It’s nearly four years ago since we had the Scottish independence referendum. Some of us are still fighting it, but most of us have moved on. Four years is rather a long time. The First World War only lasted a little longer than four years. A baby learns to speak and walk and changes more in its first four years than all the rest of its life put together. Yet some of us are still stuck in 2014.
I don’t write that much about Scottish politics anymore. If you dig into a mine deep enough and long enough there will be no more gold nuggets to find and you’ll end up digging up only mud. Better by far to look for other topics to write about.
I happened to write about Alex Salmond last week, but I wasn’t really writing about Scottish politics. It just happened that he was the latest person to be caught up in the post-Jimmy Savile/Harvey Weinstein hysteria which convicts people on the basis of unverifiable testimony. I hope history will look back on this period as a modern day Salem, but I fear we will gain a taste for burning witches.
I think I surprised quite a lot of independence supporters by writing in defence of Mr Salmond. But in pointing out that Mr Salmond should be treated as innocent until he has been convicted of something and in arguing that there should be the same quality of evidence as for any other crime before he is convicted, I was merely making a general point about justice rather than politics.
People who want the UK to remain together differ from Scottish independence supporters in our political views, but we are all Scots, nearly all of us are British citizens and anyway we are human beings who owe each other kindness. We ought to be good neighbours even if we disagree. We owe each other justice and we ought to be fair.
I have moved on from the views that I held in 2014. Some of the arguments I made in the months leading up to the independence referendum I wouldn’t make now. Sometimes this is because I think these arguments are ineffective, but sometimes it’s because I think they are wrong.
I think it was counterproductive to argue as if it were impossible or disastrous for Scotland to become independent. Lots of countries have become independent in the past decades. Some have done better than others. How they do really depends on how they are run after independence. But fundamentally we all have to accept that if a country like Latvia can become independent, then so can Scotland. There would, no doubt, be difficulties to overcome and there would be challenges, but none of them are intrinsically insurmountable.
For this reason I find the strand of Pro UK thinking that goes on and on about the economic disadvantages of independence to be counterproductive. I don’t think this sort of thinking persuades one Scot to be Pro UK and it doesn’t dissuade one Scot from wanting independence.
If Scotland were to become independent, it may well be the case that public spending would have to be cut. It may be that we would all have to work harder and find that our living standards had got worse. But no-one can know what the future would bring for an independent Scotland. It could be run well like Switzerland and be wealthy or run badly and be Greece. There is no point at all arguing that Scotland would definitely be wealthy nor is there any point arguing that it would definitely be poor. It could be either, or something in between.
I think there are advantages to remaining in the UK and some of these may be economic, but it is not because of these that I am Pro UK. I am Pro UK because I am British and because I wish my fellow citizens in Wales, England and Northern Ireland to remain my fellow citizens. I want this for exactly the same reason that someone from Florida wants someone from California to remain his fellow countryman. Even if I thought Scotland was going to be wealthier after independence, I would still vote against independence, partly because I would want to share this wealth with other Brits, but more because I don’t think the argument has anything to do with economics.
The argument is about sovereignty and where it should lie. Over the last few years we have all had to learn about each other’s arguments. Pro UK Brexiteers have had to make Leave arguments and Remain arguments. Europhile Scottish independence supporters have praised one union (the EU), while wishing to leave another (the UK). This is not inconsistent. It is about where you think sovereignty should be.
I believe that the nation state should ultimately be sovereign. If the EU were to become a nation state like the USA, I might have been persuaded to support it. But I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to create a viable, democratic nation state out of the various very different European states. I came to this conclusion because these European nation states lack a common identity and lack a common language. Because the EU cannot become a democratic nation state, it is forcing integration undemocratically. If it succeeds in creating a United States of Europe, this nation state will not be like the USA. Power in the EU will not be divided between an elected House, Senate and President, for which reason the EU will be more like an Empire than a democratic state. Once I came to this conclusion, it became obvious that we had to leave.
Once more it is not about the economics. We ought to be willing to go through some economic difficulty in order to avoid the fate of being trapped in a European Empire. Moreover, it will be worth it because we will fully bring power and sovereignty back to Parliament. No unelected bureaucrat will be able to tell us what to do.
The difference between me and the Scottish independence supporter is simply that we disagree about where to locate sovereignty. He wants to locate it Scotland while I want to locate it in the UK.
But my reasoning for wishing to leave the EU that it will in time become an undemocratic Empire, obviously does not apply to the UK. We all take part in elections. We send members to parliaments in Edinburgh and London. This means that each individual Scot has more representation than any individual person from England. UK democracy is not perfect, but then neither is Scottish democracy. No voting system is ideal.
The debate in Scotland is really about identity and citizenship. At present the majority of Scots feel both Scottish and British and wish to remain British citizens. A minority of Scots feel exclusively Scottish and wish to cease being British citizens in order to become Scottish citizens. Quite a lot of Scots don’t think much about the issue at all because they’ve moved on.
Because the debate in its essence is about identity and citizenship, it changes very slowly indeed. If we ever got to the stage where the vast majority of Scots felt no particularly kinship with people from other parts of the UK and rejected their British citizenship, then independence would follow as a matter of course whatever the economics. But this is not going to happen because a few thousand independence supporters go on marches. The Pro UK side likewise will not be helped by a few hundred people dressed in Union Jacks shouting at them.
I disagree with independence supporters, but I don’t think their argument is unreasonable. Good, clever people can differ on this, just as we disagree about other issues. But I do find it peculiar that some independence supporters want to leave the UK in order to subsume their newly won sovereignty in the EU. It’s an awful lot of struggle for very little gain. It would also involve giving up quite a lot of powers that the Scottish Parliament is going to gain post-Brexit.
Brexit will clarify this issue. A close relationship with our fellow English speakers in the UK ultimately is going to depend on remaining a part of the UK. In order to become independent after Brexit, Scotland will need to leave the UK and then apply to join the EU from scratch or decide not to join the EU at all. Neither of these options looks particularly palatable.
The Republic of Ireland neatly shows the dilemma. Ireland is closely aligned with the UK in terms of trade and culture, but is liable to end up in a different trading bloc (the EU) to its greatest trade partner (the UK). Ireland therefore has a choice. Either it stays in the EU and gradually grows closer to the EU and further apart from the UK, or it leaves the EU and gradually becomes closer to the UK and further apart from the EU. But if the latter then Ireland will converge with the UK into a “United States of the British Isles”, an ever closer union of English speakers, for which reason the decision the Irish made in the years following 1916 looks very like a long term strategic error. But this, of course is impossible to admit.
The same logic applies to Scotland. Either we become independent and subsume our newly won sovereignty into the EU and gradually distance ourselves from the other parts of the UK, or we remain closely aligned with the UK, in which case independence ceases to have any point. We too would end up in reality in a “United States of the British Isles” and the same logic of ever closer union would apply. Why should it only apply to the EU?
There isn’t going to be an independence referendum anytime soon, because no-one can possibly make a sensible judgement until we discover how Brexit works out. Even then sensible Scottish independence supporters would be better advised concentrating on making Scotland more prosperous and gradually persuading the Pro UK majority that Scottish independence is the way forward. They can do that best by being reasonable, friendly and kind. The same goes for Pro UK people. We must make our arguments to our friends and neighbours, not by shouting at them or telling them that they are stupid, but by persuading them that the UK is a great country and that together we can all enjoy the great future that Brexit will bring. It will give us all more sovereignty and that after all is what the argument ultimately is about.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/09/indyref-or-tis-four-years-since.html