Sunday, 2 June 2013

Independence is where Scotland's future lies

There is a backstory to why I support independence for Scotland at the next opportunity. Independence is normal for countries around the world and full sovereignty has practically become the standard for defining a country. But I haven't always believed in Scottish independence so I would regard myself as very much a convert to the cause.

So let's go straight back to the beginning. At five years of age already with over two years of memories behind me we are travelling back on the boat from Sweden. I hear my sister mention that we are returning 'to England'. Of course that's true as the boat was to dock in Harwich. However, this being my first introduction to the seven-letter name and having not yet heard 'Scotland' uttered I naturally thought that England included my area round where I lived in what I now know to be Southern Scotland. When I was corrected within a year of this misunderstanding I began taking it for granted that Scotland and England were two different countries. And around the age of eight or nine I learned the horrid truth after reading some atlases that officially they were both part of the same 'country'. I decided this mattered and when we were given the exercise of identifying the countries to which a list of European capital cities belonged I came across London and wrote beside it, 'Great Britain.' The teacher wasn't happy about this and asked me to correct it to 'England'. There must have been one of two reasons for this. One was that the teacher was a Scottish nationalist. The other was that the teacher felt that the idea of countries within a larger country was a rather awkward and confusing thing to discuss and everyone was at that point used to 'England and Scotland' or 'Scotland and England'. Why complicate that?

Fast-forward to the 1997 devolution referendum. Finally after years of not having one Scotland would have its own parliament but it wouldn't be fully independent. I was only twelve at this point and this of course meant there was a lot I didn't know about politics. Yet I already knew that the Isle of Man had its own parliament and that it was what we could call 'semi-independent' as were Jersey and Guernsey. Which made me believe that what Scotland was about to gain was the very same thing - full control over its own laws but still with the Queen as head of state. I saw devolution very much as a stepping stone towards full independence with devolution suggesting de-evolving therefore a backwards evolution towards restored sovereignty. I was about to be proven wrong by one of rural Britain's worst tragedies.

2001, and everyone knew someone who was affected by Foot and Mouth. When people across Southern Scotland were seeing their prized livestock culled there was considerable anger towards the UK government at a decision which often went to unnecessary lengths and caused worse distress. This was when I realised that the UK government was still able to legislate in Scotland on a number of areas and I wondered why on earth the crisis north of the border couldn't have been handled by the First Minister of Scotland. And so I questioned what the point of devolution was if so much of Scottish policy was overseen by Tony Blair.

Yet about the same time I converted from supporting eventual independence for the three nations of Great Britain to being a unionist. It wasn't anti-nationalism - I couldn't have told you anything about the SNP at that point other than it being a Scotland-based party, rather the idea of a federal UK started to appeal to me. I wanted a reunified Ireland so that the UK could be known formally as Great Britain. I confess to liking the idea of Scotland being a northern province of the country I was born in and felt reluctant to refer to Scotland as a country in its own right. But with England so disproportionately big I felt that England should itself be subdivided into different provinces corresponding to what we presently call the regions.  My general desire for a unified Great Britain was what you could call British nationalism an emotional thing instead of any reasoned case for maintaining the union.

I maintained the idea of a unified Great Britain until seven years ago when Montenegro became independent. Now I started to ask the big question - could Scotland also do it? I did a bit of research and realised we had exactly what we needed, North Sea oil. However, I still knew little about current Scottish politics and only then did I find out the extent of opposition to independence. So I started following the SNP and my six year long support of a united Great Britain ended. It wasn't that I wanted there to be nothing called Great Britain - it was and always will be the name of our island - just I wanted it to now be about a partnership of equals.

Much of what the SNP were saying made perfect sense. Why waste money on fundamentally immoral weapons of mass destruction? Why fight illegal wars abroad? Why maintain nuclear power stations when Scotland's renewal potential is enormous? Why not use the wealth of the North Sea to grow Scotland's economy? And why not have that distinct international presence in the United Nations?

At first I thought Gordon Brown's rejection of independence was practical - he didn't believe it was possible but that when pressed to tell us if deep down he'd be in favour of it he might say 'Yes as a Scot my heart is very much with that idea just not my head'. But then came the British nationalism. The word Britain said eighty times in one speech, the proposed British national day and encouraging the display of the Union Jack following the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport. Nothing wrong with any of this in principle except behind them lay one or both of two motives: (1) I'm a Scot but I can do your job just as effectively (thus suggesting there's an element of anti-Scots prejudice in the British establishment); and (2) I need to counter the irritating, deluded, braveheart nationalism of Alex Salmond and his SNP. Because otherwise why couldn't he have recommended the promotion of the already existing patron saints' days of which St Andrew's and St George's were the two least celebrated? Why encourage the flying of the Union Jack without equally encouraging the flying of the Saltire, the Welsh Dragon and Cross of St George?

What further alarmed me was just how much the unionist politicians in Scotland seemed to assume that everyone with family south of the border rejected the idea of independence. It still goes on to this day but while I won't accuse every unionist of such an assumption the arrogance of it is central to the Better Together campaign which counters Yes Scotland's positive message with the notion that families feel better connected to one another simply through living in the same sovereign state. As someone who frequently visited my holiday cottage in Sweden during the summer and went across the open border to meet relatives in Oslo a mere two hours away, it felt as though all Scandinavia was one country. And having a grandmother living in Guildford who I visit regularly and will continue to do so when Scotland is independent I feel the unionists greatly underestimate the devotion supporters of independence have towards their cross-border kin which is both ignorant and insulting. So long as the border at Gretna and Berwick is open and invisible but for a couple of signposts what does it matter? And anyway how can anyone talk about feeling foreign when they've never experienced Scotland as an independent country?

Scotland should be independent and it is not about turning my back on my family south of the border. The opportunities for Scotland to be wealthier is clear. When we manage the income generated from oil properly we have enough to save for a rainy day at the same time we have enough to spend in the here and now especially on further capital projects and urban regeneration which will make Scotland's economy flow smoother and turn it into an even more attractive place to invest. And ultimately such wealth could inspire the regions of Northern England to seek further devolution that will work to a similar advantage. This could be the great opportunity for Scotland and if we vote No we might miss out on that for many years to come.

The people of Scotland are eager for change. Can the opposition provide suitable alternatives before the vote in September 2014? I suspect not. In which case the only way to guarantee the further change we need is to vote YES.

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