It’s not often that I disagree with David, which you might not find so surprising because he pays my wages. However, I disagree with him strongly on the issue of Scottish independence, so thought I might as well say so in advance of tomorrow’s referendum. I need to fill the white space somehow until this new Pink Floyd album that you’re all waiting to find out more about, and are going to love, comes out.
Now, I can obviously accept a plea for solidarity between politically progressive minds across the UK – for all our sakes. I do fear a future, without Scottish votes, where English voters have even greater influence and the convictions of an increasingly wealthy South East cancel out all opposing voices on issues that affect most of all the poorest and most vulnerable everywhere else. I expect right-wing UKIP to continue to make gains, I expect more austerity, I expect withdrawal from the European Union. I don’t much like the sound of any of it.
Of course I can accept we’re neighbours and friends and have much in common (wartime victories and imperial adventures, mostly) and nostalgia is all very well. Not that the land is going to break away in the event of a Yes victory, with dramatic crashes and thuds, a sudden tectonic shifting of plates, as Scotland slowly floats away, the sound of a single, mournful piper growing ever more distant, drowned out by the wails of regret, never to be seen again. We’ll still be neighbours and friends with all the same things in common. Wales and Northern Ireland, too. (Once again, we’re merely assumed to be part of England and rarely mentioned, but we are paying attention and we do care, honest.)
And, well, that’s about it, I think, and about where my understanding of the No campaigners ends, because I’m not buying this cheesy ‘Better Together’ nonsense one bit. Better for whom exactly?
If we’re really better together, why aren’t we better right now? Why are we so unhappy? Why are so many struggling to make ends meet? I doubt that we were ever really better together, or will be better together in the future, so why pretend? One side always comes out better off and it’s usually the area around the City of London.
I grant you that England is not a homogeneous mass of like-minded folk who all vote the same way and share the same grievances – of course not, that would be as silly as assuming that all Yes voters hate the English and this is why they want out, which is ludicrous – yet the English are rather more supportive of austerity than the Scottish, it has to be said, and more likely to vote Conservative. This is clearly reflected in election results. It means the views of those opposed to austerity, or whatever else is dreamt up next, can be comfortably outvoted over and over again because of the strength in England’s numbers. This begs the question: why remain in the Union, dear Scotland, if you have no say in decision-making and sticking around will only mean yet more unpopular policies imposed upon you from, and so often in the interests of, England?
I know some feel Scotland fares better than England. I’ll get to that in a minute.
So maybe a Yes vote is something of a two-fingered salute to those of us south of the border, particularly to those who share most in common. I can appreciate that feeling. It would be nice if we all marched beneath the red flag as one and changed society permanently for the better, like Labour could and should have done from 1997 onwards. But there is no reason why workers in Scotland would not still belong to the same unions in the event of independence, just as there is no reason why Cornwall or Yorkshire cannot demand more local control right now. No reason why there should not be an English assembly or an English national anthem or an English flag to wave proudly instead of the old imperialist one, whatever that will look like minus all the Scottish blue. (I couldn’t care less, personally, I never cared much for it anyway.)
‘This argument needs to be had among us all, you can’t selfishly resolve it amongst yourselves by taking an easy opt-out clause,’ said Bob Geldof this week.
Other than Bob Geldof, because he clearly does even though it’s a bit rich, who can blame Scotland for wanting out and who can begrudge them the opportunity to make life better for their communities and families? Not I. And this is where the argument in favour of voting No surely loses all its validity.
I mean, really, you would think Scots might want to cut ties with one of the most unequal countries in the developed world and create a fairer society. The 100 wealthiest people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million – that’s 30 per cent of all people in the UK. Britain’s five richest families alone are worth more than the poorest 20 per cent of the population. This is scandalous when working people up and down the land are relying on food banks, hospitals are closing, etc.
You wouldn’t think Labour, historically the party of the working class, had held power for 13 long years. How they deceived and failed us so.
This inequality costs £39 billion, apparently. The social consequences of inequality are worked out by calculating reduced life expectancy, poorer mental health and higher levels of crime. £39 billion is also equivalent to the UK government’s annual spending on defence, which brings me rather nicely to Trident submarines (coming soon to Wales, no doubt). Why wouldn’t the Scots want Britain’s nuclear deterrent, with its potential destructive power eight times that of the first atomic bomb, no longer based 25 miles or so from its second city? I can see why they might like to see the back of these expensive weapons of mass destruction and not want any part in future, possibly illegal, almost certainly US-led foreign policy. Makes perfect sense to me.
There are many across England who will be pleased to see the Scots vote for independence, believing that the English will be richer (maybe, but don’t forget the oil…), that English issues will no longer be decided by Scottish MPs (that was never Scotland’s fault, to be fair) and ever more right-wing governments will be the norm (lucky you).
Some share the bigoted views of the Daily Mail‘s Simon Heffer:
‘Thus my friendly advice to our Scottish cousins as they contemplate this great constitutional moment is this: vote ‘yes’, for independence. It would be the equivalent of turning on a very, very cold shower, and would wake Scotland up to reality. The truth is that those nationalists who argue that Scottish prosperity is retarded by their ‘English oppressors’ are living in cloud-cuckoo land. Furthermore, I believe that an independent Scotland would soon find itself unequal to the struggle of self-government, because the English money tap would be turned off. Its people would have to work, or starve.’
(I promised myself that I would make no snide remark at this point about the careless use of English taps because poor, little, needy Wales subsidises so much of England’s water anyway… I just couldn’t help myself, but please know that I did it with a cheeky wink.)
There are plenty more examples of sneering, bigoted views of those with a national superiority complex such as Heffer’s, here, if you care to look.
The left-wing press that calls itself ‘socialist’ supports a No vote (it’s both London-owned and London-based, naturally). The BBC, our impartial – ahem – state broadcaster has been sure to report every day how thoroughly awful a Yes vote would be, but it does what it’s told.
How it all sticks in one’s craw. Ireland needed bombs and assassinations to secure its independence. How tame all this in comparison. A few eggs thrown and some posters torn down.
For more than 30 years now there has been a shift across much of England to the Right (worryingly so, it has begun in Wales), and no matter how Scotland votes, its voice is forever muted due to the far greater number of people south of its border. I can share this frustration because it’s the same in Wales.
Additionally, I notice the disdain with which we of the ‘Celtic fringe’ are treated by the British establishment. Better Together, they say! I don’t see much evidence of being better together in the miserable former industrial towns when no expense is spared for vanity projects in London. HS2, anyone? Never mind the damage to the countryside or immense cost so long as it shaves half an hour or so off some London commuter’s journey time.
If the tables were turned and England the weaker partner in this Union, there would be greater understanding of those who will tomorrow vote Yes to independence. It’s easy to be confident when you hold the levers of power.
Outside Scotland, many on the Left are against Scottish independence for purely selfish reasons. They, quite reasonably, fear fewer numbers in the ranks to counter the Tories. But that’s not for Scotland to deal with. If parts of England will continue to reject social democracy, why should Scotland have to continually suffer for this if it has a means of escape? I don’t consider it at all selfish because it should inspire others to follow Scotland’s lead and make things fairer for everyone.
It isn’t fair, for example, that about one third of the House of Commons is made up of former students from Oxford and Cambridge universities and about the same number from expensive boarding schools. What do these people know about life in the real world? Have they ever had to choose between eating or heating? Of course not. Too many look after their own and leave the rest to flounder. These are the people who bailed out the bankers, took away vital support from the poorest and now want a pay rise many times greater than the one they deny vital public sector workers. They have no clue and no shame.
I did manage to chuckle at this, from Mark Steel, today: ‘Cameron does at least have experience of Scotland, as his mother-in-law owns 19,000 acres of land on the Isle of Jura, on which he visits to stalk deer. So there’s plenty of common experiences for him to chat about with the unemployed of Motherwell.’ (Sorry, Scotland.)
We should all know by now that, sadly, it doesn’t matter who is in power; it’s usually the same bitter disappointment in the end. For how many more elections should we cling to the belief that things will improve with a change from blue to red? Labour prove themselves to be Red Tories more and more. The only viable alternative for many is now UKIP. How fast the Scots must want to flee from them. How many in England and Wales wish they could join them.
Ours is a democracy that is fundamentally broken, too often fails to serve our needs or reflect our values, controlled by an arrogant elite so used to getting its way it cannot help but fail to grasp why anybody in their right mind would want things to be different or suspect that they could make a better go of it.
Not surprisingly, many have lost faith in the established parties and, if there is a Yes vote tomorrow, it will have been achieved due to a tremendous rejection of Labour, which is deserved. For too long Scottish votes have been taken for granted by Labour with little by way of return. How fortunate to have an agreeable alternative – nationalist, yes, but also socialist. Wouldn’t we like this in England and Wales? As Billy Bragg wrote yesterday, Scottish nationalism is very different to British nationalism, the latter being right-wing and most often with the most vulgar racist undertones. I don’t think I’ve ever seen skinheads with swastikas on their brows waving the Saltire, spitting disgusting abuse at people whose skin colour is anything other than white, yet throughout this debate it’s been Scottish nationalists who are narrow-minded and parochial, they say. Strange.
It is in the interests of the Westminster elite to resist change. The No campaign has been, at various times, negative and threatening, patronising and demeaning, fickle and flattering.
The Prime Minister has spoken to invited audiences rather than pounding the streets of Scotland for fear of being egged, making condescending comments about the enormous contribution Scots have made to the UK, which only makes you wonder what a funny way these tremendously privileged southerners have of acknowledging enormous contributions. “Thanks for the enormous contribution, here’s the Poll Tax.”
There is every indication that turnout tomorrow is going to be high, with 97 per cent of the eligible population registered to vote, boosted by the franchise having been extended to 16 and 17 year olds, which is so refreshing. And so it should be high. I’d love to be able to vote tomorrow to build a fairer, more caring society based on equality. One that looks after the many, not just the few. To follow the model of happier, safer Scandinavian countries which have less inequality between rich and poor and far fewer social problems. To move a step nearer a nuclear-free world. To eradicate child poverty. To never again squander vast sums of money on weapons of mass destruction. To deny the creeping privatisation of the NHS at all cost. What a huge, exciting opportunity that should be grasped with both hands.
After so much baseless scaremongering, the panic-driven bribery. Westminster can promise Scotland ‘jam tomorrow’ if she votes No (maybe Northern Ireland and Wales can compete to lick the spoon), but even if the politicians aren’t lying through their polished teeth, as per usual, about granting further powers to Scotland, an economy run in the interests of the whole UK, not just London and the South East, is but a pipe-dream. We have to do something about it in every corner of the UK, whatever Scotland decides, and support one another to get the type of society we want.
If Scotland does choose independence tomorrow, I dearly hope it will have major implications for other regions tired of the old established order and hope that people everywhere, whether they consider themselves ‘British’ or not, will be inspired to demand change and to fight to achieve it – however long it takes. As John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, writes, ‘I suggest that a ‘Yes’ vote by Scotland might help the rest of us get rid of the one-sided, lop-sided metropolitan imperialism that sucks life and talent out of much of the perfectly formed British Isles.’
Sorry, boss, but I’m with John: ‘Scottish Independence Could Kickstart Social Justice Across the British Isles’. Because of this I have to say: go for it, Scotland. Burst the Westminster bubble and we’ll all eventually benefit.