Posts Tagged independence

Communication breakdown

We seem to have started something… yes, it’s another guest post, this time from Doug Daniel, responding to Tom Harris’s response to Pete Wishart’s original post on an all-party campaign for independence.  Doug Daniel is a senior software developer and (failed) musician from Aberdeen.  He wants Scotland to be independent, and he very occasionally blogs here, but only when he can be bothered.

I want Scottish independence. I’ve been a supporter of Scottish independence ever since I was old enough to understand that Scotland did not enjoy the same nation status as “normal” countries (in other words, I can’t remember not wanting independence), and I’ve been a member of the SNP since 2007, when the idea of Scottish voters plumping for independence suddenly seemed a realistic prospect.

That doesn’t mean I’m a dyed-in-the-wool SNP voter (I’ve actually voted for four of the five parties currently represented in Holyrood – I’ll let you guess who the odd one out is) and throughout my life I like to think I’ve taken the time to try to understand why there are many people in Scotland who do not think the same way as I do. I understand them, but I don’t agree with them. So why does it feel like the majority of those who favour the union have never afforded the same respect to those who do want independence?

We see politicians from the three unionist parties talking of independence as “the SNP’s separatist agenda” (so what’s the Green and socialist agendas?), as if it was some evil plan concocted by the wicked overlord Alex Salmond and his cabinet henchmen, the aim of which we will not find out until we’ve been duped into voting for it. By then it will be too late, and we’ll suddenly realise that we’ve been strung along the whole time – it was never about creating a better nation after all, it was just about… Well, I have no idea.

Digging a big trench along the border and erecting a big fence to keep everyone out so Scotland remains isolated from the world? Turning Scotland into some sort of despotic dictatorship, putting Irn Bru in the taps, forcing everyone to eat cholestoral* and listen to The Corries on a loop, while using the oil money to make a big, gold statue of Emperor Salmond? Who knows. I suspect those that use such words don’t know either – they just like the negative connotations of the words “separatist” and “agenda” and use them accordingly.

And this is the problem. When unionists are “fighting” against independence, on the most part I don’t believe they actually understand what they’re fighting against. There seems to be a sense that all those who seek independence care about is getting independence, purely for the sake of getting it. Or perhaps that nationalists think that the second Scotland votes for it, the pavements will be paved with gold, we’ll all be millionaires, and all our social ills will magically disappear. They don’t seem to have considered the possibility that people perhaps view independence as a method for making Scotland better, rather than being the secret ingredient itself.

I’m not sure why this is. Obviously, it’s easy to be against something if you’ve made no effort to understand it, in fact this ignorance is almost as much a part of human nature as resistance to change.

The greatest album ever recorded (this is a scientific fact) has a song titled “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart”, and similarly I do wonder if some unionists subconsciously feel that doubts might start to creep in if they so much as acknowledged that independence might not be the absurd notion they purport it to be. Others have perhaps just listened to the media hype for so long that they feel there is no need to look at the pros and cons of both sides for themselves, assuming that it has already been demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, that the (supposed) benefits of the union outweigh any minor improvements independence might bring. I dare say there are some in the political class that quite simply view independence as a threat to career progression.

One excuse I’ve noticed being used increasingly is that unionists don’t view the constitutional question as being very important, implying that they don’t see the need to waste time thinking about it. Those who say this would do well to reassess the situation, because like it or not, there is going to be a referendum in this parliamentary session, so they might need to start thinking about it pretty soon. Besides, one thing the polls constantly show us is that less and less Scots are happy with the status quo, so the constitutional question would need to be answered, even if there was no referendum on the horizon.

I want the forthcoming debate on the constitution to be well argued on both sides. I don’t want people to vote for independence just because of a dearth of reasoned arguments on the other side, just as I don’t want people to stick with the union purely because all they hear are completely unfounded horror stories about what independence will do to Scotland.

I want the outcome of the referendum to be the result of both (or all three?) sides arguing their cases succinctly, and the public deciding which option sounds like the best way forward for the country. I don’t see that happening while many (most?) of a unionist persuasion refuse to try to understand why so many people want independence, other than perhaps pithily putting it down to watching Braveheart a few too many times and making references to shortbread tins. If you don’t make an effort to understand your opposition, how can you properly address their points?

So my question to these supporters of the union is this: why do you persistantly fail to understand why many people in Scotland want independence?

* (see I’m Alan Partridge series 2 episode 5)

Tags: , , ,

EXCLUSIVE: Tom Harris, calling all parties to the unionist cause

In yet another exclusive guestpost for Better Nation, Labour leadership contender, Tom Harris MP, responds to Pete Wishart’s call with one of his own – and he doesn’t pull his punches. 

What are the chances of an all-party campaign for “No to Independence”?

Well practically zilch, if we are to listen to Pete Wishart, writing on this site on Friday.

It would seem that he and the SNP have set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of separatism, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the nationalist side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of Scotland continuing as part of the UK…?

You get the idea. Such is the arrogance of the SNP post their impressive Holyrood victory in May, that they are filled with scorn for anyone so dim-witted as to disagree with the central driving force within Pete’s own party.

Labour, writes Pete in that patronising tone that might have well been patented by the SNP, has a “proud tradition” when it comes to constitutional change. Well, that’s nice of him, eh? Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of “free thinking” on Scotland’s constitutional future, he writes, patting Wendy Alexander and Jack McConnell on the head and offering them a lump of sugar. So why the poverty of thinking on the issue now?

Well, Pete, I have the answer to that one: it’s because SLA achieved their aim. Remember that? Remember when the Scottish Parliament was opened in 1999? Come on, it must at least ring a bell!

In calling for Labour Party members to support a pro-independence campaign, Pete ignores the fact that there are many, many more SNP voters who support the Union than there are Labour voters who support independence. And yes, Pete, you’re right that no-one joined the Labour Party to protect the Union; they’re a bit more concerned about the economy, poverty, inequality and progress – you know, important stuff. None of these issues is at the top of SNP members’ list of priorities – without their obsession on constitutional issues, they have no guiding mission.

That’s the difference between the politics of identity and the politics of progress.

Labour and all the other unionist parties, says Pete, risk irrelevance in a “new Independent Scotland” (although he doesn’t quite explain what is “new” about turning the political clock back 300 years, but I’ll let that one go) by not getting on board the independence bus now.

Do you see what he’s doing here? In the week that the SNP government were obliged to talk about what they’re most uncomfortable talking about – budgets, services, the economy – Pete wants us all to move back on to the nationalists’ ground – the constitution. Just as the media and much of Scottish business are beginning to suspect that the future being shaped by Alex Salmond isn’t quite as rosy as they had been led to believe, Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the “inevitability” of independence. I wonder why?

To Pete (and, I assume, his attitude is entirely typical of his fellow SNP members), everyone of all parties and of none accepts that independence is as right as it is inevitable, but that only the SNP are honest enough to admit it.  Nationalists are true and honourable, unionists are dishonourable and base.  We’re all nationalists, if only we were brave enough to look inside ourselves and admit it.

The alternative – that some Scots genuinely believe that we’re better off in the UK than out of it – isn’t even considered by him as a possible alternative.

Memo to Pete: you’re wrong. Prepare for a fight.

Tags: , , , , ,

EXCLUSIVE from Pete Wishart MP: Calling all parties to the independence cause

On the eve of the UK Labour party conference, Pete Wishart MP writes exclusively for Better Nation, calling all parties – and Labour in particular – to the independence cause.  Pete is SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire and is currently the SNP’s Westminster spokesperson for the constitution, home affairs, culture, media and sport and international development. 

What’s the chances of an all party campaign for “Yes to Independence”?  Well practically zilch, if we were to listen to the various spokespeople from the Scottish branches of the UK parties.  It would seem that they have collectively set themselves up in a bizarre contest to be the keenest defenders of the Union, and in that defence they will be steadfast. But why have they allowed themselves to be so entrenched on the Union side of the debate, and is there any prospect whatsoever of them even entertaining the notion of an Independent Scotland?

Let’s forget about the Tories just now, even with the contradictory prospect of an independent Scottish “Tory” party in a dependent Scotland, they will be the principle Union cheer leaders.  And what about the Liberals?  Well, they seem to be almost schizophrenic in their approach to the coming referendum with full home rule one minute then this curious Moore/Alexander “muscular unionism” the next.

No, I think it is to Labour that we must primarily look for some sort of encouragement in a meaningful cross party constitutional debate.

There is absolutely no doubt that many in Labour care passionately about the Union, but as Kenny Farquhason recently correctly pointed out, people don’t sign up to the Labour party to defend the Union! They tend to join for much loftier motives like achieving social justice or progressing equality issues. Surely, from the most unreconstructed old socialist to the most convinced right wing Blairite, it would have to be agreed that these fine intentions could be achieved in an independent Scotland?

There are signs, though, that perhaps a more relaxed perspective on progressive constitutional change is starting to emerge.  Former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, now advocates a devo max model of full fiscal autonomy – even George Foulkes made an interesting intervention on the same side a few months ago.  Furthermore, if you rake through the new Labour think-blog, Labour Hame, you can find any number of interesting contributions by some of their more progressive and forward thinkers.  There is a debate emerging in the Labour party and that must be welcomed.

And Labour has a proud tradition on constitutional change. In the 80s, Scottish Labour Action was an excellent example of free thinking on Scotland’s constitutional future. Compare the dynamism of SLA with the poverty of thinking on the Calman Commission and we see what Labour is missing in its internal constitutional debate.

Who knows, there may even be a group within Labour’s constituency that might be prepared to join a cross party campaign for independence?  I know that might sound almost deluded given what their politicians say, but remember in last year’s constitutional referendum (for AV) Labour had for and against campaigns, so why not in this referendum? Certainly a pro-devo max group must now be likely given the contributions from some of Labour’s senior figures.

The alternative is to be lumped in with the Tories, under the leadership of Billy Connolly, or some other Unionist celebrity, in a destructive “no” campaign. Investing so heavily in a doomed “no” campaign would see them increasingly irrelevant in a new, Independent Scotland.  Having a foot in more than one camp would allow the Labour Party to walk away from the referendum result in a much better place.

And what are they arguing against?  What is clear is that the Labour position against Independence has moved on but is still in need of further revision.  The “too wee too poor” arguments seem to have been nuanced recently, having been replaced by a sort of “better together” generality. But other than their intense dislike of us in the SNP, and an almost endearing attachment to the unitary UK state, I genuinely don’t know why Labour are so determined to oppose Independence.

We are in the process of shaping our nation for the century ahead and it deserves a better response than we have had thus far from the Labour Party.  Labour should at least have some sort of meaningful debate about their constitutional options before throwing themselves into a “no” campaign so readily and so enthusiastically.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Pete Wishart MP: Proud to be British in an Independent Scotland

Being technologically challenged, I don’t know how to post this as being from a “guest”.  Hopefully one of the boys will appear at some point and sort it…. meantime, not from the Burd but from someone much more eminent and sensible, Pete Wishart.  Pete is the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire and is also the SNP Westminster spokesperson on all things constitutional, cultural and related to media, international development, home affairs and sport.  You can follow him on Twitter @PeteWishart.

Probably one of the most passionate debates we’re going to have in the run up to the referendum will be around the whole idea of identity and Britishness. Like many proud nationalists I have struggled with the idea of being British and have never described myself as such. But what will happen to the whole concept as Scotland moves towards independence and can the idea make a comeback and even become respectable in nationalist circles?

Firstly, I suppose Britishness is as much about geography as it is about identity and history. Coming from Perth in the northern part of the island of Greater Britain I am as much British as someone from Stockholm is Scandinavian.

It’s when we try and add the other bits that we start to get into the difficulties. If Britishness is to work as a cultural idea a shared story as well as a shared geography has to be constructed. And that’s the hard part. No one has ever come up with a convincing definition of Britishness because there probably isn’t one. And the concept has to be almost constantly rewritten – remember Gordon Brown’s clumsy and excruciating attempt and Michael Portillo’s recent nonsense about “anti-fanaticism”? Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is, hence the mom and apple pie attributes usually associated with Britishness when people are asked to define it.

But there is absolutely no doubt that people indeed do feel and identify themselves as British, even in Scotland. For me Britishness is so much more than the usual confused descriptions. For me cultural Britishness isn’t one thing but is the sum of the 300 years journey that we have enjoyed and endured on this island. It is what we have achieved and secured together in this partnership. It is about the great historic cultural achievements from the industrial revolution to our great rock and pop bands. It is about pride in our victories in the wars we fought together and the collective sense of shame in our historic crimes of colonialism and slavery. Britishness is in fact the social union, and being British belongs as much to me as a proud Scottish nationalist and Scottish patriot as it does to anyone from England.

Our gripe then isn’t with cultural Britishness, the social union, but with the current political arrangements within the United Kingdom. As civic nationalists we want the powers to grow our economy and make our own specific international contribution. We want to complete the powers of our Parliament and take responsibility for our own affairs. We have no issues with the past and our British inheritance is a crucial part of our own Scottish story.

Britishness will exist in Scotland long after we become independent. In fact I think that it could well be enhanced with independence. With independence we will get the opportunity to define a new Britishness, one based on equality and mutual respect. Britishness will still be all about our shared history and culture but it can also be about the new positive relationship we will seek to build.

I would also be happy to see any number of shared institutions being called British and it could and should be the brand name of our new enhanced and equal 21st century partnership. Who knows maybe independence can give Britishness a new lease of life.

So there you go, that’s me, British and proud of it in an independent Scotland.

Tags: , , ,