I really hate to tempt fate like this, but given today marks the third failure of the UK Government’s Withdrawal Bill, it looks like the UK’s “Independence Day” (how I loathe that fiction) has been postponed for at least two weeks.
Since we’re talking history, Mr Corbyn, there’s a reason I won’t be voting for your party at any point in the foreseeable future. It isn’t just because of your party’s anathema to Scottish independence, or its schizophrenia over nuclear weapons. It’s because your party refuses to come to terms with its crimes.
Today we buried my great uncle. My grandfather is now the last son of his family’s generation.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a family full of independence supporters, especially considering the relative diversity of my family. I have close cousins across the Great West Coast of Scotland Divide, as well as family born in England, Germany, Kenya, Singapore, and elsewhere in the world. We may not agree on everything – what family does? – but while I don’t doubt many families in Scotland had heated discussions about independence, even if we didn’t agree on this issue, we were still family, and still liked one other as well as loved one another.
My grandfather is one of the most fervent Yessers I know. He likened his journey to Yes as being like a lightbulb going off in his head. For him, it was “if we’re such a burden, then why do they want to keep us so much?” Ever since, he would debate and discuss independence with anyone and everyone, never failing to tell me about something he read in a paper or online, or ask about a law or article of legislation. He was talking independence to old friends at the shops, neighbours passing in the street: he’s even built up a repertoir as a cybernat that I could only dream of! He and my great uncle, too, discussed the matter a number of times, especially in the past few years.
A lot of folk are very sanguine – frankly, ruthless – about the generation gap in regards to independence. They think there’s a sense of inevitability to independence, that we just have to wait until the older generation die out, let time sort it out. It’s something I could never really countenance, even from a coldly expedient sake. I want independence because I believe it will benefit all Scots, even those who voted against it. There would not, and could not, be any sort of “purge” of non-independenistas from an independent Scotland, because it goes against what we’re fighting for.
We don’t have the luxury of waiting for demographics to sort itself out. There are people starving, freezing, dying in Scotland as a direct result of policies enacted by a government we didn’t elect right now. There are people who made this nation their home who were denied a vote in a referendum and need us to do everything we can for them right now. And there are people who’ve been campaigning for an independent Scotland since they were changing our cabinet ministers’ nappies right now. As the reality of the UK’s ultimate design – using leaving the EU as a smokescreen to destroy decades of social and economic progress to line their pockets and inflate their egos – we can ill afford to simply let time do the work for us.
Too many have died before seeing an independent Scotland. Douglas Crawford, Margaret Ewing, Douglas Henderson, Bashir Ahmad, Margo Macdonald, Jimmy Halliday, Billy Wolfe, Gordon Wilson, Robert Salmond, and countless more activists, elected representatives, and believers have passed away this century alone. Even when polls showed only some 20% of over-65s supported independence, that was still tens of thousands of our people who were willing to believe despite everything that has been put against our cause over the centuries. It isn’t about being impatient, it’s about doing what we can, when we can, for the people who need us most.
My grandfather told me something about his brother’s final days. His health had deteriorated terribly in the past year. He was nearly deaf and blind: all he could see were vague shapes and shadows, like the flames of a fire. I want my grandfather to see an independent Scotland, just as I wanted my great uncle, and my paternal grandparents, and so many more – to know that whatever that nation looked like, it would be a nation where their vote matters. Where they matter.
I don’t know how my great uncle voted in the referendum, but as I’ve said for years now, how you voted in 2014 simply doesn’t matter any more. Independence is not, was not, and will never be, solely for those who support it. It is for the benefit of all of us in this wonderful nation, whatever their age or creed or view on the constitution. We owe it to them, and to the generations yet to come, even if all they see are the flames of the fire.
Far beyond the sundown
Far beyond the moonlight
Deep inside our hearts and all our souls
So far away we wait for the day
For the lives all so wasted and gone
We feel the pain of a lifetime lost in a thousand days
Through the fire and the flames we carry on…
I’m an EU citizen, and I’m not willing to be left to the mercy of the UK Home Office. All Nicola Sturgeon’s sweet statements saying that “Scotland is your home, we want you to stay” are just that without independence: words. To protect New Scots, Scotland needs independence, and it doesn’t seem to be happening soon enough. If Sturgeon doesn’t feel she can help us, she should say so instead wringing her hands helplessly – it’s infuriating.
So I’m leaving, together with my Scottish wife and our children (aged 9, 11 and 13). We’re moving to Funen in Denmark (I’ve found myself a job in Bogense). We have our own company here in Scotland, but we don’t feel confident it can survive the recession caused by Brexit, so we’re shutting it down.
After 17 years in Scotland, I will always feel partly Scottish. I’ll always support Scottish independence, and I hope we’ll be back for an independence march from time to time. But we’re not willing to expose ourselves to Brexit Britain, complete with chlorinated chickens, a privatised health service, rising university fees, getting hounded by the Home Office, and potential no prospects of an independence referendum for decades.
It’s devastating to leave, but we don’t believe remaining here is an option.
Thomas and the other millions of EU citizens in the UK are perhaps the main reason I campaigned so strongly for Remain – to the extent of working with the official Remain campaign, rather than the SNP or another pro-indy pro-remain group. Inverclyde was the 5th highest Yes voting constituency, but a statistical knife-edge, and the SNP vote in 2015 & 2016 was “only” around 55% – meaning the other 45% might not necessarily want to talk with someone with Clootie or Yes badges. I figured that if I’m there not as an SNP member, not an independence supporter, but as part of an outfit run by people who would normally be my most dedicated opposition, I would be able to converse & talk to people who might not otherwise be receptive. It seemed to work well in Inverclyde, where we ended up the 30th-highest Remain voting constituency in all of the UK & Gibraltar. Certainly it was a lovely, if awkward, change to go to the count with the “regular” party activists & politicians on the same side of a campaign. (Indeed, of the 40 or so present at the count, there were exactly 2 representatives for the Leave campaign in Inverclyde.)
So I campaigned not just because we needed to hold the UK to a promise they made in 2014, and not just because we Scots benefit so much from working with the EU (when the UK Government allows it), but because I felt we had a great duty and responsibility to those born in another nation who made Scotland their home. I was certain that this would come before the end of March 2019 – it had to. And, like Thomas, I thought the SNP were fighting well. Then the 2017 snap election – which I maintain was nothing to do with giving Theresa May a meaningless “fresh” mandate, and everything to do with neutralising the SNP & stopping indyref2 – came & knocked the SNP for six. It’s quite demoralising when the 2nd best Westminster result in the party’s 80+ year history hurts like it did. At some point, the SNP decided to stop and regroup – and in doing so, let the deadline for an indyref that would allow Scotland to seamlessly transition from UK-region-leaving-EU to independent-nation-in-EU.
I think of all that time trying to reassure my colleagues, friends, & acquaintances who would be affected by this that the SNP wouldn’t allow this to happen. I don’t know whether the 2017 election rattled the SNP. I don’t know if this is all part of some big plan we aren’t privy to. But I do know that one great advocate and campaigner for Scottish Independence has launched his own lifeboat, taking his family to a confident independent European nation not too far away, because he lost faith. And I’m so utterly, utterly furious that we let that happen.
But even in the darkest doldrums, there must be hope. When the Yes Campaign told Inverclyde activists that “we probably won’t win Inverclyde” & had a wee table predicting a 25% Yes vote, we didn’t play that game – because the alternative was unthinkable. When SNP higher-ups were suggesting that Inverclyde might not be able to unseat the party which has dominated it practically uninterrupted for 80 years, especially after the referendum, we weren’t going to just let that deter us from doing our damnedest. And now, when some folk suggest that the SNP are just going to let a Triple-Lock mandate that is unprecedented in Scottish political history just run out, I cannot help but think I’ve heard that before.
I’m not entertaining the possibility that this will happen any more than I entertained the possibility that Inverclyde would be one of the lowest Yes-voting constituencies, or that there’d be an Inverclyde-shaped gap in Scotland’s 2015 Yellow Blanket. I don’t see the point in it. Come the end of March, whether it’s May’s ruinous deal or the ultimate goal behind the UK leaving the EU in the first place, the SNP won’t really have a choice at all. That’s why there wasn’t a referendum in the 2007 Parliament’s lifetime, and why there was a referendum in the 2011 Parliament. In both cases, the Parliamentary arithmetic was academic. That remains the case here.
I’m sorry, and frankly ashamed, that we didn’t grasp the thistle in time for Thomas, his wife, and their children to stay. I cannot stand the thought that more have already made this exodus, and that even more are considering it. They don’t want, or need, “caution,” or to wait for “the best time,” or fiddling about. They need confidence, they need determination, they need hope, that the party whose entire existence is to make Scotland the best country it can be is willing to push the boat out as far as they can. We all do.
This land is mine. This land is Thomas’. This land belongs to all of us who make it our home. But Thomas isn’t the only Scot in exile who longs to return.
I mention it only because it always makes my heart glow. The phrase “New Scots” is a well-intentioned and rather sweet one, but I prefer a simpler version – such people are Scots. They say you can’t choose your family but you choose your friends, and nothing makes me prouder of my country than that those from far-off lands should choose to come here and become, wholeheartedly, one of us, and to bring up their offspring in the same way…
… I want Scotland to be independent with my head, for the reasons exhaustively detailed on this blog for the last seven months. But I realised this week that its reluctance to stand up and take its place among the nations of the world gnaws at my heart and my soul too. Scotland is vastly more different to England than Newcastle is different to Birmingham or Norwich or Southampton, and it makes no sense on any level for it to continue to hobble along in the ill-fitting, badly-repaired shoes of Britain.
So if this rambling old post has a purpose, it’s to answer a question I’m often asked by surly Unionists. Why do I campaign for Scottish independence when I don’t live there? It’s simple: because I want to go home.
Let’s tidy up, get the tea on, and prepare for the homecoming.
This land is mine
God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land To me
And when the morning sun
Reveals her hills and plains
Then I see a land
Where children can run free
So take my hand
And walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me
It’s the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s birth. As Scotland rightly comes to grips with its part in this terrible chapter of humanity’s collective history, it is important to remember that even in a time where slavery was legal and state-supported, there was defiance against inequity and compassion for our fellow humans.
Scotland wouldn’t be what it is today without England. That much is obvious: England is our neighbour on the largest of these islands; we’re more or less the same age; a northern branch of their ancestors, the Angles, are among the four peoples who founded Scotland.
It’s nigh impossible to live in Scotland and not have some sort of regular encounter with England. Our public broadcaster is primarily focused on England, with English opinions and interests and accents on the main news, the continuity announcements, all the way to the soap operas and property shows; we elect MPs to a Parliament in Westminster which controls a great number of our laws, frequently against our own representatives’ wishes; the vast majority of newspapers are owned outside Scotland, and regularly headquartered in England. While most folk in England can live their lives largely untroubled by Scottish opinions and interests and accents, we in Scotland cannot avoid England and the English even if we wanted to.
That’s our lot as part of a United Kingdom of England Plus Three.
One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!