Friday, 7 February 2014

Scottish or British

The SNP Scottish Government has published the most comprehensive document ever produced by any nation ahead of a vote on independence. 

The White Paper – Scotland’s Future – sets out in detail the process by which independence will be reached: the referendum, subsequent negotiations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, negotiations with the European Union, the independence settlement followed by the first elections to the independent Scottish Parliament, scheduled for May 2016.  In addition, the 740-page document contains 650 independence-related questions and answers.

So far, the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government has released no fewer than 10 analysis papers, detailing areas in which it believes an independent Scotland “could” face challenges.  These range from currency, through defence to border controls – you can cram an awful lot of scare-stories into 10 ‘analysis’ papers.

‘YES Scotland’, the pro-independence campaign, has a website full of questions and answers, and has distributed thousands of booklets and leaflets containing reams of information on independence and the referendum.  Meanwhile, the anti-independence campaign, ‘Better Together’, has used a friendly media, including the BBC, to disseminate its apocalyptic version of a post-independence Scotland.

Amazingly, with so much information readily accessible – much more than is ever available before we elect governments – a significant number of Scots continue to say they haven’t made up their minds how they will vote because they don’t have enough information. 

Some people will genuinely feel they are lacking enough detail to make a decision, but for others the “don’t have enough information” position actually masks a basic reality - they can’t decide which side to trust.  It isn’t because information is lacking, it’s simply that many can’t work out who is telling the truth.  Unfortunately for that section of Scottish society, there is not going to be Devine intervention: they shouldn’t expect the clouds to part, revealing a heavenly light spelling-out ‘YES’ or ‘NO’.  The bottom-line is that, if we want to have our say on Scotland’s future, we will have to decide for ourselves.

How we reach our decision will be influenced by many factors.  We can read the volumes of available information: we can search-out answers on specific areas of interest or concern, such as the economy, education, welfare or employment, and we should also consider the very basic question of nationality.

If you accept Scotland is a nation (as opposed to a region), then you will probably lean towards Scotland re-taking the normal status of a nation, which is independence.  Virtually every nation on the face of the planet takes for granted the position of possessing and exercising the full sovereign powers of independence.

However, if you believe Scotland gave up nation status in 1707 and has since been a region within the British Union, albeit a region with limited devolved powers since 1999, then remaining within that British Union would appear to be your favoured option.

The Independence Referendum is not about ‘nationalism’ – Scottish or British – but ‘nationality’ is a pertinent consideration. If you look at a Union flag (the Union Jack) and think, “Yes, that represents me,” then you are likely to consider your nationality is British.  If, on the other hand, the flag of Scotland (the Saltire) is the one you are naturally drawn towards, then you will probably state your nationality is Scottish.

If, like me, you went to school in the 1960s and 1970s (or before) you would have encountered an education system that still looked fondly on the British Empire, completely ignoring British military aggression that resulted in occupied countries, subjugated people and stolen resources.  Chances are the history you were taught was British/English rather than Scottish – most Scots of my generation can tell you the year of the Battle of Hastings but struggle with the Battle of Bannockburn.  We were taught to be British.

It was 1974 before I saw a Scotland football team compete in the World Cup Finals and realised that, actually, I was Scottish.  For me, that was an awakening of consciousness.  The fact it coincided with the discovery of oil in the North Sea – and the SNP coming to prominence, partly as a result of the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign – led me to reject the imposed British nationality I had grown up with and, instead, embrace the fight to restore to Scotland the status of a normal, independent nation.

Since the 1970s there has been a significant change to the perception of nationality in Scotland.  In the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, a majority (53%) of people living in Scotland describe themselves as either ‘Scottish not British’ or ‘More Scottish than British’.  The breakdown of that figure revealed 23% are ‘Scottish not British’, with 30% ‘More Scottish than British’. 

In the middle ground 30% of Scottish residents declared themselves to be ‘Equally Scottish and British’.

If you’re totting-up those figures as we go, you will already have realised what is coming: just 5% consider themselves ‘More British than Scottish’, with 6% ‘British not Scottish’, which takes care of the Tories, UKIP, the BNP and other far-right organisations.  How the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party has allowed itself to be on the same side as that lot, simply beggars belief.

Ah but, you can hear Unionists say as they desperately look for a straw at which to clutch, if those in the ‘Equally Scottish and British’ camp are combined with the ‘More British than Scottish’ and the ‘British not Scottish’, then the figures are much closer: British 42% - Scottish 53%.

So, is it really the case that in Scotland we are still relatively evenly balanced between those who consider their nationality to be Scottish and those who choose to be British?  The British Social Attitudes Survey can answer that question.  It ‘forced’ people to choose one or the other – Scottish or British.  The outcome was: Scottish – 69%: British – 20%.

More and more, people in Scotland are confident in their Scottish nationality, and opinion polls show the direction of travel in the independence campaign is from ‘No’ to ‘YES’.  It certainly seems to be the case that Scots are finally emerging from the 300 years of indoctrination that told us we were British.  The referendum on September 18th gives us the opportunity to complete that journey by re-establishing Scotland as a normal independent nation.

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