I see my friend, Ron Ferguson, has been making a passionate case for Scottish independence in the Scottish Review. It seems incredible that some people may not know this, but for the benefit of readers outside Scotland, there is to be a referendum held on Thursday 18 September allowing Scots to decide whether to become independent, or to remain within the United Kingdom. Yes! No! Maybe! Maybe Aye, Maybe Naw. That referendum – potentially ending 300 years of union with our neighbours in the British Isles – has dominated broadcast, print and social media in Scotland since, oh, ….. it seems forever.
I have remained largely silent on the subject, with the exception of a post back in January, despite being sorely tried by some of the posts and comments in the media from both sides in the debate. However, Ron is someone whose views I respect and so I read his article with some anticipation and interest. You can read it for yourself, via the link on his name above.
As usual Ron writes in an engaging way with humour as well as passion. His argument seems to be this:
For years Scotland has presented a deeply divided psyche – a “confidence/inadequacy split… that has affected everything else in Scotland for generations” e.g. his wee drunk on the train. The wha’s like us standing uncomfortably beside we’re useless – better known as the Scottish cringe. Ron claims that in recent years, thanks to the SNP being in power at Holyrood, the cringe is fading and the confidence coming to the fore. (Outsiders may not recognise this view of the Scottish psyche, but it is something that is genuinely felt by many Scots – though not, I am convinced, by many Scots young people in their 20s and 30s who seem to me to have far more confidence and self-awareness than I remember having at their age). It is certainly true that by proposing independence for Scotland, the SNP government in Edinburgh has stimulated heated discussion about what kind of country we want to be. Some of that discussion has been civilised and passionate, but there has been on-line thuggery as well, and an unpleasant side to nationalism has been on the rise in recent months, particularly on-line.
Ron admits that, although he used to be a supporter of the United Kingdom, his belief in it has been shaken – with some accompanying anger – by years of Westminster rule under Margaret Thatcher, then by years under “narcissistic” Tony Blair, and finally by his view that the current coalition government has failed to deal with the “pin-stripe fraudsters” in the city of London. Then there are the nuclear weapons. This anger, deeply and passionately felt, has convinced him to vote “yes” to independence on the 18 September, because with independence we can “sing a better song” than the tune the United Kingdom government has been able to play so far in our recent history.
Ron Ferguson is a passionate and compassionate man, and this article is emotional stuff which I am sure will appeal to many Scots. But therein lies the problem for me. In order to build a fair society we need security, prosperity and certainty. The one thing that the SNP and its independence supporters cannot offer is certainty – without certainty you are unlikely to build prosperity. You cannot build certainty and prosperity on emotion alone, although you can encourage a rather nasty side of nationalism. I would have been much more sympathetic to the independence cause if their leaders – and Alex Salmond in particular – had said from the outset something like this: “Look, we know this is a risk. There are lots of unanswered questions, but independence feels right for the following reasons… x, y and z, and these are our plans for getting there….a,b and c.” However, instead they have generally played down the risks, have told us that it will be all right on the night, played to a Braveheart mentality amongst voters, given us dodgy statistics (both sides have done this) and in recent weeks have attempted to win over the most vulnerable in society and traditional Labour voters with scare stories about the NHS. At one meeting in East Lothian held by independence supporters, parents present were even told that if they didn’t vote “yes” they were bad parents.
Ron is a fanatical supporter of Cowdenbeath FC (also known as the Blue Brazil – his book Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil is a great read) so I offer an open letter to him, couched in footballing terms, in the spirit of civilized debate, which he wants to encourage:
You almost had me convinced there. A better song, eh?
We agree on so much, but I fear you are being seduced by the nationalist trap of playing the man, not the ball. There they all are, the bogey men of the opposing team – M Thatcher (deceased), J Redwood, T Blair, doubtless with late substitutes N Farage and B Johnson, and a back row of “pin-stripe fraudsters” (nice phrase, by the way). And then there’s the assistant ref, W M Destruction, to be transferred to another game – transferred, mind, not booted out of the game altogether. What worries me most though, is the player on your own side, A Salmond, shouting cruel deceptions to the most gullible fans (“What? Not me, ref!”), as they fight among themselves in the stand.
Sorry, Ron, as you imply yourself, all our institutions are human and therefore fallible. I think we should ask our politicians to expend their energies on achieving a fairer, more just society by working to improve the institutions we have i.e. the devolved government in Scotland and the national government in Westminster. That way we will spare the world more nationalism, division, in-fighting and international borders.
That truly would be a better song.