Second time around

Between March 2013 and September 2014 I wrote a number of blog posts in support of independence. It was an eighteen-month examination of my own very personal thoughts and feelings on the subject, culminating in the first referendum.

Eight years on much has changed, but much also remains the same, not least my absolute belief that Scotland must take her future in her own hands. So I’m reposting these pieces with a little commentary where appropriate. Do please share them if you find them fortifying, or think they might help to bring anyone across to Yes this time around.

SMALL NATION (first published 29 March 2013)

I sat next to our local MSP at a dinner on Wednesday night. It was a fund-raiser for the upkeep of Dunkeld Cathedral, just across the river from where I live. The MSP happens to be John Swinney, Scotland’s Finance Secretary. He’s charming and modest, a man of deep conviction and, for all his high office, a good servant of his constituency. I couldn’t help wondering how often George Osborne’s constituents find themselves sitting next to their MP at local events.

We had the inevitable conversation, during which he seemed quietly confident that things are not as the pollsters portray them, citing the SNP landslide in 2011 as evidence of the fact that people often don’t reveal, or perhaps even know, their real intentions until polling day. He was certainly in the right place to make such an assertion: on that occasion the SNP took 61 per cent of the vote in our area.

He also spoke with satisfaction of the findings of the Fiscal Commission, the four wise men, including Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who have pronounced that by international standards Scotland is a wealthy and productive country, and that there’s no doubt it has the potential to be a successful independent nation.

Which is all very well if you’re happy to be relegated to the international standing of a country like Denmark, exposed to the vagaries of an economy one-tenth of the size of the UK’s, and susceptible to the internal divisions that may arise once the focus of opposition no longer lies across the Tweed. So run some of the counter-arguments. And so the debate will continue for the next 18 months.

I’m neither a politician nor an economist, and I know that each side will deploy the figures and arguments that best serve its cause. As one of the great uninformed, I tend to be swayed by the last convincing argument I’ve heard. But on this occasion, I find myself reacting on a more visceral level.

Perhaps it’s something hereditary: my great-great-uncle, RB Cunninghame Graham, about whom I’ve written before, was a Scottish laird of ancient lineage who first, along with Keir Hardie, pioneered socialism in Britain and was a founder of the British Labour Party; then became President of the Scottish Home Rule Association, in 1928, and finally Honorary President of the Scottish National Party, when it was formed in 1934.

His views at the time included the notion that Scotland is “a distinctive nation” which suffers from being “a mere appendage to the predominant partner.” “We want a renaissance,” he went on, “a re-birth of Scottish literature, art and sentiment. We can only induce these things by agitating for national self-government.”

Today he might have expressed it slightly differently, using terms such as ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. But this is the level on which I respond and, semantics aside, feel myself drawn by a momentous sense of possibility. While, like most Scots I know, I have absolutely no reason to hold anything against the ‘predominant partner’, I can’t ignore the fact that Scotland is a very different place to England in so many ways – economically, socially, culturally, internationally; and the chance for it to reassert that difference, freely and wholeheartedly, to walk in the world as a fully self-determining, sovereign nation seems to me to represent the greatest and most thrilling opportunity of our lifetimes.

Since returning to Scotland in 1990, I’ve been acutely aware of the bad story that continues to infect the Scottish psyche, the story of military defeat and occupation, of clearance and emigration, of poverty and dependency, of industrial decline and low economic output, of sectarianism, alcoholism, chronic bad health and sporting failure.

Of course, that story is less than half of it, and it’s only about the last 300 years, the period of political union. But for too long it has had a disproportionate hold on people. As someone who’s generally preoccupied with the power of stories, I can’t help thinking that independence would allow us to start telling a new story, in a way that would be profoundly energising, liberating and esteem-giving – with all the material benefits that would consequently flow. Certainly the idea that Scotland, alone of small countries in Europe, should be incapable of managing its own affairs, seems far-fetched.

I have no intention of following my great-great-uncle into politics, but perhaps what I have inherited is his romanticism; as well as being a politician he was also a dreamer, an adventurer and incurable champion of underdogs. As time goes on I realise that this for me is deeply, perhaps even irrationally, a matter of the heart. And I know I’m not alone. According to my dinner companion, even the normally imperturbable Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was ‘in pieces’ at the formal signing of the treaty which sets the referendum date, last week in Edinburgh.

Whatever one may think, this is an extraordinary moment in which to be living in Scotland. The world will be watching us.

Update 4 February 2021: how much more we know now about what to expect from Westminster and the mainstream media in the months ahead; how much better informed we are now about the true extent of Scotland’s resources – thanks in part to publications such as Scotland The Brief which I’ve found invaluable in making the economic case; how much more urgent now is the need to break loose – these days an absolute imperative rather than merely an aspiration; and most importantly, how much more deeply has that new story of a confident, progressive Scotland taken root in people’s minds. The world is still watching, now more intently than ever.

4 thoughts on “Second time around

  1. First, I loved your blog posts during the run up to the referendum in 2014. Their tone was always respectful and measured even though your passion for independence was woven through like a thread of gold.

    Second, a comment on the final sentence of your comment:

    Another thing which has changed is Europe’s attitude to Scotland and the possibility of independence. Whereas in 2013, Scottish independence was viewed at best with neutrality and more often than not with hostile scepticism, now there are a number of European politicians who are openly welcoming the idea.

    The thing that has not changed is the opponents of independence falsely claiming that Spain would not recognise an independent Scotland and would veto Scotland’s rejoining the EU. Both the previous Spanish government under Rajoy (PP) and the current one under Sánchez & Iglesias (PSOE/UP) have been very clear that Scottish Independence is an internal matter for the UK and that they will accept any outcome gained through legal process.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A lovely piece Jamie. I also have great respect for John Swinney – but I am deeply disappointed by the SNPs recent record on the environment – very low standards for fish farms causing the death of millions of salmon and appalling pollution in pristine places like the Firth of Lorne – terrible beaver policy resulting in widespread shooting of the animals across Tayside. I hope this is not what the majority of the Scottish people want? I can separate SNP from Indy in my mind of course but it is upsetting nevertheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel that I can add some context to Louise’s criticism of the SNPs record on environment.
    The deaths of farmed salmon from lice infestation and their escapes into the west coast sea lochs are by no means the worst aspect of salmon farming.It is the impact of these farms on native salmon and sea trout populations which have been decimated since salmon farms began in the 1970s. Farmed salmon are by volume and revenue the biggest food export Scotland has and no political party has dared to limit or regulate them. Their existence on such a scale is a national shame,they are not even owned by Scottish companies.Demand is driven by supermarkets the only thing we can do is stop eating the disgusting stuff.
    The current Tayside beavers were introduced illegally and in my view unwisely in proximity to the most agriculturally productive area of Perthshire they were shot on sight indiscriminatly for years,this had little impact on the population other than causing it to spread up and down the Tay catchment . This sort of thing happens throughout Europe when species such as bear or wolf are introduced or migrate into areas of grazing or agricultural value,they are shot,trapped or poisoned despite protective legislation.
    The lesson is to only permit introductions after thorough consultation with local people ,research and planning, as they did in Knapdale. Otherwise you are prejudicing animal welfare. The Scottish government decided to offer a degree of protection to beavers by licensing their cull where environmental or agricultural damage is proven. They do this for many other species which have no natural predators, Since then the beaver population continues to thrive and colonise the sort of habitats where they can increase biodiversity, they were never going to do this on rich agricultural land or riparian woodlands of the middle reaches of the Tay.
    The SNP government has in my view taken more environmental initiatives than its predecessors in the last 10 years.Its land reform agenda had the environment at its core,its targets for green energy and capture are being met and they want to look good at the COP 21 conference in Glasgow this year. The findings of the recent working parties on grouse moor and deer management are driven by carbon capture and look like being implemented robustly(note that this will require fatal management of deer so if you are of a nervous disposition look away now!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that one moment we are discussing independence, then the conversation slides into the environment. While in no way denigrating environmental issues, I suggest that perhaps the greatest threat to independence is to have individual indy supporters break into their favourite issues and plug them relentlessly (in an indy context). We are fighting a determined, powerful and well financed enemy. Let us bury/avoid our differences for now and get independence. Then, when it matters, we can sort out democratically what we want to do with our country.

    Liked by 1 person

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