Tag Archives: united kingdom

The Confidence Trick of a Lifetime (Unionism)

When you get involved in discussions about the benefits or otherwise of Scottish independence, it is difficult not to notice that there is more often than not a profound sense of anxiety lurking in the background. It is against this emotional background that many of the arguments recited by those who intend to vote ‘no’ are set.

But when you stop to think about it, perhaps this profound sense of anxiety has more to do with the psychological effect of generations of cultural suppression, than it has to do with sound rational appraisal of how independence will actually change this country.

Cultural suppression is built into the very concept of the United Kingdom. It is the feature without which the union could not have survived in the manner it has done for over three hundred years. It was integral to the strategy to control common Scots’ outrage at losing autonomy at the time and is pivotal to the strategy to discourage confidence in regaining it today.

The cruel thing about a country living through generations of cultural suppression is that after a while its people stop taking notice of it for what it is. You stop recognising that unwanted norms were imposed as a way of shaping living patterns in the style required to maintain a constitutional arrangement through which you gain some, in return for giving up a lot.

Many people who are opposed to the idea of independence repeat the mantra that Scotland cannot afford it. The economy isn’t diverse or resilient enough to cope in difficult times. The oil is going to run out shortly. The country doesn’t have the expertise or the budget to defend itself. Scotland would need to apply to be part of the EU and NATO. We would be weak, vulnerable and out of our depth on the international stage.

Yet when you press for facts, figures and evidence, they are never forthcoming. There are none. There cannot be any evidence to demonstrate that as an independent nation Scotland would not thrive. Even if a team of economic experts managed to pull together a set of figures and arranged them in such a way to show that Scotland did not currently pay its own way within the union, it would never follow that Scotland couldn’t support itself in the future as an independent country.

To think that it did it follow would be to believe that the additional powers gained through independence would leave the country in a weaker position than before; which seems rather counter-intuitive, until you think it through from the perspective of one who is emotionally immersed in a union built on unequal relations and held together through generations of cultural suppression. It is the confidence trick of a lifetime.

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Britain Delivered (Carefully Positioned Straws)

In his typically patronising and condescending style, David Cameron has declared today that the moral of the Olympic Games is that if you want to achieve great things, you have to work really hard to get them.

He is absolutely correct, of course. In the majority of cases working hard does lead to achievement. But it was a heck of a lot of money to spend just to discover one of the facts of life you learn in working class primary schools.

Cameron’s folly lies in the ridiculous way he tries to spin shaky economic justifications for conservative party politics out of the least likely threads.

Together with his daft pals he is hell bent on pursuing an ideological agenda that just does not fit with our current reality, regardless of the fake conviction with which he tries to sell it as the only economic option.

It is even more surprising that Cameron feels the need to use the Olympics as an argument in support of the Union. He sold the flag waving, trumpet blowing monarchical indulgence of the Jubilee as a perfect celebration of what it means to be British, despite many of us just not getting it.

And now he is suggesting that the Olympic Games have brought the four nations of the United Kingdom even closer together than before. Perhaps they did, but I would think that the coming together was on a purely sporting level, given the lack of independent alternatives, and for a limited period of time only.

When a Glaswegian feels naturally drawn to the sporting excellence of Jessica Ennis, or a Londoner feels an affinity with Chris Hoy, there is no political motivation or intent.

To try to construct one out of it is wholly inappropriate and is to admit that you are clutching at another one of your carefully positioned straws.

The incoherent, and at times inscrutable, closing ceremony hammered home the point to me that there are chunks of the United Kingdom that are utterly alien to each other.

It is a social union that looks and feels culturally fragmented, a political union that is based on the removal of autonomy, and an economic union that is so completely lop sided that it is only a matter of time before it topples over.

Britain delivered a great sporting event, according to Cameron. And I completely agree; but I would hesitate to believe in the economic and political fairy tales that he is trying to spin out of it.

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‘Better Together’?

The irrefutable strength of the Scottish Independence campaign is that it is built on the fundamental right of self-determination. All nations have the right to choose their own sovereignty and political status, without external interference, and that is essentially what the independence of Scotland would secure.

It is insisted that independence is therefore the natural condition of a nation such as Scotland, and that the people of Scotland are best placed to determine its economic, political and social future. I completely agree with this.

In my view, the only argument that would ever convince me that we were ‘better together’ is one that would demonstrate, first of all, that Scotland’s claim to nationhood was ill conceived, and hence that we had no right to self-determination; and secondly, that the people of Scotland were simply incapable of taking full responsibility for the future of their own country.

It would take a very powerful argument to convince me that it is better for Scotland to have its economic, political and social future controlled and determined by a Government that sits outside of Scotland; a Government that the people of Scotland can rarely influence, if at all.

When Alistair Darling launched his ‘Better Together’ campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, I was hoping that he, as the former Chancellor of the United Kingdom Government, would offer some sound economic and political arguments why Scotland would indeed be better off remaining in the union.

I genuinely wanted him to challenge my thinking on this matter. I genuinely wanted to feel that Alex Salmond would now need to come back with some strong rebuttals. Perhaps then he would need to begin filling in some of the gaps in his own vision. But no need – there were no strong arguments forthcoming, just a watery statement about how we should embrace and celebrate our cultural diversity and our great social union.

I am with Darling in recognising that cultural diversity is a good thing. It is a fact of life in an interesting, prosperous and thriving nation. It is what Scotland was built on. It is absolutely to be embraced. I am with Darling in acknowledging that loving Scotland does not mean having to leave the United Kingdom behind. But it does mean exactly that if your love for Scotland means that you want to take responsibility for your own affairs.

The poverty of Darling’s argument has not gone unnoticed. And it is not because he failed to come up with hard facts and figures demonstrating that Scotland could not survive on its own – in fact, he acknowledged that it probably could, given its oil wealth – but because he failed to put forward one single convincing reason why a nation such as Scotland should not want to determine its own future.

In some respects we may well be better off together. In some respects, there will be strengths to be gained from being part of a union that you cannot have on your own. That much is obvious. But it does not preclude the fact that there may also be many other respects in which you are not better off together. That much is obvious too.

I believe that it would be significantly better for Scotland as a nation to create and nurture its own opportunities, and to maximise its own resources, than have its future determined by a Government that believes that independence should be avoided because it is unsettling, inherently risky and unjustified; and fronted by a scare mongering individual who tries to spook us by insisting that independence ‘would send our children to a deeply uncertain destination’.

Sorry Darling, poor effort; I, like many others, remain unspooked.

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Alex Salmond’s patchwork vision

I find Alex Salmond’s latest comments on Scottish independence confusing:


Whilst I am ardently in favour of it, I would hesitate to vote for independence if I believed that the only party promising to deliver it were in danger of delivering a form of independence that I didn’t think was right for the country.

By this I mean I would hesitate to sign up to an independent Scotland if what we were about to receive would be an ‘independent Scotland within the United Kingdom’.

To me this idea seems very unclear. I wouldn’t really understand what I would be voting for. To bring about significant change, you need to have a clear and consistent vision that everyone understands and is ready to support, but I don’t think I understand this.

Perhaps I am politically naïve, or perhaps I have fallen for the Unionists rhetoric, but in my view the situation is clear cut: either you want Scotland to be an independent country or you don’t. There should be no middle ground. The middle ground is near enough what we have at the moment.

Alex Salmond believes that an independent Scotland would retain the Queen as Head of State, just like Canada and Australia; would continue to use the pound as its currency; and in short, would remain within the United Kingdom.

I am not entirely sure what his agenda is. On the one hand, he is adamant that his aim is to secure an independent Scotland. So far, so good. But on the other hand, he appears to want to drip-feed his ideas about what an independent Scotland would look like and perhaps also drip-feed the process over a longer period of time than he would have us believe.

Perhaps he believes that it would be too much for us to grasp if he were to give us the full story up front. Perhaps he fears that the reality of independence would cause too much concern among those not yet in favour of it, and whom he must convince if he is to secure his ambitions for the country.

At times, it almost looks as if he is hedging his bets and privately hoping to secure full fiscal autonomy in the first instance, with complete independence to follow at a much later stage, but only once he has demonstrated that it would be a sustainable proposition.

Perhaps he is playing a clever game of poker with the United Kingdom government. Perhaps he is privately concerned that he would need to concede too much in a separation agreement and lose full rights to the country’s oil reserves, particularly when the oil reserves appear to be one of the aces in his pack.

Full fiscal autonomy may help to get around this in the short term, depending on what he believes he could secure as part of that agreement, which could then be used to set a precedent that would enable the Scottish government to push for full independence further down the road.

The concern I would have with pursuing this strategy is that the people of Scotland may lose their appetite for full independence, and no longer see it as important once it had full control over its own reserves, and revenue raising powers, in what would be a stronger devolution agreement.

The problem facing Alex Salmond is that he knows he needs to convince the majority of people in Scotland to vote for independence, when there are many who are still psychologically and culturally committed to the United Kingdom.

As a result, he appears to be identifying reasons why many people in Scotland are committed to the United Kingdom, and suggesting that we can still retain all of this, whilst being an independent country.

To me that doesn’t sound quite right. I need to be convinced that Alex Salmond will create the right future for Scotland, but I suspect that he is not one hundred per cent sure himself what this would look like.

In the meantime, in trying to please the majority of voters, he may ultimately run the risk of creating a patchwork vision that few people really believe in, and few people would really want.

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