superl99: (I heart scotland)
[personal profile] superl99
This post has been brewing for a long time. As anyone who follows me on Facebook will know, I am in favour of Scottish independence. This means that I feel the union is no longer fit for purpose, and that it would be better for Scotland to go its own way. I don't think that history should dictate the future, and just because something has been the case for a long time doesn't mean it's still the best solution. In our increasingly complex societies, I think that smaller countries with higher cooperation amongst them is a better solution than larger countries with sprawling bureaucracies. What it does NOT mean is that I think that Scotland is the best gorram country in the world, free of problems, unimprovable, or should try to force other countries to be like it. I just think that Scotland is best placed to make its own decisions and should be given that opportunity.

With that background, I'd like to address the issue of nationalism. There are a variety of definitions of nationalism, which is part of the problem of the independence debate. From the point of view of Scottish nationalists, we mean 'advocacy of political independence for a particular country' (OED, which even has Scottish nationalism as its example!); however, unionists impose the other definition, 'an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries' (same OED link) on those who advocate Scottish independence as a way to discredit a political position that would in other contexts be considered a reasonable expression of self-determination (witness UK support of South Sudan and former Soviet republics). Many left-wing liberal types have bought into this definition, assuming that Scottish nationalism is somehow equivalent to BNP nationalism, Nazis, or militant Irish republicanism. Never mind that Scottish nationalism has never advocated or used violence; never mind that it is inclusive of all races and nationalities; never mind that part of its motivation is the desire for a more left-wing, liberal society than Westminster seems willing to provide. Facts are unimportant in the face of their prejudices. This leads to a situation where the very same individual can make numerous posts about being willing to wage war with Argentina to preserve the right of self-determination of Falkland Islanders to be British, and then accuse a political movement that is against nuclear weapons, foreign wars, and suspicious of NATO of being jingoistic.

Left-wing liberal types will decry the illogic of being a nationalist in the sense of being proud to be from somewhere, because it makes no sense to be proud of a place just because you were born there; it's not like you had a choice, and it's not like you had anything to do with that nation's accomplishments, right? Well, by that logic, you should never be proud of your children's accomplishments either; you may have had a hand in raising them, but you didn't actually do their accomplishments, so you have no reason to be proud. By that logic, I am also perfectly justified in being a Scottish nationalist, because I wasn't born here, but I chose this as my country, while Gary is not because he was born here and thus didn't have a choice in the matter. Frankly, that's just daft. There is nothing wrong with pride as long as it is tempered with realism. I'm proud of what Scotland has accomplished as a small country, of the positive influence it has had in the world, and of the progressive attitudes it continues to have with things like free higher education and gay marriage. I am ashamed that sectarianism is still such an issue, that we have the highest teen pregnancy rates and lowest life expectancy in Western Europe, and that our obesity rates are so high. I don't have blind devotion to the point of ignoring its problems, or party loyalty even when it goes against what I believe. (That is true tribalism, and something that seems to be the speciality of the Labour party to be honest.) Blind patriotism is not a virtue (whatever many Americans may think), and Scottish nationalism is not blind patriotism. We want to make our country better, we think our own government can solve our problems more effectively than Westminster, and that is why we are nationalists.

For some, however, this explanation doesn't count. By virtue of not wanting to be part of the United Kingdom as it currently exists, we are apparently hateful, limited, resentful, bigoted and jingoistic. Needless to say, what they mean is, we are hateful, limited resentful, bigoted and jingoistic towards the English. Ignoring the fact that there are self-identified English people who are Scottish nationalists, what about the Welsh and Northern Irish? We are 'rejecting' them too by 'rejecting' the union, but I've never heard the same sort of defensiveness from a Welsh or Norn Irish person that we get from English unionists; at most it's a despairing wail of 'don't abandon us to the Tories!' (never mind that Scottish votes have never prevented Tories getting into government). British-identifying Norn Irish may get skittish because of their experience with militant republicanism, but they realise it's not the same thing. Some might say that this is typical English self-absorbedness ;) What I think, though, is that for so long Englishness and Britishness have been so deeply intertwined (witness the international habit of using England interchangeably with Britain and UK, even by educated people like Jon Stewart, who usually calls the queen the queen of England) that they feel any attempt to 'break up' Britain is equivalent to a rejection of England and Englishness, a personal slap in the face more humiliating than loss of empire or losing to Germany on penalties. For all the self-deprecation, and whether it is conscious or not (and whether they would admit it or not!), many English people DO still have a Victorian view that they are the world's great civilisers, and those uppity Scots need to shut the hell up and accept their subordinate place in a union that is for their own good. Lord, grant that Marshal Wade and all that, eh chaps?

And then there are the sentimental unionists. We've done great things! We stood against the Nazis together! I feel British! The Beatles! Harry Potter! Shakespeare! Street parties, the queen, bunting, wave those union flags! Ask them why they are against Scottish independence, and they will say, 'I love Scotland! I don't want us to be broken apart by a bunch of Braveheart nonsense!' and they don't see the least irony. Of course there is some sentimentality on the independence side, but to pretend there isn't just as much on the unionist side is just that- pretending. Give the sentimental unionist all the reasons in the world for Scottish independence, and they will still give a sentimental response about us being 'better together' and 'it just doesn't feel right to break up!' This is politics, not a teenage romance, and how it feels should not be the determining factor. So then we reach the last resort: fear.

The fear factor has been ever present in the independence debate for as long as there has been an independence debate. Scotland is too wee, too poor, and too stupid to go it alone. All of the fear-based arguments relate to one or more of these assumptions. They ignore that there are smaller, poorer and certainly more stupid countries in the world that seem to get by just fine; many of these countries were once part of other countries, whether as colonies or equal partners. Not one of them would vote to go back, no matter how hard things might have gotten at certain points in their histories, no matter what teething troubles they faced as independent nations. Scotland would be better placed than most, being rich in natural resources and already having many independent institutions that wouldn't need to be set up completely from scratch. In fact, we would only be screwed if Westminster forced a vindictive US Civil War Reconstruction-style settlement on Scotland that stripped us of our national assets while simultaneously giving us more than our fair share of debt. Even in that worst-case scenario (which is probably not even possible, as the Scottish government would never stand for it), I think we'd still manage to recover; not being beholden to the City of London would be of benefit there. We need only look at Finland, who got extraordinarily screwed over at the end of the Second World War, yet have managed to create one of the best educated, most equal, least corrupt nations in the world. They know what it is to be a small country next to a bigger, more powerful, expansionist one (on both sides, though Sweden's empire days are further in the past), and what a difference running your own affairs makes to your nation's ability to survive and thrive.

Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you think that Scotland will turn into Somalia if it becomes independent. Or perhaps you just think it will become Iceland. A small country with few natural resources on a volcanic rock in the sea, which decided it didn't like how its government was doing things, so they rose up peacefully and wrote a new constitution to try and make things better. What a terrible fate.

Whatever your feelings on Scottish independence, I make one request. This is an important issue, certainly the biggest political issue in Scotland for a long time. Please don't cheapen it with all this nonsense. By all means engage the issues, question everything (and I mean everything from BOTH sides, not just the yes side; the mainstream media is pretty bad about talking complete bollocks), do so vigorously even. But at least be aware of your prejudices before you mouth off, and think about where your opinions are actually coming from. You may still come to the conclusion that you are against independence, or at least that you aren't willing to take the risk, but at least then you'll have looked at it properly and not just had a knee-jerk reaction caused by your own biases.
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July 2012

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