About a month ago, I noted the increasing number of less-than-veiled allusions to ‘Yes’ campaigners being the equivalent of National Socialists in Germany (really? a family friendly day out with kids at BBC Pacific Quay is ‘just like the Hitler Youth’??) and am both repulsed by the comparison and bewildered. As a hypothesis, it is completely at odds with the Yes campaign’s advocacy of increasing net migration into Scotland in order to sustain and let the economy grow, the commitment to staying within the EU (I recall the SNP campaigning under the banner of ‘independent in Europe’ as far back as 1993 – so hardly insular or xenophobic), and – most tellingly of all – the fact that the electorate for the Referendum is not based on any nonsensical ideas of place of birth or determining relative Scottish ancestry, but entirely on the basis of where you live, regardless of where you came from, or how recently.
Although I can have a certain sympathy with ex-patriat Scots who wish to participate, if they are not in Scotland, then their commitment to being part of the future of Scotland becomes more vague. I entirely appreciate that many of them may well be ex-pats as a direct result of a lack of opportunities in Scotland in the past, forcing their families overseas, and that probably a lot of these people would wish to return after a Yes vote, and be part of building that new country, but (harsh though it may seem) the decision should belong to those that are actually here, and will have to deal most immediately with the consequences of their collective decision.
But away from the franchise, and back to the supposed ‘ethnic nationalism’ that is hiding beneath this movement for self-determination, to address the democratic deficit and return power to the people best-placed to make decisions about their future. The current Westminster government, with its dalliance with UKIP, advocacy of an in/out referendum on the EU, aggressive approach to immigrants…well, couple that with the ‘No’ campaigns continued insistence that ‘becoming foreign’ is such a bad thing, and suddenly Alistair Darling’s endorsement of ‘Yes’ as ‘blood and soil nationalism’ seems suddenly more like psychological projection of the shortfalls of his own side, rather than any form of serious assessment of what is going on in Scotland in the Yes campaign right now. British Nationalism has not looked as dark as this for many a year.
Of course, one can quite understand why they would want to make such comparisons, however unworthy. All one has to do to discredit a self-determination movement is to plant the idea of some similarity to Nazi Germany, and people are naturally – even without any evidence being offered – a little more hesitant to embrace a political movement tarnished with such an association. It’s the cheapest, easiest thing to do – if you want to win, no matter the cost.
But I do have some concerns about the very real long-lasting legacy of this. In the event of a Yes vote, such associations poison the future – not so much of how the Yes vote is understood in Scotland, but how it is presented to the rest of the world – in particular the rest of the UK and especially England. For the No campaign or Westminster to so casually and happily sacrifice the future relationship socially between a future independent Scotland and England as part of the remaining UK, reveals how little they care about damage. They reject the presentation of this as a civic movement, and instead adopt a scorched earth policy towards future relations, by deliberately misrepresenting this as somehow ethnically driven. No – it’s because Westminster isn’t working – and has not worked for a long time for a considerable extent of the UK. The centralisation in London, as exemplified by Vince Cable’s frustration at London as a large suction machine for the resources of the rest of the UK, increasingly impoverishes the rest of the UK, to the benefit of the de facto city state of London.
What makes Scotland different to, say, NE England in this regard, is that having voted for (and not against) devolved government, we can say and do something about this problem of gross imbalance. Also, our natural resources mean that – uniquely in the UK (apart from the SE England and London) – we have contributed more than the average contribution of the UK in tax per head and GDP for over 30 years…and yet as a nation we continue to be impoverished, a further 30,000 children entering poverty in Scotland last year. In a country of 5-6 million, the fact that 19% of the population qualified as being in poverty in 2011 (CPAG) represents a horrific scale of social decline. The natural resources that mean we are naturally a wealthy country, is a bitter counterpoint to our increasing poverty, and insistently asks the question as to why one should continue in a union that is so detrimental to the health and welfare of its people.
The idea of ‘sharing and pooling of resources’ is clearly not working, when it so disadvantages the people, in order to support vanity wars, aircraft carriers that can afford neither planes nor a defence against ballistic missile attack (expected combat life 12 minutes, apparently), a billion pounds to retain Trident (Scotland’s share only, that) and a variety of London-centric projects (including HS2, for which Scotland will pay 7.92 billion for, even although it stops over 150 miles short of the border) for which we derive marginal – if any – benefits. Remember how we were told that Scottish tourism would benefit from the London Olympics? And strangely in 2012 there was a dip in Scottish tourism (almost a 5% drop in the number of trips, as well as in the length of those trips, compared to 2011), rather than any knock-on benefits. The variety of ‘trickle down benefits’ to elsewhere in the UK resulting from centralized expenditure in London, so beloved a model of Boris Johnson, are indeed thin on the ground.
So please – stop this nonsensical portrayal of the campaign for Yes in this negative light. Although one can understand that it does not fit with their narrative for either the No campaign or Westminster to admit that Westminster is not working and that Britain is indeed (as David Cameron used to so loudly declaim) broken, that does not change the fact that that is where the support for the Yes campaign is coming from. To pretend that it is otherwise is lazy, simplistic, offensive – and, frankly, more indicative of the No campaign’s view of politics.
We’re looking at transformational political change here. Bringing priorities back to people. While the supporters of ‘No’ are trying to present it as an ‘ethnically-driven’ movement, we are talking about the social benefits of what a constitution might contain, and the ways in which we can move our country forward, in visions both conservative (e.g. Wealthy Nation) and socialist. ‘Enlightenment 2.0’, as someone very cogently put it.
The political dialogue and vistas that people are discussing now are opening up worlds of possibilities, in a country that has effectively been disenfranchised for over 50 years (in terms of having strikingly different voting intentions amongst the limited Westminster parties – in real terms, of course, the period has been very much longer than 50 years). You can – of course – try to demean this movement (because that may well be the only chance that ‘No’ has to win) – but it is truly an exciting time to be alive in Scotland, and to be a part of this, after such entrenched political disillusionment for so long.
“We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.” (The Yes Declaration, signed by over 1 million Scots)