Alba Because

“Welcome to Scotland” sign showing saltire flag emblem at roadside on Scotland/England border. Gaelic translation “Failte gu Abla” shown underneath in yellow text.

Ever since switching to Alba, I’ve made a sincere effort to be fair and even-handed to the SNP: it is obvious that the SNP are vital to the cause of independence, and I know my friends are no less dedicated to the cause than I or anyone else. But the question as to why I left does warrant more explanation, and I’m afraid it cannot be bereft of some criticism.

Many of my friends will be voting SNP/SNP (as I did in 2016) or SNP/Green (as many of my friends did in 2016) tomorrow. I voted that way because I thought they would deliver on the single, most important part of their manifesto:

We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.

Some would say the Pandemic is sufficient mitigating circumstances, to which I cannot agree, for what illustrates the pressing need for independence more than being trapped in an insane United Kingdom with a robber baron perfectly happy to “let the bodies pile high” so long as his precious finances are unharmed?

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Fighting Against The Void

It’s been a difficult few months for all of us. I haven’t commented on it because everyone’s been fighting their own battles, and it seemed self-indulgent of me to rant into the aether. But several things have happened recently that changed that.

A good friend of mine lost somebody very important to them to a terrible disease. They live in a country that doesn’t have universal healthcare, and so they must resort to their own means for treatment. They asked for money, donations, anything anyone could spare, just so someone could stay alive. They kept everyone up to date on how things are going, sharing the little joys and tremendous pains. And through it all, everyone offering their well wishes, offers of assistance, ensuring that their thoughts were with them.

To my eternal shame, I haven’t said anything to them. Anything, everything, I could say feels so profoundly inadequate that it would be insulting to even impart the words. “I’m sorry.” “I’m here for you.” “If you need anything, just ask.” All while they live in a nation where your health and wellbeing is dictated by your income and insurance choices. Where good health is not a universal right – a human right. It seemed the height of perversion to me for a wealthy nation to demand its people look to charity just to make their lives less agonising, their existence less uncertain, their story less bleak.

My friend’s significant other has passed now, just as untold thousands in that nation have, and thousands more will, because they live in a country where the people have decided it’s an acceptable state of affairs.

Yet I can’t cast stones in my glass house. The parliament which governs our nation has voted for a bill absolving public authorities from wrongdoing – including crimes like torture, sexual assault, even outright murder. It comes barely a month after that same parliament decided that breaking international law was an acceptable eventuality in their disastrous talks with the EU. That comes after that same parliament decided that any and every power which should come to the parliament which should govern our nation must go through them first, democracy be damned.

Meanwhile, the parliament which should be governing our nation is preparing for an election, where the government party is looking towards unprecedented support, led by a tremendously popular leader praised across multiple parties, and buoyed by historically high preference for Scotland’s natural status as an independent nation… and yet. I would love to be confident that such an election will even take place given the direction the UK is accelerating towards – not to mention the little demon on my shoulder that reminds me “a lot can happen in seven months.”

It seems perverse to see such a surge for the cause I hold dearest, the party which will and must deliver the goal of that cause, and the people who must make it happen, yet feel utter despair and dread for what the future will bring. The criticism the SNP have faced from fellow pro-independence supporters outstrips even the most severe condemnation I heard in the runup to the first referendum. Back then, I acknowledged that some people are going to just disagree, be it the socialists balking at the White Paper’s plans for corporation tax cuts, or the anti-EU campaigners wanting a Scotland outside the bloc.

Despite the polls, despite the support, despite the glow from the fires of a people newly awakened from apathy and nihilism, it is imperative that criticism – genuine criticism, not the dishonest storytelling concocted by those opposed to independence – must be contextualised & understood. The SNP has survived as long as it has not because it suppresses disagreement, but because it adapts to concerns where warranted. Hence how the Scottish Government correctly changed its initial response to the Coronavirus epidemic; hence how the Education Secretary reversed the initial decision on Scottish exam results; hence how we’re seeing discussions of alternative routes to independence despite the insistence on repeating the circumstances of the Edinburgh Agreement.

And it’s tough. We’re all tired of the UK Government lying and cheating and wrecking lives and communities. We’re all tired of Coronavirus taking away loved ones and necessitating difficult practises. We’re all tired of arguing with each other and being accused of being secret UK Government assets by people who agree with us on just about everything. We’re all tired of being tired.

But I’ll tell you this: we have to get over ourselves. All of us. Because if we don’t, nobody’s going to do it for us.

Gather Ourselves Together

The reaction to the First Minister’s announcement this past Friday has been decidedly mixed. Some considered it a perfectly balanced and ultimately realistic approach; others have criticized it for excessive caution or repetitious platitudes. Where you lie on that sliding scale seems to correlate with how much you trust the SNP, the Scottish Government, and the First Minister, to deliver the intended 2020 timeline for the next Scottish Independence Referendum despite the monolithic obstruction that is the UK Government.

Whatever you thought of the announcement, it is clear that it is beyond time to get things going again. There has been a considerable vacuum left by Yes Scotland since its dissolution three months after the 2014 Referendum. Many groups and initiatives have attempted to fill that void – All Under One Banner, the SNP’s new Yes campaign, the revived Scottish Independence Convention and its Voices for Scotland campaign – but for various reasons, none have truly captured the movement in that sense of united purpose felt in the run up to 2014. Personality conflicts, party dynamics, internecine disagreements, campaign fatigue, and lost momentum have taken their toll on the movement’s structural integrity.

Getting the disparate independence supporting groups together is the primary goal of the National Yes Registry.

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Revolutions with Flowers & Song

Depending on who you ask, between 20,000 & 200,000 marchers turned up for yesterday’s big Edinburgh party. If anti-independence advocates aren’t immediately going for the lowest estimate, they use the curious logic that “only” 3.7% of a nation’s entire population turning out for a march is somehow a mark against support for Scottish Independence.

So I thought I’d have a look at other famous marches from history. While Mr Golden might think they also show a lack of enthusiasm for their causes (not least because the majority of those marches were against his party), I’ll let readers make up their own minds.

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Whoever Wins, We Lose

I could actually weep for some of the people in our country:

I genuinely don’t understand the logic of anyone whose view of Scottish independence is affected by who is or might be Prime Minister, or which party is in government. It very much suggests they haven’t understood the question.
– Some Numpty On Twitter Who Already Gets Too Much Attention

It is everything to do with the question – because “who is or might be Prime Minister/party of government” is never our choice. It is the choice of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland together. One of those countries outnumbers the others 8 to 1.

More than that, it isn’t just who is Prime Minister now, or who may be Prime Minister in the future – it’s every single Prime Minister in my 35 years of existence on this planet.

My first Prime Minister was so beloved of my fellow Scots that the Number 1 song in Scotland on the week of her death was “Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead.” My second Prime Minister (even if he is, in retrospect, far and away the best in my lifetime) led the UK to financial disaster and aggravated the forces which led the UK to where it is now through his sheer incompetence. My third Prime Minister is a war criminal who conspired to steal Scotland’s resources. My fourth Prime Minister sold even more of Scotland’s resources to mitigate his cataclysmic mishandling of another financial crisis. My fifth Prime Minister, who cannot be mentioned in the same breath as pigs in polite company, presided over cruelties, scandals, and catastrophes that would give my first Prime Minister pause. My sixth Prime Minister has become a punchline.

Six Prime Ministers in my lifetime, and arguments can be – and have been – made for each of those six being the Worst Ever.

At least until Seven.

So who will that be?

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Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

As predicted by nobody (except those who were paying attention) the European Elections were a resounding victory for Remain-supporting parties in Scotland – who won every single voting area, as well as more or less matching the EU referendum result of 62% of the vote – and an unmitigated disaster for them in the rest of the UK.

And amidst all the hand-wringing and caterwauling about what on earth the UK Remain Camp can do to solve this crisis, they actually exacerbate the problem in the process.

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The Flames of the Fire Are All I Can See

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…

This Land Is Ours

I feel a great sense of personal failure over the news that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity decided to move to Denmark.

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