Friday, 25 April 2014

Dreams of Independence

Will Scotland become an independent nation? The question’s on everyone’s lips. Politicians and businessmen work it back and forth every day hoping to coax some emotion (translation: votes) from an indifferent public. The vote in September is likely to be close.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that SNP --- the party leading the charge for independence, is the Scottish National Party. However the N might as well stand for Nationalistic.

 Nationalism and its cousin Patriotism are in vogue these days. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) along with the vanguard of the Conservative Party  are out flying the Union Jack and trying to get people steamed up about putting Britain first, getting out of the European Union and all its nefarious regulations. Send home all those Polish plumbers, bus drivers and doctors who are stealing our jobs. After the Scottish Referendum, we may well face a referendum on whether to leave the EU. It's the same basic question.

I hate nationalism and patriotism in all their manifestations. The idea that human beings of one country are in some way superior to others is a dangerous illusion that has built oppressive empires and given rise to more wars and suffering than any other idea. Right now blood is being spilled in the Ukraine over it. Europe owes its long peace after WWII to an overall softening of nationalism, the recognition that countries have more to gain by focusing on their common humanity than their differences. Cultural differences? They’re just that --- cultural, acquired over the years through repetition, passed on as traditions, but they are essentially acquired behaviours. They do not make us fundamentally different. We all suffer when bereaved, fear death and pray to our God (or gods) when we feel insufficient. We are all capable of love.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Scotland: the land, the people, the mists, folklore, ghosts, the music, dances. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But the idea of putting Scotland in a box and drawing borders around it, emphasizing a false division with the rest of the UK reminds me too much of the unfortunate division of Ireland into two pieces and its consequences. Let’s not fool ourselves. Scottish Independence (if it happens) will stoke a great deal of resentment on both sides of the new border. After it’s done, a new sense of alienation will linger between the two “nations.” The division of the UK will be a messy divorce with a nasty aftermath.

The Scots feel, with some justification, that they do not get a fair share of the goods from Westminster. But so do the Cornish, the Welsh, the Yorkish and the Northern Irish. In fact everyone outside Greater London gets paltry treatment.  Let’s face it, that’s where the bulk of the votes are so that’s where the biggest spending is, on housing, theatre, music, transport etc. The problem can be solved, but do we really want to try to do it by chopping up the UK?  The battle of Bannockburn, when Scotland threw off the English yoke happened 700 years ago. We can’t go back to those days. Both psychologically and as a nation, we’ve come a long way since then.

1 comment:

  1. The above blog (predictably) provoked some strong reactions on the part of some "YES" voters. One, responding to the blog, went as far as to post two nasty reviews of my books on Amazon. These are not isolated events. Here in northeastern Scotland you'll see many "YES" signs posted on houses but hardly a single "NO" sign. This is not because Aberdeenshire is overwhelmingly going to vote for independence, but because "NO" voters would rather not have their houses vandalized by rabid nationalists. The local rumour mill has many such stories, some of which surface in the news. The online abuse that J.K. Rowling suffered after coming out as a "NO" voter is well known. Though the Referendum is often cast as about independence rather than about Scottish nationalism, nationalism is never far from the debate; indeed it is the emotional fuel that drives it.