If the Union offends thee…

ian_blackfordAlong with Mike Russell, Ian Blackford is emerging as one of the heroes of Scotland’s independence movement. Unquestionably, this is because both these individuals are unafraid to reflect in their rhetoric some of the indignation and anger felt by people across Scotland and beyond.

What may seem strange to some is the extent to which the British establishment seems oblivious to and/or disdainful of this outrage. The British political elite appears genuinely incapable of appreciating how its behaviour is viewed in Scotland. Either that, or they simply don’t care. Or maybe there is some awareness, but it is countered by powerful denial. I suspect there is an element of all of these at work.

There are certainly those in the British political parties who simply cannot understand why anybody would challenge the authority of the British state or question the efficacy and desirability of British governance. To them, the British ruling class is a natural phenomenon, much like the winds and the tides. They take for granted the British ‘right to rule’ just as they do the air that they breathe. when Ian Blackford and Mike Russell talk about the deficiencies and failings and offences of the British state, they might as well be speaking the Gaelic for all the British understand of what they say.

Some, no doubt, are just as aware of these deficiencies, failings and offences as Blackford and Russell and the rest. But, from the arrogant and perverse perspective of British exceptionalism, getting away with these things is a mark of superiority. They not only don’t care about the harm they do, they revel in it. Gross abuse of power and abysmal incompetence are, like the elaborate raiment and ornate headgear sported by aristocracy, the ostentation which signifies status.

Then there are those who simply blank out the discomfiting reality. We see all to clearly in aspects of the Brexit fiasco the astounding capacity for denial that exists within the ranks of the British political elite. If they are capable of deluding themselves about how that whole bourach is going, it’s easy to see how David Mundell might have convinced himself that he really does speak for Scotland and that we all respect and admire him just as we love and adore Ruth Davidson.

What this all adds up to is a British state which is sick to its core. Chronically sick. Terminally sick. From Scotland’s perspective, ending the Union will be like amputating a diseased limb.

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Now as then

I came across this when I was looking for something else. It is a transcript of a speech I gave at Yes Dundee’s Yes Cafe in Roseangle Art Gallery, Dundee on Saturday 1 March 2014. Bearing in mind that this is pre-EVEL, pre-Brexit and pre-Sustainable Growth Commission, it is notable that the fundamental case for dissolving the Union hasn’t changed at all. It has simply grown more urgent.

saltire_breakoutI have been a supporter of independence all of my life. Or, as I prefer to put it, an advocate of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

I put it that way because, for me, this is first, last and always a constitutional issue. I accept the inevitability of all the talk about economics and currency and all the rest. I understand the necessity for it. But these are peripheral issues.

The referendum is not really about what currency we use, or whether we will be a few pounds richer or poorer, or how much “clout” we have in the world. It is about how we think of ourselves, our communities and our nation.

It is about whether we see ourselves as being a nation at all. Or whether we see ourselves as merely a region within the British state.

A nation is its people. And let me be quite clear that, when I talk about the people of Scotland, I am not referring to the kind of “Scottishness” in which the likes of Alistair Darling profess such puffed-up patriotic pride while all the time talking Scotland down.

I take no particular pride in being Scottish. Pride is for personal achievements. All I had to do was be born in Fife to a mother who was herself born in this very city and a father who, somewhat inconveniently for my argument, contrived to get himself born in Australia. But you take my point. I was born Scottish. There was no effort or personal sacrifice involved.

So-called New Scots – Asians, East Europeans and the rest – have more right to express pride in being Scottish than I do. Because they have made a conscious decision to be Scottish.

Being Scottish is not about a common inheritance. It is about a shared commitment.

So when I talk about the nation of Scotland I am talking about the people of Scotland. And when I talk about the people of Scotland I mean those who have made a commitment to the nation and its people. And if that sounds like some kind of circular argument I make no apology for that. I see no reason why a nation need be defined by reference to anything outwith itself.

We are a nation not because others say that we are. We don’t need anybody else’s permission to be a nation. We are a nation because we say we are.

But what kind of nation are we? Obviously, that depends on what kind of people we are.

The anti-independence campaign likes to pretend that nationalists like myself are claiming some kind of “Scottish superiority”. They like to put about the notion that we are saying that people in Scotland have different, and somehow “better” attitudes than people in the rest of the UK. It’s all lies, of course.

All we claim is that there is a distinctive political culture in Scotland. Not unique. Not necessarily better. But different from the rest of the UK.

This should not be a controversial claim. Voting patterns alone should make it evident that Scotland has a distinctive political culture even if it wasn’t already glaringly obvious from the fact that we are having this referendum!

We need independence so that the policies which affect our lives can be informed by our own political culture rather than the political culture of the British state. Is that too much to ask?

What makes Scotland’s political culture different? Ultimately, it must be the people. Because it is people who shape the political culture. But that does not imply that individuals in Dundee or Dunfermline have attittudes that are markedly different from those of individuals in Doncaster or Durham.

We can all be offended by the injustice of the bedroom tax and the obscenity that is Trident.

It merely means that those attitudes are expressed differently through the local institutions and processes of democracy so as to produce a distinctive political culture.

People are pretty much the same the world over. But political cultures vary tremendously. Why should it be such a dreadful thing for Scotland to have its own political culture?

We want independence, not because we regard ourselves as superior, but because we refuse to accept that we are inferior.

We refuse to accept that we are less than the people of other nations who take their independence for granted.

So, if the kind of nation we are depends on the kind of people we are, what kind of people are we? In a very real sense, that is what will be determined by this referendum and the campaign leading up to the vote.

How that campaign is conducted will say a lot about who we are. Which is why I so deeply resent the way that the British parties in Scotland are behaving. But that is a whole other topic.

Let’s consider instead what the vote says about us. Think about the question we are being asked.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Can you imagine that question being asked in any other country? Can you conceive of the people of any other nation even considering the possibility of answering No to that question?

The fact that we are asking this question of ourselves tells us what kind of people we have been. People who have, for too long, been meekly content to accept a subordinate status within a union that was contrived in a different age for purposes that were never relevant to us.

A union that we, the people, had no part in creating or sanctioning. An anachronistic, dysfunctional, corrupt union which serves none of the people off these islands well.

A union which was always intended to serve the purposes of the ruling elites. A union which, in that regard if no other, has not changed one iota in the last three centuries.

A union that sucks the human and material resources out of our nation and in return gives us government by parties that we have emphatically rejected at the polls.

A union that imposes policies which are anathema to our people. Policies which have been rejected by our democratically elected representatives.

A union which, were we being given that option now, not one of us would vote to join – but which we are nonetheless being asked to vote to remain in.

All of this and more is what we have accepted in the past. And our acceptance of all this has defined us in the eyes of our neighbours, the world, aye! and ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that the fact that we are asking ourselves this question says nothing very flattering about who we have been in the past.

The way in which we answer the question can change all that. It can change the way we see ourselves in the future. It can change the way others perceive us. It can change who we are. And by changing the kind of people we are and how we think of ourselves it can release the forces which will change the nation.

Or it can do the other thing. We can vote No and confirm that we are to be no more than that which we have been. That we will not be what we aspire to be. That we choose not to be all that we might be.

I ask you again, ladies and gentlemen, can you imagine the people of any other nation making such a demeaning choice?

If we vote No, will we ever again be able to look one another in the eye?

Ladies and gentlemen, I said earlier that i wasn’t particularly proud of being Scottish. I explained that this was because there was no personal achievement involved. No effort. I didn’t have to do anything in order to become Scottish. So I see no cause for pride.

But I do take pride in my country. I am proud of Scotland. Not a vaunting, strutting, flag-waving, belligerent, “my country right or wrong” kind of pride. A quiet, cautious, conditional, pragmatic kind of pride. I want to be proud of my country. I want Scotland to be a country I can be truly proud of.

I see no possibility of Scotland being that country while it remains part of the British state. We are told that, with a bit of constitutional tinkering here and there Scotland can be “as good as independent”. That is a fallacy.

The only ones who have the legitimate authority to decide what powers the Scottish Parliament has are the people of Scotland themselves. So long as that power remains in the jealous grasp of the British state, Scotland will be less than a nation and its people will be diminished accordingly. The more so if they actually consent to this condition.

This referendum is not about money or oil or monarchs. And it certainly isn’t about Alex Salmond. It is about you. It is about us. It is about the people of Scotland and what kind of people we are.

This referendum is about the most fundamental constitutional issue of all – sovereignty. The sovereignty that rightfully rests with the people of any nation.

This referendum is about whether we are the kind of people who will carelessly allow that sovereignty to be usurped by the ruling elites of the British state, or whether we are the kind of people who will seize to ourselves the power to shape our own destiny.

I’ll vote Yes, not because I am inspired by a great past, but because I aspire to a better future.

I’ll vote Yes, not because I’m resentful about what has been done but because I’m hopeful about what can be done.

I’ll vote Yes, not for anything that is promised, but for everything that is possible.

I’ll vote Yes, ladies and gentlemen, and for the sake of Scotland; for the sake of Scotland’s people; for the sake of Scotland’s future; and for the sake of your own modest pride, I urge you to do likewise – VOTE YES!

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