging. So it’s not just the North of England that needs to aspire to something greater. It’s the whole country.

Instead of asking how the North of England can compete and collaborate with Scotland, Professor Blackie might usefully have addressed the democratic deficit in England and looked at ways in which England’s national institutions and resources could be put to better use in support of the country’s neglected regions. Another question from the audience last night said as much.

So I was impressed by the lines of questioning taken by many members of the audience. Yet, as I was at the beginning of the lecture, I was also struck by the average age of the audience. Is this not part of the problem? Whereas the Scottish referendum has Scots of all generations excited about the possibility of political change, including a great many young people and students, together with a vibrant online debate, the only people who could apparently get excited about the future of the North of England seemed to be university professors and retirees. If political change is going to come in England then it’s going to need to take more people getting more angry about more things, together with taking more time to appreciate the possibilities presented by what’s happening in Scotland.


Cameron and Thatcher

By Stephen Bowman

Last week two cronies of the British Establishment – Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell – outlined their ideas for further devolution in the event of a No vote in September, while Scottish Labour this week reveals the findings of its Devolution Commission. Discussions over ‘Devo-Max’ and ‘Devo-Plus’ proceed from the assumption that there is an appetite in Scotland for some kind of change to the constitution short of independence, which, if true, means that the Unionist’s were wrong to insist that the referendum only include a Yes/No question: with Alex Salmond’s moderate version of independence the only change on offer, there is every chance voters who would’ve otherwise voted for enhanced devolution will vote Yes to full independence.

That’s why Labour and Liberal Unionists, and now David Cameron, are hinting – with varying degrees of enthusiasm – that a No vote won’t necessarily mean no change. Of course, there are a number of reasons to be sceptical. For one, similar things were said in 1979 and no change was forthcoming. It’s also worth noting that there is significant opposition to further devolution from some Labour MPs. Secondly, any change could result in unacceptable changes to the Barnett Formula.

It’s perhaps true, meanwhile, that a federal system in the British Isles would be a significant improvement on the status quo, but is this really achievable? Westminster seems so stuck in its ways that the idea of there being four national parliaments – for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and a federal parliament seems entirely unrealistic. The British State has become too centralised and reactionary to allow for any meaningful redistribution of sovereignty, representation and responsibility. Rather, it’s apparent – especially in light of a leaked report which suggests Scotland’s economic growth will lag behind the rest of the UK’s if it stays in the Union – that Scotland needs out of the Union. And with Andy Burnham threatening the existing autonomy of NHS Scotland with his wish to extend England’s neo-liberal healthcare system to Scotland, it’s clear that only independence can safeguard Scotland’s publicly-owned NHS. For these reasons, enhanced devolution is wholly unsatisfactory.

There are other reasons, however, for discounting ideas of ‘Devo-Max’ and ‘Devo-Plus’, just as there are reasons to challenge the Scottish Government’s conception of ‘Independence-Lite’. In a debate in which constitutional options are beginning to read like some sort of dieting plan, it’s becoming increasingly important to clarify what words mean. For that reason, I want to outline what I mean when I say ‘independence’. While I fully appreciate the need to reassure voters that, following independence, many things will indeed continue as before, and while I have previously written that independence could result in a de-politicised pan-Britishness, I also think it’s important to define clearly the possibilities that exist for meaningful change.

Such change will necessarily involve a clean break with many aspects of the past. That is to say, in some specific ways, independence must mean separation. ‘Separation’ and ‘separatist’ have become somewhat pejorative terms, but I want to outline some ways in which I am indeed a ‘separatist.’

Scotland must separate itself from the UK in three broad areas, which I’m presumptuously calling the ‘Three Pillars of Independence’, and without which independence is meaningless. The Three Pillars are as follows:

• Taxation and Welfare
• Defence and Foreign Policy
• Republicanism

The Scottish Government must have complete responsibility for all money raised and spent in Scotland. For a re-energising of the social contract and an affirmation of the concept of universalism, the wealthiest in society must be highly taxed to help pay for vital public services. This will hault Westminster’s ideological assault on the welfare state and reverse the trend that has seen a massive increase in the use of food banks. Through a progressive income tax, Scotland will protect free prescriptions and free education. It will abolish the unfair Bedroom Tax and ensure that jobseekers are properly supported. Further, utilities and the transport system must pass into public ownership. All of these measures are best served by not entering into a currency union with rUK.

Scotland’s defence and foreign policy must also become separate. This is the only way we can ensure that we do not participate in illegal and imperialistic wars, such as Iraq, and is the only way we can ensure the removal of weapons of mass destruction from our waters. Scotland will develop a defence force suitable for its needs, which include proper defence of its coastlines. Despite Philip Hammond saying that Scotland is safer as part of the UK, it’s worth pointing out that it recently took nearly two days for the Royal Navy to send a warship from the south of England to intercept and escort a Russian naval vessel sheltering in the Moray Firth.

Linked to foreign policy is immigration policy. Scotland needs to separate itself from the UKIP-inspired and dangerously xenophobic approach to immigration taken by Westminster and must instead adopt a progressive and liberal immigration policy that recognises the economic benefits accruing from migration. Only with complete independence are these changes possible, something which the Scottish Government has already outlined.

Finally, an independent Scotland must separate itself from the British State by becoming a republic. Only by removing itself from any monarchical and aristocratic influence can Scotland truly become a modern democracy. The British Royal Family sits at the top of a system of privilege, patronage, political elitism and land ownership. Scotland’s disavowal of such principles will be a practical, symbolic and final act of separation from its own imperial past and from Britain’s imperial present. This is a debate that can be had after independence (but which is highly unlikely to ever be had as long as the UK exists), and would potentially involve a referendum.

While some aspects of these ‘Three Pillars of Independence’ go beyond the Scottish Government’s vision of independence, they don’t go beyond that of others in the Yes movement, including the Radical Independence Convention. Even though a socialist republic won’t be to everyone’s taste, these ideas are mainstream enough to mean that a post-independence Scotland could become a melting pot for political debate and change in whole new ways. Indeed, this newfound political engagement has already begun in the public meetings that have been taking place across Scotland as part of the referendum campaign.

With independence, this process will only continue. In so doing, Scotland will provide an example for the other nations of these islands to follow. Through separation – by going it alone – an independent Scotland can help suggest ways for those in the rUK to distance themselves from the Westminster elite. Whatever the UK is today, however, it is not a place for political debate and change. Nor are the Unionists’ offers of enhanced devolution to be believed nor credited . They offer only ‘politics-lite.’

Don’t Be Intimidated

By Stephen Bowman

Even though there’s been plenty articles and blogs written in response to Westminster’s decision to play hard-ball over the currency this week, I still want to throw in my own tuppence – or perhaps more appropriately – bawbee’s worth. In some ways, this was always going to happen. The Spanish Government has long been surprised that the UK Government hasn’t been as assertive with Scotland as it has been with Catalonia, but this week has seen London act more like Madrid in dealing with its ‘separatists’. Not only have Gideon Osborne and his Labour and Liberal cronies ostensibly ruled out any currency union between rUK and an independent Scotland, but word comes from Westminster that they might not respect the outcome of the referendum in the event of a Yes vote.

Make no mistake, the British Establishment – as represented by the Osborne-Alexander-Balls alliance – has closed ranks and is now actively trying to bully, intimidate and ultimately halt what is both a movement for progressive social change and a people’s right to self-determination. Like much about the independence referendum, it has little to do with the relationship between England and Scotland and everything to do with the relationship between the London elite and those of us on the ‘periphery’– in terms of both class and nationality – who want to do things differently. And so the facade of British democracy, along with a positive case for the Union, continues to crumble.

One of the assumptions behind Westminster’s intervention this week is that London has the stronger hand in secession negotiations following a Yes vote. In response to any suggestions that Scotland will refuse to take on a share of UK debt because of Westminster’s refusal to enter a currency union, we are told that the UK might block Scotland’s EU membership or even refuse to respect the outcome of the referendum. But it’s really important to remember that Scotland is under no obligation to take any of the debt and that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t use the pound without a currency union. This much was recognised by a leading academic in an article this week in the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, it’s likely that Brussels would look very unfavourably on any moves by London to stop Scotland joining the EU, whatever Jose Manuel Barrosso might say (and whatever he does say is directed primarily at Catalonia, not Scotland). In any case, with England looking likely to vote to leave the EU, London’s stance on Scottish membership could be a moot point.

Scotland could also decide to become a little less than reasonable over the removal of the nuclear submarines on the Gare Loch. Whereas a Scottish Government might have given the rUK plenty of time to find a replacement base in England, in the event of needing to adopt a tough negotiating stance, Scotland could demand the immediate removal from Scottish waters of these weapons of mass destruction. This is an important bargaining chip.

Moreover, this is all notwithstanding the fact that a currency union is indeed in the rUK’s best interests and that such a union may well still happen anyway. It’s highly likely that Osborne was bluffing.

In any event, this isn’t 1979. What the London political bubble and much of England – public, politicians and press alike – often fail to understand is that today’s Scotland is stronger and more confident for having had a devolved Parliament since 1999 and, since 2007, a popular and assertive Scottish Government. For example, a recent poll revealed that Scots trust Holyrood considerably more than they do Westminster. In other words, Scots look to Edinburgh and not to London for political leadership. These are the reasons why we are where we are today. These are also the reasons why Westminster’s aggression will spectacularly backfire. This has already been seen in anecdotal evidence from Kaye Adams’ call-in radio show on BBC Scotland last week, which was apparently inundated by callers saying that Osborne’s intervention had persuaded them to support independence.

For much of the campaign so far Better Together has insulted Scotland, talked down its ability to self-govern and told outright lies. Now Westminster is trying to bully us. But know that they are doing so because they think Scotland is on the verge of voting Yes and because, ultimately, they know that Scotland is an economic asset and, as a result, a perfectly viable independent state. If we aren’t an asset, why are they going to so much trouble? They have indeed raised the stakes this week, but it’s because they’ve been backed into a corner by the success of Yes Scotland. However, by refusing a currency union and suggesting that they won’t respect the outcome of the referendum, they’ve got very few places left to go. What are they going to do now, occupy the country? That way madness lies.

This was the week that Westminster lost the plot and demonstrated once again the futility of efforts to reform the UK from within. Nor do these attempts to bully Scotland into voting No bode well for the future of the UK. If Westminster thinks that ‘Yes doesn’t mean Yes’, it may equally find that a No vote delivered under duress does not mean No. There is an appetite for change in Scotland, and independence will happen now or later. But let’s not let it come to that. It’s time to get out now.

The Battle for Britishness

By Stephen Bowman

Last September I was interviewed on the radio by BBC Newcastle as part of a feature they were doing to mark the countdown to this year’s Scottish independence referendum. The one question that I wish I had answered differently was when they asked me whether I felt British. To my own surprise, I said yes. What I should really have said was, ‘yes, but…’

Even though I’m habitually somebody who refuses to identify myself as ‘White British’ on things like equal opportunities forms as a means of protesting against the Union and Scotland’s place within it, it occurred to me – having lived in England for over two years now – that it would be churlish not to accept that I do share some social and cultural affinities with the other residents of the British Isles, just as I do with my fellow Europeans. A man’s a man, and all that: my Scottish nationality isn’t threatened. That’s what I was trying to get at on the radio, but I’m not sure that that’s how it came across. Rather, by saying that I felt British, I implied a whole lot of other things, most of which I would argue are negative. For example, is Britishness not characterised by monarchism, empire, militarism (see David Cameron’s now infamous Olympic Park speech), neoliberalism, anti-immigrant UKIP, and institutionalised Protestantism? Perhaps not exclusively, but they are surely constituent parts of a dominant version of Britishness that seems to have changed little in the post-Second World War period, if not longer. To this version I don’t identify.

Britishness is also Anglo-centric, while perceptions of Englishness are themselves London-centric: not just in relation to government and the economy, but also culturally and politically. This is manifest partly in UKIP’s lack of success in Scotland compared to England, and by the fact that the political debate sparked by UKIP is interpreted as the most pressing issue in British politics. The Anglo-centrism of Britishness has also been commented on by the historian Colin Kidd, who has argued that this was partly a product of the eighteenth-century Scottish intellectuals who – in the years after 1707 – renamed Scotland as North Britain, and who identified with the founding myths of English, not Scottish, constitutional history. This has meant that a genuine pan-British identity was never established and that Britain, and versions of Britishness, have tended to be England, and versions of Englishness, writ large. Today, this is a Britishness and an Englishness that worries about foreign immigrants and the EU. It is also a Britishness that – across the political spectrum – is indifferent to, and ill-informed about, Scottish independence. This was evident this week in Owen Jones’s lazy article in The Independent, which articulated ostensibly legitimate leftist questions about the nature of nationalism (questions which now seem little more than excuses for not doing anything real to achieve progressive change), and which argued that, rather than pursuing independence, Scottish workers and political activists should stand in solidarity with their English colleagues. Of course they should, but it’s a strange sort of socialist internationalism that relies on the existence of a Union that is increasingly leaning to the right and which is on the verge of cutting itself out of the EU.

So what would a truly pan-British identity really look like? For one, it would recognise, and genuinely come to terms with, the regional and national nuances that exist in the British Isles. If Owen Jones had done this, his article would’ve reflected much more accurately the complexities of the independence debate, not least the roles played by groups like the Radical Independence Campaign, the SSP, the Commonweal project and Labour for Independence, and, indeed, the high-profile Labour converts to Yes, like Alex Mosson. In so doing, Jones would’ve understood that Scottish independence is increasingly regarded as the only realistic alternative to Westminster politics, including by Labour voters, and that it is not necessarily about nationalism. Within the Union, meanwhile, a pan-Britishness could also mean giving the same attention to the annual Scottish school exam results on the BBC News as is given to A-Levels and GCSEs, or by sports coverage that does not prioritise English football highlights over Scottish. But at present viewers in Scotland are fed an homogenous broadcasting output that ignores or misrepresents their own experience. Nor would an authentic Britishness allow for the ‘them and us’ rhetoric so shamefully demonstrated by Katie Hopkins and others during the debate on Scottish independence in an episode of Channel Five’s The Wright Stuff back in November. These things might seem mundane, but the importance of broadcasting was recognised by the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, established by the Scottish Government in 2007.

A pan-British identity would also accept that the people of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff can identify with each other without reference to London, and without reference to the Union Flags adorning the Mall. In other words, Britishness need not have anything to do with Unionism. This would open doors rather than close them. Once Unionism is removed from Britishness, then the power of Westminster is diminished. When that happens, the peoples of these islands can look at what really connects them. Places like the North of England may indeed begin to look to Edinburgh for political and ideological synergies. Something of this was suggested by last year’s Borderlands report, compiled by academics at Northumbria and Durham universities. With Westminster’s privatisation of the NHS and its continuing assault on the welfare state, is it not socially democratic Scotland – united in its opposition to the bedroom tax and committed to free health care – that stands between neoliberal reform and these two positive legacies of Britishness?

So if it is accepted that Britishness need not be defined by Westminster politics, then all those jokey statements about the North of England joining an independent Scotland seem a little bit more realistic. That said, I have no doubt that people in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland feel English and that there is no real appetite for secession. But that isn’t necessarily because of Britishness. After Scottish independence, there is the possibility of greater cross-border co-operation and solidarity based on mutual priorities. This doesn’t need to be done with reference to London, and could be all the more British for not doing so.

In a week that David Cameron made an appeal for Scotland to vote no based on his notion of a shared Britishness, perhaps it’s time to ask what it is that Britishness should really mean. Just as Scottishness has been defined and redefined across the course of the Union’s existence – to the point that it now seems synonymous with a progressive and enlightened political culture – then so can Britishness morph into something better. Britishness doesn’t need to mean monarchy, empire or UKIP. Nor does it have to have anything to do with Unionism. Indeed, Unionism has singularly failed to create an authentic and representative Britishness. It seems increasingly likely that the dominant, inauthentic and unrepresentative versions of Britishness – as outlined by people like David Cameron, but also, paradoxically, by British socialists like Owen Jones – will equally fail to sustain the Union. Instead, perhaps it’s time to see if a new, progressive and inclusive Britishness – stimulated by an empowered Scotland – can emerge from a process of international cooperation and solidarity between the independent peoples of these islands.

Know your place – Gaelic and Elements of the Left

By Angus MacLeod – Born in Inverness, Angus is a writer and PhD researcher in Gaelic literature at the University of Glasgow.

There is a pernicious view abroad amongst elements of the Scottish Left that Gaelic, its promotion and the promotion of equality for Gaels, are linked to essentialism, to blood-and-soil irrationality, in short to the politics of reaction. This was encapsulated a while ago in a blog post which appeared on the Radical Independence Dumfries and Galloway blog, and was promoted on the RIC Facebook page, equating Network Rail’s Gaelic signage policy with mythologizing and racism. Or as George Galloway recently asked in reference to the language “What is this Alba? […] Most highlanders speak English. 99% of Scots are not highlanders. This madness is going too far”. A summary of his comments can be seen on a post at An Sionnach Fionn’s blog ‘Galloway to the Gaels: You are a nonpeople’. This is not to blame the Left in general for the efforts of a few, but it is necessary to confront this stream of thought and to show how redundant it really is. Likewise the Radical Independence Convention does great work, but that makes the idiotic contributions of a few even more regrettable.

On one level it is surprising that these views emerge at all – a language whose traditional areas are now characterised by depopulation and economic marginalisation under attack for being associated with the “romantic Right”. But Gaelic outside of these areas, so the story goes, is a language choice of the middle classes; Gaelic is the hobby of those independistas who got a bit too caught up with Braveheart and the petite-bourgeoisie who would like their kids to go to private schools but can’t afford the fees. And as the RIC Dumfries and Galloway article shows, it is the language of those who would like to see Scotland as a mono-ethnic independent nation state.

Gaelic itself uses the word Gael as a marker of linguistic ability, not of ethnicity, nor of heritage, nor place of birth. The mono-ethnic fallacy denies the fact that Gaels are perfectly aware that we are all immigrants. A Gaelic lullaby from Dunvegan reminded the MacLeods that their ancestors came from Scandinavia. MacDonalds and Campbells both claimed descent from mythological Irishmen; thus agreeing on something, and on it goes. Therefore when a Gael speaks of the Gaels, they are describing a linguistic community, with all that goes with it, as opposed to an exclusive ethnicity.

Much of the rhetoric deployed by the language’s accusers is based on an effort to split the language equality movement into a Scots camp and a Gaelic camp. But Gaelic’s increasing prominence strikes a blow against the unthinking monolingualism of much of Scottish society. Language learning is not a zero sum gain, as the efforts of Gaelic language activists opens doors for Scots language activists and visa versa. Sorley MacLean and Hugh MacDiarmid knew this. The organisers of the International Languages of Scotland Conferences knew this. And modern activists know this too.

It’s a sign of this blow against a monolingual orthodoxy that folk are shoggled when they see Gaelic in an unexpected place: in the RIC blogpost it was Lockerbie train station. Getting people to think about language and its history should only be a good thing, if people would welcome minority languages rather than wishing for their speakers to literally know their place. In Gaeldom’s case, this place is generally rural areas in the Highlands and Islands, the further North and West the better, though best if you avoid Caithness.

Confronted with a minority language the folk in question suddenly fall back on the “Ah, but all my forebears and those of the surrounding community were Scots speakers, you see.” You can also insert Pictish, Brythonic or Norse too, if you please. This does of course bring us back to the question of “Who is it that’s linking language with blood and soil?” Of course such critics are rarely if ever Scots speakers or activists themselves; Scots is just their chosen tool to promote monolingualism outside of the literary realm. As I’ve highlighted, this divide and rule approach denies the role of Gaels and Scots-speakers in promoting each other’s languages — just look at the Tobar an Dualchais/ Kist o’ Riches project.

The Gaelic Act, which aims to afford Gaelic equality of esteem with English throughout Scotland, challenges the monolingualism of the newly emerging Scottish state, inherited from the British state, enforced by the education system after 1872. Gaels should not be confined to the Highlands and Islands nor to the cultural realm, and the logical consequence of this is that Gaelic becomes more visible outside of its traditional areas. There is a bizarre myth that Gaelic’s increasing prominence is solely due to the SNP government. Unfounded on reality, this ignores that the SNP have generally continued the approach of the Lib-Lab administration, endorsed by the Parliament as a whole. This myth stems more from the effort of social scientists, both academic and armchair, to characterise the Scottish Independence movement in the terms of a traditional nationalist movement, as opposed to looking at it in its unprecedented reality.

Amongst the metropolitan Left Gaelic is at best an irrelevance. What is the point in learning or using a language with 58,000 speakers when capitalism is destabilising the Middle East and destroying the environment. Life is too short. And yet the majority of the most endangered cultures are in those areas of the world which are the most exploited economically. Language activists from minorities work with one another, sharing best practice and sending their solidarity and support to their counterparts overseas. The economic processes which exploited the Gàidhealtachd, consolidated the power of the landowners and still sends its young people to the cities for work, housing and opportunity is the same process wreaking havoc elsewhere. If you want to get an understanding of the experience of those marginalised by economic exploitation, then a genuine engagement with an exploited culture close to home, is in terms of sheer practicality, a good place to start.

The role of Gaels in left-wing culture and the emergence of the home rule movement and Labour movement is also a reason for engaging with the language. In Sorley MacLean’s work you see the choices faced by socialists during the Spanish Civil War; the commitment to the fight against Fascism in World War II and his disillusionment with Stalinism after the Warsaw Uprising. MacLean’s views were by no means anomalous amongst later Gaelic writers. Another example is Duncan Livingstone who wrote a multilingual poem from a grieving widow’s perspective on the Sharpeville Massacre in Apartheid South Africa. Urban Gaels and their descendants were to be found at the heart of the radical movements in the major cities and their tradition of radicalism in rural areas remains an inspiration, to those who are aware of it.

Gaeldom is not without its own faults. Efforts to remain “apolitical”, as if that were possible, or to raise the language’s status, led to forelock-tugging recognition-chasing by Gaelic bodies in the past. Whilst this is regrettable it is a consequence of the marginalisation of the culture and the language. To criticise modern Gaelic promotion for that is like criticising the Gaelic language for the Highland regiments and ignoring the role of the state and private capital in exploiting Highland communities; or like criticising Gaelic culture for being parochial, because elements of it were appropriated, commoditised and utilised for the political goals of others.

And that brings us back to the Braveheart crowd, the fact that some self-styled Ultra-Nationalists occasionally attempt to associate themselves with the language, is certainly not the fault of the Gaelic language and its community. Whilst it would appear that some of this crowd see themselves as post-colonialists, they are certainly nowhere to be seen in Gaelic life in general, thankfully. For them the language is a feather for their oxygen-restricting bonnet, at best.

It was the Tory knight of the realm Hugh Trevor-Roper who asserted the inauthenticity of much of Gaelic culture, in the aftermath of the 1979 devolution referendum: ideas which have spread far outside of academic circles. The choice faced by the minority culture is often to strive for authenticity and be labelled parochial; or to remediate their traditions and be labelled inauthentic. That, surely, reveals some of the power relations at work between a majority and minority culture. Gaelic has made it into the 21st Century, despite the best efforts of its high-placed opponents. That in itself is a testimony to the long struggle of the Gaels against prejudice and inequality. Let us all celebrate it, along with Scots, and all of Scotland’s languages by engaging with them in whatever capacity we can and working together for a more equal future for Scotland’s linguistic communities.

Unionist Reductionism

By Stephen Bowman

Better Together are taking all this independence malarkey a little too seriously. That’s to say, they’re overemphasising the importance of Scotland’s constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK. This is something that they do while complaining that the SNP obsesses over constitutional change at the expense of ‘more important’ issues, like health and education. Yet, no doubt deliberately, they singularly fail to acknowledge the contradiction in arguing that constitutional change is unimportant while also predicting that at an independent future would be dangerously different and uncertain. On the occasions that they take the latter approach, they’re not only exaggerating the future importance of the UK, but they’re also overegging the importance of its past.

How many times have we heard a figure from Better Together remind us of the great things that Scotland has achieved as part of the Union? These typically include the National Health Service and Britain’s war against Nazi Germany. Then only yesterday, at the Scottish Women’s Convention in Glasgow, Labour’s Margaret Curran said that women’s rights have been developed and protected by people cooperating across the UK. Specifically she said, ‘How did we achieve these changes? We did it with women working together across the UK.’ This simplistically implies that women gained improvements to their rights because of the existence of the UK, not because of any other historical reasons. It’s a step away from saying something like ‘women got the vote because of the UK’, which seems to imply that women – or Scottish women, at any rate – wouldn’t have gotten the vote if Scotland had been separate. Well no. Women in the UK got the vote because of a variety of reasons, most of which had little to say on the merits of Scottish independence, and many of which may have been true in or out of the UK. Likewise, what’s to say that an independent Scotland wouldn’t have established a National Health Service of its own, having also just participated in a war against fascism? Yes, both are great British achievements, but they are great not because they are British.

Equally, there’s no point using history to beef up arguments in favour of independence. William Wallace may well have voted Yes if he was alive in September 2014, but he probably would’ve just as quickly lopped off Alistair Darling’s head. Neither is there any point in deploying counter-factual history to argue that things would’ve been different in the past had Scotland been independent. Some things may well have been – for example, perhaps an independent socially democratic Scotland would have taken a more redistributive approach to North Sea oil revenues – but other things would likely have been the same, including a conservative opposition to giving women the vote. The point is, the past is in the past, and it’s best left there. It is indeed a foreign country and is foreign to Scotland as much it is to the UK.

To be fair, the Yes campaign generally refrains from using historical arguments. Its message is one of hope for the future and focuses on the opportunity that independence offers to improve the lives of as many people as possible. It might work, or it might not. Better Together, however, seem to have few positive things to say about Scotland’s future. For them, simply to say that Scotland and the UK are ‘Better Together’ is enough. We were Better Together in the past, and so we’ll be Better Together in the future. Yet this reductionist argument is little more than British nationalism, and provides no legitimate reason to vote No in September. Better Together can’t have it both ways. If independence won’t solve all of Scotland’s problems – and it probably won’t – then neither is the UK uniquely responsible for all that is good about the country.