Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Unionist Pact

The following letter was published, with slightly different editing, in today's Scotsman.

In July the Yes campaign won 45% of votes cast, a figure which represents no more than 38% of those eligible to vote. The newly inflated SNP membership of 85,000 still represents only 2% of the electorate.

These figures make it highly unlikely that the SNP will gather more than 50% of the vote in more than a handful of constituencies in the upcoming general election. Nevertheless, recent opinion polls suggest that the first-past-the-post system may grant them more than 30 seats at Westminster. In that case, a minority of Scottish voters may end up dictating the future policies of the British government - a government that the majority of Scots want, but which the SNP only wishes to destroy.

It therefore seems logical that for the 2015 general election the Unionist parties should form a pact to stand down in constituencies where they might divide the vote and allow the SNP to win by default. If voters were given a choice between the Unionist and separatist candidates, it is highly unlikely that the SNP would win more than a handful of seats.

The initial reaction of Tories might be to spurn an electoral pact that would benefit Labour and the Liberal Democrats at their expense. However, since they are officially the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, wiser heads should realise that a short-term loss of seats is much preferable to the long-term loss of their country.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Heading home

On referendum night (18th September) I switched off my computer and radio before 10pm and got into bed with a good book. When a friend called from Germany in a state of inebriation and excitement, I coldly told her that I wasn't discussing or thinking about the referendum until the result was in, and put the phone down.

I was up the next morning at 7. I didn't switch on the radio until 7.50 and caught the tail end of a discussion on the Today programme. Something about it being a bad night for Ed Miliband. That means we've lost, I thought, but almost immediately afterwards the news update confirmed that the No vote had won by 55% to 45%. Uncharacteristically, and with unwitting irony, I punched the air "Yes!". Disaster had been averted. Scots had decided to back the Union with a clear margin. I would not find myself a foreigner in my own country. My as-yet-to-receive citizenship partner would be blessed with a British passport that allowed access to the European Union, rather than cursed with travel documents that continued his alienation from the EU. Scotland would not throw itself into financial limbo and I would not need to divide my assets between the surety of British pounds and the gamble of an unknown Scots currency. Three hundred years of history, of unimpeded travel, marriage, co-operation and unity that brought together almost all the inhabitants of these islands would not be thrown away.  I could return to London safe in the knowledge that it was still part of my country and without crossing the shadow of a future border. 

For me and most people I knew, Edinburgh and Scotland was not a pleasant place to be in the fortnight of September. Scots, English and others alike, we saw no reason to break up the UK. Our hearts stretched from Shetland to the Scillies; centuries of history had created one strong nation. Separation would have cut a deep wound into our psyches that could never be healed. Those of us who were - and are - Scots take great pride in our identity and our heritage, but that identity and heritage stretches far beyond the river Tweed. For us, to be Scots means also to be British; we cannot conceive of ourselves being one and not the other. We had no wish to deny Nationalists their right to be Scottish and we could not understand why they were so insistent on denying us our right to be British?

Our emotional argument was strong, our intellectual argument even stronger. We looked at the case for independence put forward by the Scottish government, while windering how much time and money had been wasted on reams of documents by bureaucrats whose energies would surely have been better spent in bettering the lives of Scots today rather than fantasising about the lives of Scots tomorrow. All we saw was vague statistics and unfounded assertions - assertions that were often denied or belied by the very authorities on whom the separatists were basing their arguments. £250 million to set up all the trappings of a new state? How could we respect a finance minister that put forward such a figure? We were assured automatic membership of the EU - yet the EU itself and even Scots lawyers in favour of independence said it would not happen. A currency union? What part of No from London did the separatists not understand? Why did they think that the rest of the UK would want to support a country that had rejected them and which could not organise its own finances decently?

Yet despite heart and head shouting loudly, "separation would be madness", we, the silent majority, found ourselves uncertain and alone. We were surrounded by Yes posters, afraid to display our own opinions because of threats against those who had the courage to speak out against the fantasy and damage to property that dared to carry posters saying "No thanks". Opinion polls unnerved us, suggesting that the result was on a knife-edge. We could not see beyond 19th, half-suspecting that it would herald the start of a long Arctic night. With joy we realised we had merely experienced a brief eclipse. "Am I dreaming?" a relative asked when she called at eight on the morning of the 19th; no, I reassured her; the nightmare is over.

But while I, and millions like me, were relieved at the outcome, there were 1.6 million voters (37.8% of the electorate - 44.7% of those who voted) whose disappointment was as palpable as my relief. The media showed that many were in tears, the same tears I might have shed if the result had gone the other way. Many had voted for the sake of a better Scotland, deluded by the Nationalists into believing that independence would make Scotland a fairer society. A few were aware of the risks, but many who voted Yes were motivated by little more than deep prejudice against Westminster - the convenient fall-guy for any politician seeking to divert scrutiny away from the weaknesses in their own policies and behaviour. Like true believers who had seen Paradise, they could not conceive that their vision was an illusion.

Blame for their predicament lies partly at the feet of Alex Salmond and the many in the Yes leadership who refused to let reality confuse their campaign. Blame also lies firmly at the feet of the incompeent No campaign, who failed to address the Scottish people with the same empathy that oozed from Alex Salmond. For most of the campaign only George Galloway - a man for whom I have little respect - was occasionally heard arguing the Unionist cause with the same passion as the Yes campaign. At the last moment we got Gordon Brown, and then we wondered where he had been for the last two years? If instead of the stiff and unapproachable Alistair Darling and the incompetent Blair McDougall the No campaign had had someone of Salmond's stature who could respond to the SNP leader's bullying and lies, the result might have been closer to 25% Yes and 75% No. More importantly, the intimidation and violence (mostly broken windows, but even one broken window is too many) might been curtailed, instead flourishing as it did under Salmond's Putin-like denials that it was happening.

The damage is done. Scotland has been divided. Two hours after receiving that welcome news I was on a train back to London, where I have lived half my life and where I still have business and a relationship to take my time and attention. Today, however, I return to Edinburgh wondering whether the 37.8% will respect the decision of the Scottish electorate or whether we face year after year of a neverendum, as those who cannot see further than Carlisle and Berwick, those for whom an English accent is an excuse for xenophobia, those who want to be big fish in a small pond, continue to stir p division and to sow disunity in our still United Kingdom. I want to be Scottish again; I want to have as much pride in my identity as a Scot and Brit as I have always had; I want to feel equally at home in Lerwick, Llandudno in London. I hope that those of narrower vision have learnt their lesson - we Scots are much greater nation than the land which gave us birth.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

I’m one of a big family living in a large house that we have shared for hundreds of years. I enjoy moving around our home and have spent many years living in both the South Wing and Northern Suite.

Now some of my relatives in the Northern Suite want to divide the house. They tell me we’ll then be able to decorate the Northern Suite the way we want it and spend our money without consulting the rest of the family. I point out that we do most of that already. We have our own budget and our own set of rules; we decide how our children are educated, what medical care we all get, and we’re even in charge of the local policeman who tells them off if they misbehave.

That’s not enough, they say. By cutting ourselves off from the rest of the family, we’ll be able to spend our money more fairly, make sure everyone has enough to live off. I remind them we have the resources and ability to do this already, but they ignore me. Some admit that after the divorce we are going to be poorer and it is going to be difficult to get credit. But that doesn’t matter, they say. Life will be better for all of us in the Northern Suite if we turn our backs on the rest of the family. Only then will we regain our self-respect – a statement that confuses me, because I have never lost my self-respect as a member of both my immediate and broader family. 

I now face the prospect of a poorer life in a smaller home and most of my relatives will become strangers. I expect those relatives will react negatively if we reject them and we will lose many privileges that were once our birthright. Our former relatives will charge us more for business transactions as they place us on an equal footing with the rest of the world. Many of our favourite radio and television programmes will disappear. Without the support of our broader family we will find it more difficult to travel abroad – and when the rest of the world accepts us, it will be on their terms, not ours.

I am disheartened that many of my close relatives have such a narrow vision that they cannot see how much they gain from being part of such an old, strong and tolerant family and how much we will lose if we turn our backs on them. They are full of optimism, but I am more hard-headed. I know that if there is a divorce both sides will lose and the long-term legacy will be intolerance and resentment on both sides of the divide that will last for generations. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Still here

These are the powers Scotland already has
The fact that I haven't posted here for almost a month is not a sign that my interest in the upcoming referendum is waning. The primary reason why I haven't written anything is because I have several ongoing business and personal obligations that leave me little free time; the second reason is because news coverage in recent weeks has so significantly undermined what was left of the YeSNP's argument for independence made many of the points that I would have made - and made them much better than I could.

However, at a well-attended Better Together meeting in Leith tonight, I was reminded of the importance of bringing out the No Vote. We have reason - and level-headed emotion - on our side, but the Yes campaign is driven by sentiment and that sentiment is more likely to drive voters to the polls.

The three speakers included Alan Tomkins of Glasgow University, who writes trenchant analysis of the legal implications of separation, Ronald MacDonald, an economic expert and a businesswoman whose name I did not catch. All three spoke clearly and informatively and it was especially heartening to see, in answer to questions, Tomkins becoming passionate about the issue - a passion shared by several speakers, and non-speakers from the audience. Of course we are passionate: we want to save this country that we love - these countries that we love - from being destroyed by ignorance and greed for power.

Several  points came up that I will probably come back to in later posts, but the two that struck me most notably were (a) the absence of any SNP representative to answer some of the economic and business questions about independence that many in the audience had and (b) among the many contradictions of YeSNP policy was the fact that the country could not have the mass immigration that it now (since last week, that is) says it wants) together with an open border with the rest of the UK.

We will win this debate, but we will not win it through reason alone. We have to show the same passion for our cause as the Yes campaign. Nothing can overcome passion and reason.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Independence through an independent tribunal?

I've always thought that the legal process was the best method of resolving any dispute. In criminal law an impartial jury decides guilt or innocence. In civil law where two sides are in conflict (libel, divorce, whatever), a judge with no connection with either party makes a decision based on the evidence presented. In practice the system has its flaws – some criminals are found not guilty, a rich person is more likely to get a good lawyer than a poor one etc – but the theory is good; the fairest decisions come from arbiters with an overall view and no emotional attachment to the case.

Three to five countries all claim sovereignty
over these uninhabited specks of land
In an ideal world, all international disputes from the Israel-Palestine conflict through the Ukraine to the ownership of the Spratly Islands would be resolved in the same way. With few exceptions, such conflicts arise because the public and political leaders on one or both sides are driven by emotion more than reason – and their objective is more often to fight for the best result for their own side rather than work together for the fairest result for everybody involved.

We needn’t hold our breath waiting for an independent adjuticator to resolve most of the other disputes that plague many nations across the world. Occasionally the weaker side in a dispute proposes such a measure, but the stronger side, with more to lose, generally opposes it. The closest the Israeli-Palestine issue came to being resolved was the 1993 Oslo accord, when Norway acted as an independent referee, but that brief moment of hope quickly faded.

Which brings me to the Scottish referendum. The idea that this conflict – and yes, it is a conflict although one which, thankfully, the Scots and other Brits are content to limit to words – can be resolved by democratic vote is problematic. Problematic firstly, because the apparently democratic idea of 2 million Scots deciding the fact of Scotland becames very much less democratic when seen as 2 million Britons deciding the fate of the United Kingdom.

Problematic also because so much of the debate is driven by emotion, with many of those involved (particularly on the internet) being much less interested in serious debate and exchange of ideas than with drumming their opinions into the heads of their opponents. The broader public, influenced at least partly by the strong emotions engendered and with restricted understanding of the likely advantages and disadvantages of independence, are therefore more likely to vote according to what they feel and believe rather than what they understand and know.

Ideally, therefore, I'd prefer the decision as to whether Scotland should become independent to be settled not by voters, whose judgement – including my own – I trust either partially or not at all, but by independent experts. Organisations and individuals with no connection with Scotland or the rest of the UK would consider the whole picture - historical, economic, linguistic, legal etc etc - and come to a fair conclusion as to whether Scotland as a whole would be better off as part of the UK or independent. If their verdict was independence, I'd say great, let’s go for it. After all, if people wiser than me tell me that independence is best for us all, then of course, independence it should be.

Regrettably, that international tribunal will not take place. And so the burden of deciding Scotland’s fate falls upon the shoulders of fallible, ignorant voters like myself. All I can do in such circumstances is gather what evidence I can to make my decision. Much of that evidence will come from Scotland and the rest of the UK, from individuals and organisations professing interest in one or neither side. The most important evidence, however, will be the analysis that comes from independent institutions that are based outside the United Kingdom.

And so, taking into consideration all the evidence that I have come across, and – yes, this is where emotion comes in – the many family, social, economic and cultural links that have been forged over the last thousand* years between Scotland and the rest of the union, the best conclusion I can come to is that separation would be pointless and stupid for most people living north and south of the Solway and Tweed. For the sake of all Brits, I have to vote No.

* Anyone who knows their history knows that Scots and English have been inter-marrying and traveling and doing business across these islands since long before either Scotland or England became a nation.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

SNP and UKIP - how similar?

Surely the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party have nothing in common? UKIP fervently defends the United Kingdom; the SNP wants to destroy it. UKIP wants to get out of Europe; the SNP begs to stay in. UKIP is against gay marriage; the SNP has legislated in favour. The SNP leans to the left, UKIP to the right. And so on and so on. Policy wonks from Lerwick to Land's End can point out the many other differences that exist between the two parties, so why do I think that the SNP and UKIP have much more in common than either party would admit?

Smiles and Steel

Alex Farage and Nigel Salmond
Start at the top. The two parties are led by men who combine a public persona of affability with ruthless ambition. Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond both come across as relaxed, cheerful and friendly, the kind of man with whom we would happily down a dram or a pint at the local pub. There would be laughter and good conversation and all would seem right with the world.

For both men, their bonhomie is a rare and important political asset that engenders sympathy for their cause. Peel away the masks, however, and it is clear that both men have a determined and single-minded drive to overcome all obstacles and bypass all individuals in their way.

Most politicians combine empathy with ego - it's what attracts them to politics in the first place - but few have these qualities to same extent as Farage and Salmond. Even fewer have consummate political skill, in particular, the ability to create a clear message which appeals to a wide public irrespective of its basic flaws. In comparison, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg fall short on all three counts - empathy, ego and political skill - which partly explains their failure to counter the rise of the SNP/UKIP duopoly. One cannot imagine Dave, Ed or Nick repeating Alex's and Nigel's trick of leading their party, giving way to others when tactics demanded it, and returning to the top when those who replaced them proved less able

Of course there are differences between the two. Farage is prone to irritation while the SNP leader never seems to lose his cool. The Englishman is also unusual in that he often gives direct answers to questions, although his statistics cannot always be relied on; Salmond, like most politicians, is a dab hand at ignoring inconvenient questions and offering platitudes instead of hard facts. And Farage it seems, prefers local pubs while the Dear Leader lounges in luxury hotels.

One Party, One Policy

SNP / UKIP policy
Personalities aside, what links the parties is their common policy – Get Us Out!! It doesn't matter whether the target is the UK or the EU; the basic message is the same - Our Nation Is Weakened By The Union. If Brussels / London did not hamper us, we could be free, we could fulfil our potential and paradise would come.

Get Us Out!! is a powerful, appealing message. It reduces a complex situation to a simple answer. It suggests that the Gordian knot can be cut and all will be well. Get Us Out!! takes people's frustrations and unhappiness and allows them to place the blame for their problems on someone else. There's nothing wrong with (Scotland/the UK - fill in the blank); it's the all fault of those people (over the border/across the Channel - fill in the blank); as soon as we break the shackles we will prosper.


The single issue of Get Us Out!! is not enough to win over an electorate. Which leads us to the third similarity between UKIP and the SNP: populism - responding not to principle, but to the people's whims. The goal of the party is to leave the (British/European - fill in the blank) Union; the means to achieve that goal is populism. And so policies are adopted or abandoned only if they will win votes to reach the Get Us Out!! goal. If middle England is against gay marriage, then so is UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to keep the pound, then the SNP will happily jettison its policy of the euro. If middle England doesn’t accept climate change, then neither will UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to stay in NATO, then the SNP will abandon its long-standing opposition. And so on. Whatever policy the electorate wants, SNP/UKIP will promote it as long as it gets them closer to Get Us Out!!

Come Together?

So there you have it – a strong, charismatic leader, Get Us Out!!  and populism. They may be poles apart on specific policies may differ, but the differences between UKIP and the SNP are more superficial than deep. Let’s hope the two don’t come together in an electoral pact, because if they do, we Scots and other Brits really will be in trouble....

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Little Scotlanders and Great Scots

David Hume - a great Scot who flourished under the Union
One of the insidious impacts of SNP propaganda has been to deny wherever possible our double heritage as Scots and Brits. There is a difference between Great Scots - those who of us who not only acknowledge the wealth of Scottish history and the tremendous contribution that we, as artists and engineers, as philosophers and politicians, as soldiers and salesmen, and so on, have made to life in Scotland, the UK and beyond - and Little Scotlanders - those who look inwards, who view the world beyond the Solway and the Tweed with suspicion, who are blind to the many contributions we have made to our fellow Briton and the rest of the world and who can see nothing but insult and lies in even the blandest of statements made with an English accent.

Great Scots do not have an inferiority complex. We do not need to build our own army or establish embassies across the world to be proud of ourselves as Scots, to see ourselves as equal with our nations or to build ourselves a better nation. Little Scotlanders are constantly nurturing grudges, blaming all Scotland's shortcomings on their English neighbours, reassuring themselves that they can go it alone. Little Scotlanders want independence not because they feel strong, but because they feel weak.

There will be a high price to pay if the Little Scotlanders win the referendum. Of course there will be winners - Salmond and Sturgeon will achieve their dream of international status and the SNP apparatchiks will get plum posts in Washington, Paris, Beijing and London. The rest of us will have a high price to pay. Many of us will be made foreigners in the country we grew up in. Those of us whose lives are divided between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be confronted by dual taxes and bureaucracies. Those of us who are based in Scotland will find a hollow victory - entry into the EU, NATO and hundreds of international organisations costly and delayed, the social democractic paradise promised by the SNP an illusion as they fail to raise the high taxes that such a paradise demands (as Denmark and Sweden know well).

We have a choice in the coming referendum. Inward-looking, chip-on-their-shoulder Little Scotlanders who vote Yes to shake off imaginary shackles, or confident Great Scots who vote No and prove to the world that we

Monday, 21 April 2014

Two is better than one

We've all done it. Filled in a form or a survey which asks about our background. Depending on who is asking and what the information is for, questions about gender, age, racial background, income etc are common. Having agreed to the principle of the questionnaire, I have no problem answering as accurately as I can.

Only occasionally does the question of national identity come up. Not citizenship, as in what country/ies issued your passport, but do you consider yourself British, Welsh, English etc. The most recent of these was for the BBC. When I tried to tick both the Scottish and British boxes, the system refused to accept it. According to the Beeb, I could be Scottish or British, but not both.

The hell I can't . . . I wrote an email to the department responsible for the survey pointing out that many of us consider ourselves equally Scottish and British (I would add on equally European, but that is the topic of another post) and that to insist that we fit ourselves into one or other category was tantamount to taking sides in the referendum. To my surprise, I received a reply half justifying the either / or category and half accepting my point and saying that it would be passed on to Higher Authorities. I have not yet checked whether that an subsequent surveys have been amended to allow us to check two, three or more nationalities as we will. (After all, with an English father and an accent that drifts from Edinburgh into Cockney when I am in London, there is no reason for me to deny my English roots.)

We Scots (English, Welsh, Cornish, Northern Irish, whatever) are lucky in that we have two nationalities. We are like children in a sweet shop offered jelly babies and chocolate, dowager duchesses who can have their cake and eat it, cinema-goers in times gone by who saw both an A and B feature, like... well, you get the point; we have two identities for the price of one.

But what has being British ever done for me? SNP apparatchiks and Little Scotlanders ask. Apart from rescuing us from bankruptcy in the early eighteenth century? Aye, apart from that. Providing us with three centuries of economic and social well-being. Apart from rescuing us from bankruptcy and providing us with three centuries of well-being? Giving us a commercial empire across the world? Apart from all that say the sour-minded SNP, determined to be downbeat and anti-British? How about citizenship from Cornwall to Carlisle, Cardiff to Carmarthen? The BBC? The greatest union of democratic nations the world has ever known? And so much more.

Like the famous scene in The Life of Brian, where the rebels ask what the Romans have done for them, Little Scotlanders are never satisfied. Great Scots, on the other hand, know that to admit being Scottish and deny being British is to be stubborn, obtuse and plain stupid, not to mention narrow-minded and ungrateful. Fortunately, most Scots are not Little Scotlanders; we recognise that unity is better than division, that we not only can but should celebrate both our Scottish- and Britishness. We are lucky; two identities are better than one.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Down, not Out

A common theme on the internet and in conversation that emerges from the separatist camp is if we get Independence, the Tories will never rule Scotland again. It's an interesting idea, but it suffers from two common defects that lie at the heart of the Yes campaign - ignorance of Scotland's past and short-sightedness when it comes to the country's future.

I'm old enough to remember when Scotland was a Tory stronghold. The party that sent the most Scottish MPs to Westminster until the early 1960s was the Unionist party, a separate entity from the Conservatives south of the border, but one which shared a common conservative ideology with their Saxon siblings. As Wikipedia reminds us, much of the the Unionists' strength lay in the fact that it could claim a Scottish identity, which their primary opponents, the London-based Labour party, could not. It was also closely linked with the Church of Scotland, a mirror of the Sassenach saying that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer.

In 1955, 50.1% of the electorate voted Unionist and gave them 36 of the nation's 71 seats, the only political party to ever achieve a majority in Scotland. (Yes, Salmond and Sturgeon, the only party ever to do so.) That was the peak of its achievements. The social and political changes that swept Britain in the 1960s began the weakening of establishment ties that have continued to this day. In 1965 the Unionists merged with the Conservatives, although its name remains in the official party designation today as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

The indifference of many Scots to the Tories turned to hostility as during Margaret Thatcher's premiership, most notably during her implementation of the poll tax and that hostility remains in a large segment of the population today. And the fact that only 15% of Scots voted Tory in the 2011 Holyrood elections is evidence for many that the party will never gain power in Scotland again. Yet this is wishful thinking. A Yes vote in the referendum would bring the paradoxical result of the SNP's greatest triumph and the beginning of its downfall. With its primary goal achieved, the party would have to focus on governing the country and at that point it would become clear whether it saw itself of the left, the right or - heaven help us - populist. And if the vote is No, the SNP would, like its Parti Quebecois cousins, find itself increasingly irrelevant.

Whichever way the vote goes, once the distraction of the referendum is out of the way, Scottish politics will almost certainly revert to the left-right model common to Western democracies. Assuming the SNP stays on the left rather than revert to its right-wing roots, many of its current supporters are likely to return to the Conservative fold. Under independence or devolution, therefore, expect the Tories to gain more votes and seats in future Holyrood elections; do not be surprised if a right-wing government comes to power in Holyrood in the next ten or twenty years. If you think a Yes vote guarantees a social democratic paradise, think again. The Tories may be down in Scotland, but they are certainly not out.

For the record, I have voted Conservative once in forty years. I have no intention of doing so in the 2015 Westminster elections. I will probably abstain in the 2014 European elections, while voting Labour in Hackney, where I am currently registered, because the local council seems to me to be performing well. Despite being Scottish-born, Scottish-speaking, owning property in Edinburgh and spending several months a year in the Scottish capital, I am denied a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum. When I complete my move to Edinburgh later this year I have no idea which party I will vote for, for Westminster, Holyrood or the local council, or whether I will abstain. Alternately, I will vote for the first political party that understands and responds to the critical long-term social, financial and environmental situation in which this country finds itself in.  

Friday, 18 April 2014

It's Shetland's Oil!

Alistair Carmichael's pledge to offer the Northern and Western Isles more powers is a welcome reminder that a major plank of the Scottish National Party's platform - "It's Scotland's Oil" - is based on a hypocritical premise.

Let's start with a bit of history. The Northern Isles - Orkney and Shetland to those whose geography is weak - were primarily peopled by Vikings and under Norwegian control until 1468/9 (Wikipedia is erratic on the exact date), when they were offered as security by Christian I against the dowry of his daughter Margaret to James III of Scotland. Since the dowry was never paid, the islands could theoretically be redeemed by the Norwegians at any time.

Shetland's Up Helly Aa (BBC picture)
Far from Edinburgh, (Shetland's capital Lerwick is closer to Norway than to the Scottish capital), the Northern Isles maintain a distinctive culture strongly influenced by their environment and their proximity to the Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands and for a while even maintained their own language, Norn, an offshoot of Old Norwegian.

Shetlanders and Orcadians have consistently expressed a lack of enthusiasm for Scottish Nationalism and have never returned an SNP candidate to either Westminster or Holyrood. There have been occasional calls for independence for the Northern Isles, although these have never gained traction; the preferred option has always been greater authority for the islands within the larger United Kingdom. (Although the Western Isles also have a Viking past, they identify strongly as Scottish; their case for greater autonomy rests on being the last stronghold of Gaelic.)

graphic from The Spectator
Since the 1970s, the Scottish Nationalists have consistently based their argument for independence on the wealth offered by North Sea oil and gas. In a wholly unified Scotland, this is would feasible, as the accompanying map shows that most of the oil fields are in Scottish waters. And even though the North Sea fields are beginning to run dry, there is apparently more oil waiting to be drilled the Western Isles. (On the other hand, those whose vision extends beyond the 2014 referendum are aware that the discovery of more fossil fuel is more a curse than a blessing for the whole of humanity.)

In an ideal world, separatists who demanded to be released of the yoke of Westminster would be equally loud in their demands for freedom for the Northern and Western Isles. After all, oppression is oppression wherever it is found and it is not for the oppressors to decide who is ruled and who goes free. Ever the opportunists (remember U-turns about the euro and NATO membership), the SNP leadership are making friendly noises about more powers to the Isles, but this, as usual, is the triumph of pragmatism over principle.

As the map shows, only about a third of the Scottish oilfields are in Shetland and Orkney waters. An independent Scotland without the Northern Isles would still have significant, although dwindling, reserves of its own. But that's not the point. The key issue, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, is that if you demand the break-up of the United Kingdom and a division of its assets, then you should be honest enough to admit that there are more than two parties in this partnership. If you reject the label of Briton in order to assert your own identity, allow others to reject the label of Scots in order to assert theirs. If you reject rule by Westminster, allow others to reject Holyrood rule. Above all, ask yourself, whose oil is it, anyway?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Sauce for the Gander

Here's a scenario. A group of kids are playing a game - the old fashioned kind out in the open with toy guns, rather than on screens in a darkened room. One of the kids has a tantrum because he isn't always on the winning side. You have to play the game my way, he bawls, or not at all.

Getty Images
Another scenario. A couple appears to be happily married, then one partner announces that they want a divorce. By the way, they announce, these are the terms of the break-up, in which the other partner is expected to have no say whatsoever.

A third scenario. A business partnership. One of the partners is unhappy that he does not have total control of the business. He decides to leave and set up on his own. Then he complains that the other partner won't let him do that.

You've got the picture by now. It's a simple analogy describing a simple situation. Scottish separatists want to leave the Union and they want to leave on their terms. They expect - nay, demand - that the rest of the Union gives them everything they want. We want a currency union; give us it! We insist you leave your defence industry where it is! We will be members of NATO and the European Union; let us in! Whatever we want, we must have it!

Like immature, spoilt children, separatists fail to understand that if they insist on breaking up a game, a marriage or a successful business, they cannot expect the other party to roll over and give them whatever they want.

It's an unpleasant truth that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you insist on getting the best possible deal when you walk away from a partnership, do not be surprised when your ex-partner insists on the best possible deal for themselves. You expect us to give you a currency union whereby we might have to bail out your failed banks? You must be crazy! (By the way, the largest of your banks will have to leave anyway, according to EU rules.) You demand that we give you our defence contracts? No way! British jobs for British workers, not for newly-foreign Scots. Allow you to join the EU? Maybe. But on our terms, not yours - and you'll probably find those terms a lot more restrictive than those which the UK currently enjoys. You've leapt out of the frying-pan, now see how you enjoy the fire.

Faced with this reasonable response - if Scotland walks away from the UK, then the UK has no responsibility for and no interest in doing what is best for Scotland - the separatists, led by Salmond the consummate politician, do what politicians do best. They ignore reality and try to talk their way out of a difficult situation.

Which means that rather than address the difficult issues of currency, employment and economic stability post-independence, separatists come up with two distractions with which they hope to pull the wool over the Scottish electorate's eyes. Distraction A is to accuse the No campaign of being Negative. So what? It's surely better to be realistic and negative than to fool yourself into being positive. Distraction B is to argue that it will be in the rUK's best interests to give in to all Scotland's demands. Rubbish. If the euro was being set up now, would the Germans happily enter into a currency union with the Greeks? If you can maintain a successful defence - or any other business - in your own country, why would you choose to give the work to a foreign country?

Independence would lead the rUK to treat Scotland exactly how Scotland wants to be treated - as a foreign country. Which means that Scotland would be of much less significance to London than France, Germany or even Poland, and probably rank somewhere along the lines of Ireland and Portugal. In Westminster Scottish demands would fall on rightly sceptical and unreceptive ears.

The yes campaign's hope for success is based on fooling the Scottish people into believing that independence would solve all their problems, whereas the reality is that it would create far more problems than it would resolve. It is an argument based on rationale, not reason*. It also based on the hypocritical idea that Scotland has the right to get impose its separation terms on the rest of the UK. Sorry, separatists, don't be surprised if London insists on sauce for the gander. It's time for the Yes campaign to deal with the reality that faces them, not with the fantasy of their making. It's time for them to come clean with the Scottish electorate.

* It's raining hard and an alcoholic goes into the nearest pub. His rationale is that he wants to stay dry. His reason is that he wants a drink. Many of us spending our lives ignoring reason and acting according to rationale. Scottish separatists appear especially prone to fooling themselves.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Why not Scotland?

I support Tibetan independence. East Turkestan (known to the wider world by its Chinese name, Xinjiang) too. I think Iceland was right to cut its ties with Denmark. I have no strong opinion on Ireland, but I suspect that very few Irish would wish to rejoin the Union. I am aware that there are independence movements in many other countries and regions where there has been conflict between the locals and the national government - Catalonia, Crimea, Transdniester, southern Thailand, north-east India; I reserve opinion in most of these cases because my knowledge of the situation is limited.

I'm also aware that small countries - of ten million people or fewer - can flourish in today's world. Whether in or out of the European Union, our northern neighbours have done well for themselves. Norway in particular has flourished, and although Iceland and Ireland suffered in the recent crisis because of their small size and financial mismanagement, they seem to be back on track to economic stability.

If the current situation were reversed and there was a move to bring an independent Scotland into Union with Wales and England, I suspect be against it, unless there were extenuating circumstances - as there were in 1707, but that's the subject of a later blog.

So, given all these factors, why do I reject Scottish independence now?

 In Tibet, Turkestan and Iceland there is / was a clear linguistic, cultural and historical distinction between the indigenous population and the larger nation which colonised them. Danes may argue that their governance of Iceland was a union, but the reality was a larger, foreign country imposed its laws and trade monopoly on a group of people who did not speak their language and who had little or no opportunity to integrate into and influence events on the mainland or Copenhagen.

In Tibet and Turkestan, ethnicity, history linguistic and cultural heritage distinguish the indigenous population from the Han Chinese as distinctly as our heritage distinguishes us from Turkey. Beijing exploits these distant regions shamefully, extracting their natural
East Turkestan
resources, repressing their populations and flooding their land with Han immigrants whose casual racism towards the natives is both frequent and shocking. And while Turkmens and Tibetans can in theory make a home anywhere in China and are represented in the national Parliament, the idea of any non-Han in a position of power in Beijing is inconceivable today. Imagine Ankara imposing Turkish as the national language of Scotland and the unlikelihood of a Scottish prime minister of a Turkish empire and you begin to have an idea of the situation in Lhasa and Urumqi today.

In contrast with these examples, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are politically, linguistically, ethnically and historically one nation - a union of equals, not a coloniser and colony.

For those who insist on seeing colonisation at the heart of our relationship, politically and historically it makes more sense to see Scotland as the coloniser rather than the colony. It was a Scots king who took over the English throne. It was the same king who brought the term Great Britain into wide use. From Keir Hardie onwards, Scots have given the UK prime ministers, chancellors, political leaders of every hue. All three of our prime ministers since 1997 have had strong Scottish connections. From James Watt onwards, Scots led the industrial revolution. And whatever opinion you may have on the British Empire, it could not have existed without the Scots who formed its armies and administrators.

Linguistically . . . Well, there are distinctive Scottish dialects with words and accent impenetrable to outsiders, as there are in Birmingham or Wessex. But even within Scotland there are differences that make strangers of us all. I spend much time in the heart of Angus and, like any Lowlander - or Highlander for that matter - I sometimes to have to strain to understand what is being said. "By foo, fit, far an fan ye can tell a Farfar man" (The respective words for who, what, where and when in Forfar). With all due respect to the Gaidhealtachd, a standardised English has been the predominant language of Scotland for five hundred years and there is no proposal that independence would change that.

By ethnicity, I do not refer to the colour of skin or other superficial characteristics. I mean that in the three hundred years since political Union, the Scots and the English have crossed borders to work, to marry, to settle, to breed, indiscriminately. My father was English, my mother Scottish. I lived in Scotland, spent holidays in England. It never occurred to me that England was a foreign place. I was less familiar with it, but I was also unfamiliar with towns in Scotland that I occasionally visited. It was all my country. My story is shared with hundreds and thousands of Brits - including one David Cameron, who bears a very Scottish name. To divide the nations is to divide families, to divide businesses, to throw up barriers where none before existed.

How can one undo such a Union? Why on earth should one want to? History has made us one nation and to divide us now would be pointless and destructive. United we stand; divided we may not fall, but both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would be weakened by the impact. Scotland's economy would be thrown into doubt as financial and industrial concerns move south of the border, while the UK's status on the world stage would be considerably diminished. The only people who would benefit would be the SNP leadership who would embark on endless world tours, setting up embassies, meeting presidents and prime ministers and squandering Scottish money on their own pet projects. The people of Scotland, the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would inevitably lose.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

What's it all about, Alex?

So Alex Salmond says that a vote for Independence is "not about the SNP". Well, yes and no. The problem with the independence referendum is that although the question to be put to voters in Scotland in September is simple, the motives underlying the question are many, complex and contradictory.

PA picture from the BBC website
This blog will return another day to the question of what "independence" means, but today I want to focus on the motives of those who are primarily responsible for the referendum and who are campaigning for the Yes vote.

The majority of rank and file SNP members, I am sure, sincerely believe that Scotland will flourish when its ties to the Union are severed and they belong to the party because they sincerely believe that it not only offers the best chance of achieving that goal and it offers the best policies for governing Scotland in either a devolved or independent Parliament. The same beliefs, I am equally sure, motivate members of the smaller parties, most notably the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, who are campaigning for independence.

But, as in any political party, the motives of the SNP leadership only partly overlap with those of the rank and file. Political leaders, of whatever hue, are primarily motivated by ambition. They want political office. They want the power that comes with that office. They may not all wish to be prime minister, first minister, president or monarch; they may only want to be a local councillor or member of parliament, but they all want to be in a position where their actions can and do change the lives of those they represent.

All politicians claim to serve their constituencies and say that their ambition comes second to the needs of the people they represent, but that does not mean that statement is true. Almost every human being has a benign view of themselves that deviates to a greater or lesser extent from the truth and politicians are no exception.

The best leaders are those rare politicians in whom there is a perfect balance between personal ambition and public service. Clement Atlee is the first to spring to mind - the Labour Prime Minister who gave us our modern welfare state. Winston Churchill - the Conservative Prime Minister who saved us from defeat in the Second World War - runs a close second; his political strengths were greater than Atlee's, but so too were   his weaknesses. Among modern or more recent politicians, none comes to mind. I surprise myself by almost adding Margaret Thatcher to that list, but her utter sincerity in transforming modern Britain was undone by her utter incomprehension of the impact of her actions on people's lives. On today's front benches at Westminster, no-one springs to mind. As for Holyrood, as yet I see none that qualify.

Which brings me back to Alex Salmond. I do not know how much time he spends in self-analysis. I suspect not much. When he does ask himself his motives, I am sure that he considers himself sincere as he works for the cause, the great cause, the independence of Scotland. But how often, at the end of the day, after a glass or three of whisky, does he look deeper into his own soul? And when he does, what does he see there?

Of course I don't know Alex Salmond's mind, but looking behind the mask of a cheerful neighbour who wants you to join him for a drink, what comes across over the last thirty years in Holyrood and Westminster is a seasoned, selfish, ambitious political operator who wants and enjoys power. He and his appropriately named deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, want nothing more than to be big fish in whatever pond they swim. The smaller the pond, the bigger the fish they can be. The United Kingdom is too big for them; Scotland is just the right size for them to control.

Does Alex Salmond believe in Scottish independence? Of course he does. Does Alex Salmond believe that he should be leader of an independent Scottish state? Of course he does. Does Alex Salmond want to go down in history as the man who led Scotland to independence? Of course he does, but deep down in Alex Salmond's soul, I suspect that independence is less a goal than a means to an end.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A wall across the living-room

Imagine a large family in a large house. A kitchen, various bedrooms and living-rooms where parents and children, aunts, uncles and cousins share all the facilities. As in any family there are disputes. A child wails at an imagined insult from a sibling. An aunt complains that the cake she left out for her tea has been eaten. There are occasional queues for the bathroom. But although tempers may flare, there is no real hostility within the family; they have lived together all their lives and know each other well.

Things begin to change when some family members claim they are not respected enough by the others. They don't like being told what shopping they should buy with the weekly budget. They want to decorate the house their way. They want to watch different television programmes. And here's another list of complaints they have.

The rest of the family point out that the complainers actually have a lot of control over their own lives. They have their own budget already, so why don't they spend it the way they want? They can decorate their room however they like. There are several televisions in the house so they can watch what they like. As for the other complaints, well, the rest of the family suggests, let's work together and sort them out.

Work together, the complainers say? No, thanks. We're not interested in what you want. We want things done our way. So we're going to build a wall right through the house. It'll cut across the hall and the living-room and divide the stairs. We'll let you into our part of the house as long as you do things our way. And of course we insist on coming over to your side any time we want. As for money, you're going to have to let us have as much as we want.

I assume you get the point. The true impact of Scottish independence would not be to rebuild Hadrian's Wall - this time to keep the uncivilised Southern tribes out - but to build a psychological wall across this United nation. Even before the referendum, Scottish separatists have built this wall in their minds, cutting themselves off from the rest of the British family. Their nationalism is inward-looking, a vision of the world that blames all Scotland's woes, imaginary and real, on England and Westminster. Separatists take the benefits of three hundred years of Union and refuse responsibility for its defects. Like sulking children and moody teenagers, they want the game played their way and if the rest of the family doesn't do what they want, they're going to stamp their feet and walk away.

I haven't yet met a Scot with a broader vision of the world who doesn't believe that separatism is a mistake. We Scots do not need the trappings of a seat at the United Nations and an embassy in Beijing, our own Defence Force and central bank to have pride in our nation. Those of us who have a deep sense of our history, culture and place in the world can look back with pride at the achievements of last three hundred years (and yes, there are many, and yes I will cover them in future posts) and we recognise that those achievements were made possible by Union. We are not Little Scotlanders with a deep-rooted inferiority complex who need to lash out at the rest of the UK to prove to ourselves that we can stand on our own two feet. We have a broader vision than separatism. We know that we can be both Scottish and British; we know that there is strength in union and weakness in division; we know that two identities are better than one.

Wise Scots will not build a wall through our shared home. This United Kingdom is too valuable to all of us who live here.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A foreigner on Princes Street or Piccadilly?

Mr Massie in serious mode
Alan Massie's suggestion in The Scotsman on 9th April that post-Independence Scotland will feel no different from the Republic of Ireland does not reassure me; in fact it reinforces my concern that the country I live in will be irreversibly damaged.

For Scots whose horizons stretch no further than the 1707 borders, Independence might bring a few superficial changes, a small price to free themselves from the imaginary impositions of the British state. For the rest of us, however, whose vision stretches beyond the Solway and the Tweed, Independence would diminish us.

As a dealer in rare books who divides his time between London and Edinburgh, I am one of many Scots whose life and work straddles the border. Among the many burdens imposed by Independence would be an additional bureaucracy, increased postage costs across the new border and at some point perhaps an extra currency.

As many others have pointed out, the financial argument for the Union is unassailable, but the emotional argument is even stronger. Whether or not I would have to show my passport on leaving Berwick, independence would make me a foreigner in a country I once called home. Which country that will be, I do not yet know; I wait for Alex Salmond’s pronouncement as to whether I should be considered an alien on Princes Street or Piccadilly. In the Union I can be equally Scottish and British – proud of all the historical strands that have created this nation. Scottish separatists would deny me my – and our – heritage.

So no, Alan Massie, I do not want to become an Irishman – a friendly neighbour who is welcome as a visitor to the UK. I want to be what I am already - a Brit who is at home wherever in the UK I find myself. If you want to limit yourself to Scotland, do so, but don’t deny the rest of us our right to be part of a Greater Britain.