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.

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