I maybe got a little ahead of myself. There is no easy explanation for folk living in England (and I have tried with friends when I lived there). I’ve tried to make the pithy soundbite but as with everything worth working toward, the answers are a little more complex than that.
First, and at its simplest, the United Kingdom is just that: a unification of different kingdoms. (Notice I didn’t say two different kingdoms? Scotland is itself formed from several kingdoms which is why we have never had a ‘Queen of Scotland’ but instead a ‘Queen of Scots’).
What I’m saying is that England and Scotland (and Northern Ireland and Wales) are countries: not regions. When I worked in England, it was strange to be talking to people who didn’t know this, who were further surprised to learn that the Scots have their own legal system, their own education and healthcare )among other things).
This feeds into the second point, namely the way that some folk use ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably. The English get their name from a tribe who came to England from what is now part of Holland. The British, however, get their name from the islands where they live which are in turn named for the Celtic peoples who were living here when the Romans first rocked up. You can be Welsh-British, British-Welsh or just plain Welsh. The choice is yours. You can extend the Britishness further to include ethnic identity: Black-British, Asian-British and so on. These are just labels. British is a label. Made in Britain.
The label of British is always backed-up by another identity. The identity is what lends credibility to our being labelled British. This has a lot to do with Empire. Britain has always been ‘heterogeneous’. We don’t tell people that they can’t be English but must be British. Indeed, for many, the terms are interchangeable in a way that they are not in Scotland. Telling people what they are (and are not) is simply not the way we do things here. To deny a person’s identity is to do deny the unique place that our Empire has played in forming the nations that we are today and that’s the key: we are nations. Plural.
I remember as a child being made to stand for ‘the British national anthem’. I was a cub scout. Given what little I knew at the time, it felt like a betrayal. The music played was the same as for the English national anthem. ‘Flower of Scotland‘ was my anthem. I continued to stand because even as an 8 year-old boy, I knew that it would be disrespectful to my English friends to sit down, after all, you respect another nation’s song at a sports event, don’t you? Well, no. When you’re Scottish and you hear the English anthem being played as ‘British’ and you’re in the company of fellow Scots, you shout, you boo, you sit down with arms crossed. It’s simply what we do because no-one has ever explained to us why it is that the British anthem is the same as the anthem that historically contained the lines:
“May he sedition hush,
and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.”
Frankly, I think ‘God Save the King/ Queen‘ is a crashing bore anyway and almost as inspiring as a wet Sunday on an abandoned industrial estate. ‘Jerusalem‘ would make a better anthem for the English anthem: not only does Parry’s music make it a top tune if you enjoy singing but a good choir can really bring out passion, self-belief, inspiring imagery and not a feint whiff of superiority. Perfect then for an anthem.
Talk of anthems – and identity – is important. If the British government was in Edinburgh, the Queen spoke with a Hamilton accent and the government in Scotland passed down laws that you felt were unfair, especially as the majority of people in England (or Wales or Northern Ireland) had not voted for the ruling party, wouldn’t you feel, you know, just a little bit p*ssed off? Wouldn’t it make your blood boil if rather than the anthem ‘Jerusalem’, you were made to stand to attention to a version of Scotland’s anthem that you knew had contained words similar to those above?
This is to get a little away from the core motivation for those people in Scotland who support independence (which is not the same thing as being a supporter of the SNP). At it’s core, the drive for independence is about the demand for political change.
I’ve lived in England. I’ve worked, paid taxes and voted in England. I know that sensible people in England are embarrassed by the right-wing: the BNP, the English Defence League or UKIP. While across the UK, voters wonder what the LibDems stand for, in England, your left wing parties comprise the Greens, the Socialist Workers and The Labour Party.
In Scotland, The Labour Party is a party of the right.
Surprised? Well, outside of the chattering classes in London that form the Labour Party’s policy makers, voters in Scotland regard Labour with great suspicion thanks to the policies it pursued while in government in England. While in power at Westminster, it began the prcoess of renew the nuclear weapons based in Scotland, it began the privatisation of health care and schools (in England and Wales), it introduced tuition fees for students and did nothing to address the scandal of unelected parliamentary agents controlling policy. Let’s not mention the illegal wars in support of a right-wing government in the US (oops, my bad). In one crass act of recklessness, it voted to allow the merging of retail and investment banks and stripped away the regulatory measures that the previous Conservative government had actually strengthened.
Perhaps because the weather in Scotland has historically been so foul, we are very community-minded. This is how you survive when even your nation’s weather colludes with the landscape to try and kill you. This has made us very much like the Scandinavians: we are by nature, social democrats. Our left wing parties are the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Greens and the Scottish National Party. Notice how they all have Scottish in their name? It’s because these parties are based in Scotland and are focused on Scottish issues. All three parties are staunchly pro-independence.
In short, Unionism is an alien ideal or as Unionists in the most staunchly pro-independence part of Scotland discover very quickly, an English ideal. Unionism is a way of keeping in check any Celtic aspirations that may bloom on the mainland of the British Isles and maintaining the illusion for Englihs voters that England subsidises Scotland. It’s actually the other way around: think about it. During times of such severe austerity that the government is withdrawing state support for schools, hospitals and other socially beneficial projects why would any government pass-up the opportunity to dispose of such a huge liability as the Scots are supposed to be on the UK Treasury? Why instead do the Tories protest so loudly about the break-up of the Union?
This is why to declare yourself a Conservative in Scotland is to face the same social stigma that is reserved for Nick Griffin in England. As with the English, our eccentrics tend to come from the higher social classes and those with a bit of land to spare. Most folk in Scotland don’t. Look at where the support for independence is at its strongest: traditionally areas of unchallenged support for the Labour Party.
Working people in Scotland care. When we hear Ed Milliband speak of how he cares about the poor in Liverpool as much as the poor in Glasgow, we hear a graduate of Oxford telling us that there will be more charity coming our way from his wealthy friends in London. (We don’t want charity, Ed, we want what your party classified as ‘Top Secret’ in 1974). We ask ourselves what trade he’s worked in and there’s the rub: The Labour Party has become indistinguishable from the Conservatives in being led by a middle-class elite who have never experienced graft in their lives.
This is unfair on those Labour politicians who still work hard on behalf of the most underprivileged in both England and Scotland but while the BBC and others continue to broadcast English politics with the same importance – sometimes more – than our own, the perception that a remote London-based elite, out of touch with what we want as voters, is still firmly in control of Labour Party policy, we will continue to study the front bench of the Shadow Cabinet. In comparison with the second-tier of leadership here in Scotland, supposedly independent of party headquarters in London, Labour is left wanting because the dog is still wagging the tail.
And so the belief that Labour has betrayed the working people of Scotland and swung to the right persists. Kinnock was believable; Prescott would have been a shoe-in for working man as leader of the worker’s party but after John Smith, a poison entered what had been our political party. As a child, I can still remember Michael Foot taking part in CND marches. It seemed right. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown whipping on the replacement of Trident – and the submarines – with the collusion of Conservatives at a base not twenty miles from Glasgow city centre is wrong in so many ways.
When Glasgow City Council (and North Lanarkshire) comes under the full control of the SNP after the local elections in May, some in The Labour Party will wonder how this came to pass. The deep questions will never be answered. In producing answers to the questions, changes in policy would have to follow. What voeters in Scotland currently see – and have tired of seeing – is the Labour Party opposition challenging the Scottish government over every policy introduced simply because Scotland’s largest social democratic party composed the bill. Johann Lamont may ostensibly be party leader in Scotland but we are not fooled and we know she is not the de facto leader which is perhaps why she should spend more time studying the boss who seems to pick his fights a little more carefully.
In Scotland, we still own our water company. Households in England pay 20% more for their water and the leakages have still not been fixed.
In Scotland, the NHS remains our NHS and fully under state control (and to be fair, The Labour Party in Scotland is also committed to keeping it this way).
In Scotland, students do not pay fees to further their education and help advance their place – and by extension – Scotland’s place in the world. (The UK Treasury spend on Scotland’s universities was cut to try and strong-arm the Scottish government into charging fees. That failed. The Scottish government has simply taken the money from elsewhere but for those in England wondering why they have to pay to attend our universities when Scots students don’t, it’s because your English government made a decision to charge fees: why should Scottish taxpayers subsidise your education when English taxpayers are happy to see student’s families charged for the right to education? If you want this changed, change your government…)
In Scotland, a failure to continue investing in renewable energy when we have nearly a quarter of Europe’s entire renewable energy potential around our shores would be a crime. In England (and let’s be honest, parts of Edinburgh), it is not uncommon to hear people dismiss these technologies as being for ‘hippies’ because climate change is a myth. Look at George Osborne’s dismissive disregard for what even technology analysts are calling ‘the future of energy security’. England is in a hurry to not only build new nuclear facilities but gas-powered stations too. Frankly, I wouldn’t be betting the ‘energy security’ cards on supply from Putin’s Russia.
Independence is a political debate about a political issue. What we are looking to break-up is not a historical partnership between two countries but the political union. There is no discussion (yet) on whether to keep the Queen as our Head of State. She is. What we are seeking instead is a clarification of principles through the democratic process and this can only be of benefit to people in England too.
Currently, English and Welsh MPs are barred from voting on issues that affect only Scotland. However, despite SNP MPs refusing to vote on matters that affect only England, Wales and Norther Ireland, Scottish Labour MPs continue to wield their vote. If English voters are wondering why they do this when there is no direct mandate for them to do so then perhaps you ought to ask them, after all, England does not have a democratic assembly similar to the Scottish Parliament.
Independence would forever fix this insulting behaviour. Acting on conscience is about respect. Nationalism on Scotland is about just that: respect. The Act of Union (Scotland) of 1707 (England put their Act of Union into place in 1706) was not a popular measure. The people of Edinburgh tried to stop the signed bill leaving the city and it had to be escorted out of the country under armed guard. For over three hundred years, we’ve been chasing that damned scrap of paper, chasing so long that many Scots came to believe that we had not the means to make it as a nation on our own.
The people of Iceland have managed since independence and they not only have no oil, they have a population of less than a half-million. We are five million, more when counting our diaspora – and they are many – and we have many advantages to other smaller nations not the least of which is that we all speak English, the lingua franca of international commerce, science and politics.
I don’t fear independence. I fear stagnation. I fear having the tanks of the political right in England roll up on our lawns and tell us that we must be rid of those things which we still hold dear. The Acts of Union preserved our own legal system (courts, judges and laws), preserved too our own education system and now we have increasing control over healthcare, taxes, environmental issues, energy, land management, we are getting used to standing on our own feet.
This leads to one last big difference between nationalists and unionists: the constitution. England – and the UK – remains an elective dictatorship while it has no written constitution. Scotland will have a written constitution as soon as we vote in favour of independence. The original 2002 draft of the constitution can be read here if you’re in any doubt as to what independence would mean. At around 6,000 words, it’s less than most European countries but remains sufficiently thorough that no-one should be in any doubt that everything will still be functioning as normal on the morning of Monday 20th October 2014.
With independence, we are looking only for full control of our own finances, defence, natural resources and international affairs. We have come so far under devolution and only need to take a few more steps. We have achieved so much when devolution was supposed to stop the drive for independence stone dead and unlike other countries, that freedom will has been earned without a shot being fired, without a single bomb being detonated. Can you think of another nation that can say the same?
Better than this: independence for Scotland means independene for England too. It means that people in England will be in a position to demand change too. Why are there four unelected parliamentary agents in The Houses of Parliament deciding on what your MPs can and cannot debate, let alone vote on? Why are people still doffing their caps to a privileged class of people who were simply born to their position? Why do people in England remain ignorant of that malignant festering sore known as The City of London Corporation?
Where polling has been conducted, the majority of English voters would give Scotland independence so let me leave you with this thought: why does a Conservative government in London with just one MP in Scotland not insist on a UK-wide poll rather attempt to interfere in a Scottish referendum voted for by Scottish voters in which they have no mandate?