This is the myth that most frustrates me. When Concerned of Chelsea was watching Serbian troops bomb Croat and Bosnian enclaves in the 1990s, were the civilians who simply wanted a government representative of their own interests accused of racism even as they cowered from sniper and artillery fire?
Now that I have your attention, I am not suggesting that the English and Scottish will ever go to war ever again. That’s ridiculous. Like me, many Scots have English ancestors. Many English have Scottish ancestors. And that’s the point. People of both countries can still point to family members and say ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’. British, Britain and ‘Britishness’ are merely constructs. Habits. Like picking your nose or farting on public transport.
The Union of Parliaments of 1707 was just that, a union of parliaments. When Scots vote for independence they will be saying ‘goodbye’ to autocracy and a big ‘hello’ to representative democracy. Rather than lambasting Scots for being racists or just plain scum, try this: ask yourself why, more than 300 years after union, do so many Scots still want independence? If you can answer that question, you’re part-way down the road to the one big question that English people should be asking, namely, ‘Are we really a democracy?’
In short, the UK is not a democracy and never has been. There is the appearance of democracy, certainly. Universal suffrage, yes. I can remember voting in elections when I lived in England but have you ever asked yourself what happens after your constituency MP has been decided and that MP has pootered off to Westminster to join The Mother of Parliaments? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since 1997 when a massive landslide victory for the Labour Party led to even more Conservative rule (cutting the regulations around banking anyone? Cheers, Broon). It wasn’t the only rightwing policy that this so-called leftwing party put onto the statute.
I’m from the west of Scotland. It is the de facto heartland of the cancer of political entitlement in Scotland. It used to be the rule that if it’s wearing a red rosette on election day, it will win. That’s how it’s been for generations. A blind dog with crooked teeth and a limp could be wearing that red rosette through the Seventies and Eighties and it would have beaten any credible candidate. Anger and frustration with rightwing politics can lead people to do strange things, perhaps that’s why The Labour Party is slowing losing ground in Scotland… we’ve woken up.
The tide is turning. Labour has used up the Scottish people’s tolerance, their long wait for social justice has led to voters backing a party that talks like them, acts like them and is not afraid to stick two fingers up to the UK Parliament in Westminster. It’s probably all the Scots have ever wanted in a political party, at least since the 1980s when the fascism of the stock markets became the ruling creed. We all want to work but we want everyone to have a fair share.
My father used to work for Glenfield & Kennedy back when it employed more than 2,000 people in Kilmarnock. He lost his job in the 1970s when Labour ruled at Westminster in the distant parliament of another country. Our family moved to Falkirk so my father could work there. Losing that job, we then tried our luck in England… Again, in 2009, the people of Kilmarnock were again betrayed by a Labour government in Westminster that seemed unable to stop Diageo bringing an end to 189 years in the town and more jobs were lost. The Scottish Parliament was powerless to stop Diageo because it does not have control over things like corporation tax which influence the decisions made by large employers when they choose to relocate.
Stories like these have been repeated across Scotland, despite the Scottish people’s continued support for what they thought was their party. But nothing can beat this grotesque act of betrayal by a Labour government. Published in 1975, the McCrone report was classified as ‘Top Secret’ and buried until The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allowed the SNP to request a copy. They didn’t get the McCrone Report until 2005.
We are repeatedly told that ‘we are better together than apart’ but who’s this ‘we’? I don’t see English cities with a nuclear submarine base within 20 miles of their city centres. I don’t see English people having a tax forced upon them a full year before the rest of the UK.
But then I also don’t see English people rioting as their National Health Service is stolen from them. I don’t see English people up in arms because they pay 20% more for their water supply than they would have done had the water companies remained a state asset (as it is in Scotland) and this is despite the privatised water companies losing so much water through unfixed leaks that the south-east of England will have hosepipe bans as early as this spring. I also don’t see English people taking former politicians to the International Criminal Courts of Justice when they order illegal wars.
In short, nationalism in Scotland is about more than identity or history. It is about the democratic deficit between what we expect and vote for and what we actually get.
When I moved to England in 1997 in search of work, I was a pro-devolution unionist. I did not like my father’s ‘historical nationalism’, that peculiar brand of small-nation politics that says that Scotland was stolen from us. Scotland was not stolen from us. We gave it away every time we voted Unionist. Scots have historically been active participants in the project of Empire. Our academies (what the English call comprehensive schools), took in working class kids and churned out middle-class officers, scientists, explorers, surveyors, engineers, teachers, politicians, writers, artists, architects, doctors and so on. Even though Empire is long gone, the modern Scot can be found working in places as diverse as Africa, China, North America, the Middle East and the Antarctic. Where there’s work to be had, you’ll find at least one of us.
I never made it as far as other Scots but working in England, trying to find the answers to colleagues questions about Scotland, I became a nationalist. When I saw up close just how unjust are some of England’s laws, so unfairly biased in favour of corporations and naked greed, I resolved that I did not want my country to become like that. When I hear that George Osborne and others are looking to scrap those planning regulations that currently exist, I am thankful that Scotland already has its own legal and educational systems, its own NHS, its own transport and utilities infrastructure.
Whenever I am accused of racism for espousing nationalist views, I remember the only meeting of the SNP that I went to with my father. It was 1989 and recently returned from England, our family had been invited to go along and meet old friends at the Kilmarnock South branch. I was introduced to Jim Sillars who was the guest speaker that night. We talked a bit. Then I talked to some other folk. I got a real surprise. Since moving back to Scotland, everyone I’d spoken to had had an Ayrshire accent but not in that room. Nearly half the folk were talking with English accents. They spoke just like me and didn’t recoil when I opened my mouth to speak. Further, they were interested to hear about England and what I thought of where I’d spent some of my childhood. I spoke with one guy about which was the best place to go on holiday, Cornwall or Devon. With another, I talked about the beauty of the Peak District.
These English folk had obviously spent a long time thinking about what mattered to them. I was not only encouraged to think about the positive reasons for joining the SNP before I made that decision (still working on that one) but to remember the things that I had liked about England. ‘We’re not enemies,’ one old lady said, ‘we just disagree on the best way to go about things. Look at Jim. He used to be in the Labour Party.’
Given what he had to say about the betrayal of working people in Scotland by its ‘political elite’ that night, that was a revelation.