How do I explain to my English friends why I feel as I do about Scottish independence?
Writing this on the day when that most unlikely of Westminster triumvirates declared that they’re closing the door on possible monetary union, the wish to separate might seem more irrational than ever. Yet while I’m conscious that what I believe doesn’t come from an entirely rational place, I still need to be able to provide an answer that offers something more than the purely visceral for intelligent people whose opinions I respect.
I keep finding parallels in my work. The one that presents itself now is that of finding one’s voice – a subject I’ve written about here before. I’ve experienced it myself, and seen it often in others I’ve worked with: there comes a point in life when it begins to feel important to become the person that you want to be, rather than the person you believe others want you to be. The timing varies from person to person but when it strikes it can feel momentous and consuming, as if the governing pulse of one’s life is changing frequency.
This seems to me very much akin to what is happening here. Scotland – or rather those in it who favour independence – no longer wishes to sound like the country others want it to, but is ready to find its own unique voice and the story that goes with it. The ‘others’ in this case are mainly those who espouse the No campaign, with the Westminster cohort at their centre, still setting part of Scotland’s agenda, still influencing the story Scotland tells the world today.
Another word for finding one’s voice is individuation, the cornerstone of Carl Jung’s philosophy. He described it as the process of self-realisation, the discovery and experience of meaning and purpose in life; the means by which one finds oneself and becomes who one really is. Paradoxically, individuation is significant in the context of relationships. A mature relationship is one in which both parties see themselves fully as masters of their own destiny. They are free to follow their own agendas as much or little as they please, they approach the necessary compromises from a position of equality, and they are together by choice.
This is not the case at the moment in the relationship between Scotland and England because in certain respects Scotland remains subordinate and does not enjoy, indeed hasn’t yet found, its own full voice. One could argue that it may never truly do so till it is sovereign and free, like every other European country, to set its own policies, levy its own taxation and engage on its own terms with the rest of the world.
Yet if Scotland can truly individuate, I believe the relationship with its southern neighbour could be better than it has ever been. At that point there will be volition in all aspects of the relationship (which the simple accident of geography determines will never be dissolved), rather than an element, however subtle, of coercion – with all the resentment that that can bring.
For English people, who are already masters of their political destiny, and by virtue of that fact alone the dominant partners in the current relationship, it takes a great deal of empathy to understand how it might feel to be deficient in those things. While I know what many people in England think about Scottish independence, I’m not sure that I know what they feel, whether they have the same emotional investment in retaining the union as many Scots have in dismantling it. But simply put, England is free to be itself in the world, admittedly while towing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with it; yet Scotland, which is very much more than merely the northern annexe of England, is not.
Naturally I have anxieties about independence. For example, I become eligible for my state pension 11 days after the referendum. Any kind of economic debacle would make for an uncomfortable old age. I would also hate to see power falling into the wrong hands with the rise of some kind of rabid nationalism, or worse still sectarianism. But there’s no change without risk, and I believe those risks are slight in comparison to the possible gains.
Ultimately I see independence as an opportunity for Scotland to find its voice, to realise its full potential as a nation, to rediscover the pride and dignity and self-respect that it has lacked in some quarters for so long, to ‘release the tsunami of energy, imagination and creativity’ described by Pete Wishart MP the other day. And it seems to me that any relationship in which that opportunity is not grasped, or denied, is an immature and fundamentally unhealthy one.
I’m not Scottish – and I should say that I don’t feel at all ‘English’ either (if I had to choose a label, it’d be ‘citizen of the world’). Of course, the Scots should choose whatever they want. So I feel unhappy that Carney, the unelected head of the Bank of England, seems to be having such a big effect on things. If I were a Scot, I’d probably feel even more keen to get away from the bossy English!
I’m English, and proud to be so. But I’ve never felt a master of my own political destiny. Neither am I a dominant partner in any relationship of economic or political power. Like the vast majority of English people, I am ruled by a small class of privileged people, most of whom were never elected. I’d rather those battling so hard for Scottish independence used their efforts to make the UK as a whole a better place to live. I can understand entirely why you would want to leave the UK as it stands today. But if you leave, spare a thought for those you leave behind. We are not all the same down here. I have more in common with the people of Mull than I do with those of Westminster, which is barely 50 miles from my door.
Agreed Neil, I was talking in terms of the political entities, rather than the individuals, being masters, or not, of their own destinies (see below). As for English identity and connectedness, that is a whole different issue.
…Please explain where your idea that English people feel that they are masters of their political destiny and we are not comes from ?
Simply that the English electorate can vote in a government that has full sovereign power, whereas ours at the moment merely has devolved powers (while the non-devolved powers are exercised by a coalition government, the majority party of which has only one elected representative north of the border). That may not mean that the English ‘feel’ they are masters of their own destiny, admittedly, but in practical terms they are and we are not.
Ahhhh…. But in fact don’t the ‘Scottish’ actually have both! Best of both worlds!!! Full rights to vote in UK (remember that last two prime ministers were Scottish!) and exert their full sovereign powers, AND ability to vote in local devolved government. Maybe the English -and perhaps an area in the north – should have devolved parliaments as well. Then all together UK can vote in Westminster elections on total UK matters. And each regional area can have their devo max abilities.
See Katrina’s thoughts on a federation (below) Carolyn.
Scotland’s identity problem is that its existing ‘story’ (to the outside world) was basically invented by Robert Louis Stevenson and has little do with contemporary reality. Unfortunately, your new story is being developed by a charlatan opportunist who I wouldn’t trust to make me a cup of tea. I see no romance or emotion in Alex Salmond’s pitch; just a cold political calculation to create an independent socialist state. As for the ‘unlikely Westminster triumvirate’- self-interest rules there as well. If you study voting patterns for the past 50 years in England alone, it is entirely possible that Labour would never govern again if Scotland votes Yes. (By the way, I agree with Neil that the English don’t feel masters of their own destiny as you describe it. My default position comprises contempt and frustration as to how little influence we have over policy).
Jamie, you know how much I am enjoying the Scottish independence debate. As I understand it, the argument, from the English point of view, is not with the English, however much it sometimes feels like a continuation of a battle against the English (1745 as unfinished business). I think it’s more to do with Scottish identity, mixed up with a sense of destiny (stone or no stone) and a desire for autonomy. No sensible partner in any relationship would want the other partner to be unhappy or feel unequal in any way. If Scotland wants to leave the union, the English, who have no say, would not give you an argument and given a lot of shared heritage and genetic DNA, would wish you well. And England will always be Scotland’s neighbour. It’ll be like living next door to your ex. Or if you prefer the patronising patriarchal story, then it’ll be like living next door to your dad. All we want is your happiness. (wry smile)
The Scottish National Party was founded with a dream of Scottish Independence.
It is my belief that in the intervening years the SNP itself no longer wants or believes in independence and therefore we are having a false referendum. SNP has to pretend that it does still believe in independence, because of the name of the party. But what is quite clear to me is that when push comes to shove, true independence is not on their agenda.
I would like to have been asked to choose between two true options.
Remain part of the UK
I dont see these options on offer. And I dont trust the SNP as they dont seem to know what Independence means. When I am asked to vote for true Independence, then I may be persuadable.
But all we are being offered by the SNP is devo max. And this is might be the worst of both worlds. You cannot share a currency with a nation with a different economic agenda. Greece and Germany may be the fate of Scotland and England with such an arrangement. Scotland’s standard of living will plummet as an independent nation. And having the pound will only lead to the same problems the Czech-Slovack divorce had. In any case the UK (rest of) has said no. So its not on the agenda to keep the pound.
Just two examples of many:
An independent nation does not keep another nation’s unelected monarch. An independent nation has its own head of state. I’d like to have been asked this question as part of the debate. Salmond was adamant a few years ago we did not want the queen as head of state.
An independent nation does not assume that it can share a currency with the rest of the United Kingdom. It either goes it alone or joins the Euro.
The sentimental argument is that Scotland should stand on its own too feet which it clearly does not do at the moment. But the practical argument is that the larger European nations are better off as large nations. And that we Scots already have our cake and eat it in so many ways with the Parliament, an SNP government, our own education system, legal system, football and rugby teams. Everyone I talk to asks the same question. What is it that Alex Salmond wants besides the title of Prime Minister of Scotland. As we seem to have most of the attractive things about independence already. And all we’ll get for voting ‘yes’ is the burdens.
And we’ll get devo max even if we vote ‘no’. So we’d get what Salmond wants without having to vote at all.
There is no groundswell of need for independence. I lived in Catalunya for a time and I can really feel the conviction there. There is none of this in Scotland, then I can see/feel.
I voted for the SNP as I want them to be the Scottish Government. But I dont want Independence not, in the present climate. I have not read or heard a single good reason for voting yes. Not in Blossom by Leslie Riddock (an excellent book) or in anything else I have read.
Jamie your arguments are those of a dreaming artist. And are perhaps as persuasive as any. But really, if this what can come up with as sound practical argument, then it probably proves my point. That is really is more about sentiment than sense.
I’d hate to see us sleepwalking our way to something for which there is no real will in the first place. And that is where we are heading with this referendum.
I have to disagree about the groundswell, Ken, I am in touch with many YES groups and they are, unlike Better Together, grass roots and broad based (not as BT and the MSM would have you believe SNP). The BritNats in the NO campaign are desperate to make it about Salmond and the SNP as they have so little to offer a Scotland that remains within the UK that they dare not publish their vision for Scotland following a NO vote.
Oh, Jamie! I wish with all my heart that this was a debate about identity, culture, emotion and ‘voice’. And where you and others are standing, it clearly is.
But where Alex Salmond and the SNP is standing, it is about something altogether less noble. As such, their arguments are unsustainable, and you will swap one identity crisis for another.
For instance, has anyone yet noticed that in this supposedly ‘democratic’ argument, Alex Salmond and his supporters are insisting they can have the £, and that they can remain part of Europe, without either UK voters or European citizens having any say whatever in any of the matters under discussion? Where’s the democracy in that?
Faye Sharp is right – the English, by and large, would be sad but wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a Scottish desire for independence.
But if the SNP wants to foist currency union onto a new arrangement, then the English must be democratically involved in the process.
Ken Cox is also right: Salmond is cynically sleepwalking the Scots towards devo max with promises that can’t be kept and arguments that don’t stand up.
But at least with devo max you get to keep your ‘subordination’ to the old elite. God forbid you should wake up one morning and realise that your new elite is not only as inimical to your dreams as the old; but that now they are your elite, and there’s no dream of separation to sustain you…..
“Faye Sharp is right – the English, by and large, would be sad but wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a Scottish desire for independence.”
Paul, you may be right on that point at the moment. I haven’t seen any surveys or other “evidence” on the point. But assuming that English people – as opposed to our elected politicians – would not want to hamper the Scots today, I wonder how long that mood will last?
I’m worried that as the debate about independence gets louder, and the English are continually told how awful, oppressive, bullying and unwanted they are as partners, then their view of the Scots will be sadly damaged – however the vote goes.
Sadly, I think if all the people of Britain could sit down and discuss this sensibly, we’d end up with a situation that would please us all: huge devolution of power and decision-making to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and – most importantly for me – locally across England. I think the people most firmly under the Westminster yoke are those in places like Cornwall, Newcastle, Birmingham, etc, etc.
I say “sadly” as I really can’t see that kind of discussion happening. As with most relationship break-ups, this one is likely to end with people shouting nonsense at each other.
Neil, if it’s any consolation, I personally don’t know any Scots who are stupid or bjgoted enough to believe that the English per se are ‘awful, oppressive, bullying and unwanted’. Leaving out of it the politicians and the opaque motives that Ken and Paul perhaps rightly attribute to them, I think the sentiment among ordinary Yes voters is driven by two things: a genuinely held conviction that self-determination is the right thing for Scotland and will bring great benefits, regardless of who her neighbour is; and a growing distaste for the direction in which Westminster is taking the country at the moment – in which Scots sympathise entirely with anyone else in the UK who feels the same way. This doesn’t at the moment feel to me like a simple Scots v English rammy and I hope it never comes to that. That possibility would appall me and would be the one thing right now that could make me rethink.
Wow. I genuinely haven’t made up my mind yet…
Jamie, your heartfelt and intelligent instinct is most appealing – some of the best innovations in the world have been thought of and developed by “dreaming artists” so I encourage you to keep dreaming! Your opinion is heard and valued here.
However, not even being able to trust Mr Salmond to make a cup of tea is a very real issue – there is a point where dreams need to be crystallised and I’m increasingly unconvinced by his defiant, immature “school boy” attitude towards the opinions of other important, intelligent and powerful men who have (sometimes unlike him) given very careful thought to their chosen words.
Do you have any idea, Jamie, why no-one has suggested a federation set up for the whole of the UK? Call me naive, but it seems to work for places like Germany and it would be a solution more noble than our abandonment for the other suffering corners of the UK such as Cornwall, Wales, Northern Ireland (and northern England, too!) I feel we’re not the only ones in the UK with this problem. MY instinct is that we should be actively working with our friends to find a solution for the whole of our existing nation rather than cutting ourselves off and leaving them with the same continuing problem. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that a federation of nations might even be considered as an alternative solution for the whole UK. If we vote “no” then do you think there’s a chance that this might be considered? The problem with the management of the UK is much wider than just Scotland being “different” and, I think, perhaps the solution is not simply ours to seize as a Scottish nation but potentially ours to create as a member state within a UK federation.
There’s some real dreaming for you… 😉 A solution that’s not even on offer yet!
Though I no longer live in Scotland, I’m passionate about Scottish Independence, and were I able to move back, I would be voting YES in a heartbeat. It is not about Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, or even the SNP any more than a NO vote is an endorsement of David Cameron, Geroge Osborne and the Tory Party. The YES campaign is both grass roots and multi party. In 2016 the Scottish people have the option of voting the SNP out if they so wish.
The fact that the mainstream media (MSM) are showing Unionist bias and that Better Together so heavily censor their Facebook page makes me believe that there is no positive case for maintaining the current political union. The UK Government have failed to meet the deadline set by the Electoral Commission to publish their vision for Scotland after a NO vote. Why? Surely if they have a vision for the future they would make it public unless , of course, it boils down to nothing more than “This is as good as it gets”. And that is before the bulk of the Tory cuts come into effect! When 1 in 4 Scottish children are born into poverty in an oil rich nation, it is not good enough. What does the UK have to show for for 40 years of oil wealth? Foodbanks, the Bedroom tax, poverty, the dismantling of the welfare state and useless nuclear weapons, that’s what. And all that is promised is more of the same. Surely that alone is enough to make a reasonable person despair.
For me Scottish independence is not about the past – those battles have already been won and lost and change nothing – but about hope for the future. A hope for a democracy in which all of the government (not just a devolved executive whose powers can be rescinded anytime) is answerable to the Scottish electorate; a political system in which there is genuine choice of party instead of the current identikit True Blue, Fantasy Mauve and Brown-nosed versions of Tory presently offered; a hope for a more sensible form of economics than the neoliberal “trickle down” version espoused by the Westminster Tory triumvirate; a more equitable distribution of wealth; a country that seeks peace and prosperity for her neighbours instead of foreign wars of dubious legality; a country free of WMD; a country where people can be proud of their heritage and culture and their writers, artists, musicians, without their having to ape their English neighbours. How many Scots have had to move south to find career success?
These aspirations cannot be achieved by Devolution – an option that Westminster made sure was not available to the Scots and which all three party leaders have since publicly ruled out should Scotland vote NO – they can only be achieved by full nationhood as being 8.6% of a larger nation is to have next to no voice in the running of the UK let alone on the world stage.
I believe that not only will independence be good for Scotland but also for England, Wales and NI – with whom I know we could have an improved relationship – which may find their own voice and new, radical ways of running their political structures and union.
wrbcg – it’s a little disingenuous to say you’re surprised that mainstream media is pushing to maintain the union. That is about markets and sales. In the same way the BBC will lose 2.5m licence payers, but the BBC, of course, has to remain impartial in the debate.
As for Better Together’s Facebook page offering proof that “there is no positive case for maintaining (Union)”, I would like you to show me, something, somewhere from the Yes campaign that shows a positive case for independence based on provable facts. I have heard no such argument to date, and particularly not from Alex Salmond. Everything is bluster, supposition and plain old propaganda.
I understand the emotional, cultural, ‘own voice’ position that Jamie inhabits. But that in itself is not an argument that will ensure a secure and prosperous future for Scotland.
On Saturday night I asked a Cuban man, a Welsh woman, and a gay man of Mauritian origin (all are resident in the UK) what they thought of the proposals. Emotionally, culturally, none of them could understand why Scotland would want to go it alone. Practically and politically, they raised questions about the Schengen agreement, EU membership, taxation and other more mundane matters. The British people in the room were all of the same mind: We don’t want Scotland to go, but it they vote for it, good luck to them. But culturally, we all felt we’d be poorer for it.
I’m not commenting here to persuade anyone of anything, except that 1) Alex Salmond is a charlatan; and 2) it is profoundly undemocratic to propose policies post-independence that affect the English without giving the English a say (and I’m not talking here about our Westminster representatives).
And finally, wrbcg, if you expect “a more sensible form of economics” from the SNP you’ll wait a very long time. In five years, you’ll be paying tuition fees and for your prescriptions.
Dear Paul – Thank you for your thoughtful reply.
Firstly, I’m not commenting here to persuade anyone either; I’m not SNP (and never have been) but am commenting solely to provide balance. If I answered you in full (which I initially did) it might sound like a campaign hustings. So below are just a couple of points.
Given the bias in the media and TV, which doesn’t surprise me in the least, your Saturday discussion is only to be expected. Without accurate information, one is left with nothing but propaganda which is being presented as truth by those who have traditionally been held in high regard for their neutrality and independence from government.
Economics is not the basis for independence, but the icing. I see you appear to accept that Scotland suffers from a democratic deficit that means the decisions of the Westminster elite favour a small, but very populous part of the UK to detriment of Scotland (and other parts of the UK). Even if we were economically worse off, it would be worthwhile to gain a voice in the world and to take our own decisions and, yes, make our own mistakes. Jamie’s great-granduncle wrote in his biography of José Antonio Páez (1929: p217): “Every nation since the beginning of the world, has preferred, and rightly, indifferent government by one of its own citizens, to any rule, however beneficial, imposed from the outside.” That remains true. Perhaps even more so now, given that the rule from Westminster has been far from beneficial to Scotland, which has been disproportionately affected by their policies, and which, due to the democratic deficit, leaves Scotland unable to do anything about it. The route from 1979 to September 18th is strewn with broken promises and hidden reports and government papers (eg McCrone Report and the Devolution Papers).
For many Scots, including me, “British is merely English writ large” (eg Cameron’s favourite childhood book!) , and providing the Celtic nations conform, they are accepted as part of the family. It seems that the view of many south of the border is that we are all the same but the Scots are just being difficult about it. The premise is, of course, false. We are very similar, but we are no more the same than Danes & Norwegians are. We have seen more threats of supposedly British things (which theoretically we have part ownership) being taken away (without negotiation) should the Scots have the temerity to vote for self-determination.
It is not the Scots who seek to culturally diminish the British Isles, but the Westminster elite who are insistent that if the broken political union is dissolved then all unions, financial, social and cultural must be dissolved too. They are the ones threatening separation! But why should Scotland, which has come to this through the ballot box, be treated less well than Ireland, which achieved their independence through armed struggle? Is that the only thing that Westminster’s post-imperial elite understand?
If EWNI wants Scotland to remain in the UK, the Westminster Government has to put something more than fear and scaremongering on the negotiating table – a thing it has singularly failed to do thus far.