A few warnings first: this post will basically be me trying to get all my thoughts on the subject of Scottish independence out of my head and onto virtual paper where hopefully they’ll look less contradictory and confusing. It’ll be way too long, and more political than I usually like to get here. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion, just working through my own thoughts, as the title of my blog implies. Ignoring them is not only possible, it is probably wise – especially if you have a distaste for idealistic left-wing ramblings.
I was born in Scotland and have lived here all my life. From my grandmother back, my mum’s ancestry (of which she has made impressively thorough maps) is almost entirely Scottish. But my parents and brother were born in England and we all have English accents – though in an unsuccessful attempt to fit in at primary school I adopted a weird fake Scottish accent which has now become just as natural to me. (Is that weird? Subject for another blog in the “my messed up brain” series, perhaps.)
Some people tell me that all this obviously means I’m Scottish, others tell me it means I’m English, but these assertions always leave me utterly baffled. What do these words mean? If defining them involves feeding numerous factors through complex equations that vary depending on who you ask, what’s the point of trying to force people into such rigid categories in the first place? Why should they have any relevance to anyone, ever?
So I’ve never felt any real sense of identification with either Scotland or England. Not patriotism, certainly – not even that pervasive jokey kind of patriotism which for English people is something along the lines of “It’s so funny how we’re only happy when we’re grumbling about things! Have a lovely cup of tea, that’ll make everything better! Stiff upper lip, pip pip!” and for Scottish people goes something like “It’s so funny how much more gritty and down-to-earth we are than those English pansies! Aye, we like tae go an’ get pished, ma son. Freeeeedoooom!”
My sense of outsiderhood is not something I think would be fixed by an independent Scotland. Which is fine, it’s the way I am. But typing all that out does help reinforce my conviction that my views are not influenced by any hidden undercurrent of national identity. As someone who’s still unable to get his head around why anything short of a complete open borders policy towards the entire world isn’t considered fundamentally racist, I think it’s safe to say I don’t quite get the concept of nations.
As such, I hate the idea of siding with a party with “national” in its name. It makes me very wary. I spent a while before the last election poring over the SNP’s manifesto, looking for suspicious parallels to the policies of the BNP (Britain’s favourite far-right “we’re not racist but ha just kidding we are in fact massively racist” political party). Even after reading all the SNP’s pleasant sounding policies and seeing them described on Wikipedia as a “centre-left” party, I still don’t quite feel comfortable with that N in their name. But I’ve managed to dismiss this as a largely irrational bias and vote for them a couple of times – more due to a lack of other desirable options than anything else. The question of Scottish independence didn’t enter much into this decision, as I knew that question would be asked via a separate referendum, so a vote for the SNP was not in itself a vote for independence.
But the referendum is coming, and I’ve been trying to get to grips with the question. Should Scotland break apart from the UK and become independent? I used to think the answer was obvious: no. But as with many obvious answers, I hadn’t really bothered to examine it. Now I’m not so sure. On closer inspection, a lot of the pro-union opinions I’ve heard come across as just as nationalistic as the pro-independence opinions – they’re merely nationalistic about the UK rather than about Scotland. “Look at our great nation, together we can do anything! Look at all these great things we’ve done together! You’re not seriously suggesting that anything could be better than this?”
But if anything is justification for devolving power, surely it’s the clear, long term split in political inclinations between the population of Scotland and the population of England. A far greater proportion of Scottish people vote for left-wing parties, to the point that the Conservatives often come in fourth place overall here (behind the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems, all relatively left-wing parties), even while they come first in England. The current Scottish parliament (opened in 1999, with limited powers and still beholden to the UK government on many matters) is a battlefield primarily between Labour and the SNP, both parties whose basic political ideologies (if not always their methods) are generally okay by me.
So maybe my attraction to Scottish independence is a selfish thing. It would certainly be nice to live somewhere where I could open a paper and read about politicians having mature debates about nuanced, progressive issues, rather than depressingly dredging up old ones that should have been put to bed decades ago with a simple “well, duh”. (Two recent examples: “Should we be paying taxes to help people who are disabled or sick?” and “Should gay people have the same rights as straight people?”) On the other hand, it might feel like throwing the rest of the UK to the Tories, which I would feel guilty about. But should I? If the majority of people in England really do want to keep electing Tory governments, I guess they should have the right to. And if the majority of people in Scotland want to move in a different direction, shouldn’t they have the right to do that too? Maybe Scotland and England’s political destinies should not be tied together as closely as they are now.
I’ve heard conflicting soundbites about Scotland’s ability to survive as an independent economy – some say it relies on subsidies from the rest of the UK, others claim it more than pays its share. It’s frustrating not to know enough about economics to be able to sort the truth from the lies, but honestly things would inevitably change anyway. I don’t think anyone knows what’ll happen to the Scottish and UK economies if this split happens; especially following recent world events I’m extremely unconvinced that economists ever truly know what they’re talking about. But surely the absolute most important question a democratic society can ask is “Does our government fairly represent the people?”, and everything else must follow from there – it doesn’t matter how good the economy is if the government wasn’t elected fairly. Maybe this is an embarrassingly naive thing to say, but economies ought to be shaped to serve the needs of the people, rather than holding them hostage and preventing them from ever changing the political power structure.
My current leaning towards independence comes with so many caveats that it might not count as support as such. I’ll certainly be trying to process all the rational arguments for and against in the lead-up to the referendum, while at the same time trying to filter out the romanticisation, scaremongering and pseudo-intellectual white noise that makes up the majority of the “debate” from both sides. I hope anyone with a say in the matter will join me in doing so.