Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Away To Think Again - Why I was Wrong About Scottish Independence


THERE’S a great episode of Happy Days where – shock, horror – The Fonz finds he’s been mistaken about something (I can’t remember what, it’s not the point). Determined to do the right thing he tries to apologise, to admit that he was wrr, he was wrr, he was wrr. It’s no good. No matter how hard he tries to he can’t say it. He screws up his face, digs his fingernails into his palm, makes a supreme effort of will – but still he only gets as far as ‘I was wro, wro, wrrrnnn…’

As we watch the programme we all feel Fonzie’s pain. It’s hard to say sorry. Hard to hold your hard up. But in this one respect I can honestly say I’m better than the coolest man in 1970s kids TV.  I can admit it. I was wrong – wrrrrrooooonnngggg -  on Scottish independence.

See I wasn't surprised by the surge in support for the YES campaign. After all it simply echoed the surge in my heart. 

Just a few weeks ago you’d have found me rehearsing the NO arguments. A leap in the dark, people should be working together for change, internationalism is better than nationalism. We need fewer borders actually.

Only I didn’t really believe it. The more I argued with pro-yes friends the more I was forced to face the fact that were I living North of the Tweed I would be arguing for independence too. My arguments boiled down to a feeling of abandonment. Why they should they get out while we have to stay? And that’s not very grown-up is it?

I don’t have a vote, so my opinion doesn’t count (and why should it? I live in Yorkshire) but I feel emotionally connected. My father was from Fife. My daughter lives in Edinburgh, her mum is from Buckie on the Scottish North-East Coast. I have relatives and friends in Scotland. I feel tied to the place, that land is also my land.

However an independent Scotland doesn’t deny me my roots. My father's family were from Ireland originally anyway, and I don't feel disenfranchised because I can't elect the Taosiach. My relatives are my relatives still. If my daughter becomes Scottish that doesn’t make me any less her dad. It was actually me that was letting emotion cloud my judgement.

All of us on the left can appreciate the thrill and excitement of building a new nation. A new political system with new, fairer ways of voting? The possibilities of a more equable distribution of wealth? A country that isn't so weirded out by the EU? A country where political discourse isn’t managed and shaped by the interests of a distant elite? Yes, please. We can all see how exciting that might be. And if I’d support it living the other side of Berwick, how can I oppose it just because I live in West Yorks?

Of course my efforts to remain a NO supporter weren’t helped by the campaign that purported to represent my views. Complacent at first, condescending almost uninterested, it moved through increasingly desperate and unpleasant phases that have included hectoring, finger-wagging, cajoling, wheedling,  and now outright, deceitful bribery. The English establishment has reacted to the swelling of YES support like an inept teacher faced with an unruly class. Equal parts flapping and shouting of empty threats. And now the offering of sweeties...

I can honestly say Alex Salmond didn’t change my mind at all. Not one iota. He got spanked in that first debate (He’s not immune to complacency either – and I find his manner as aggressively bumptious as any Home Counties Tory) but he didn’t have to. Osborne and the increasingly hysterical Tory press were doing his work for him. The more they tried to bully and frighten the Scottish people, the more I felt kinda sickened. Not in my bloody name, George.

Normally, the desire to become a politician should be a disqualification from office. Who would want to do that? A psychopath obviously. We should stop them by any means necessary. But I do make occasional exceptions to this rule. And my two big exceptions are Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling. Decent men, horribly traduced during their careers by the right-wing establishment. These two were viciously, shamefully, utterly wrongly blamed for the global recession. Their policies were given as the reason for the absolute necessity of austerity measures more extreme than any imposed almost anywhere else outside the Eurozone. And in fact the opposite might be true. Far from causing the collapse of the UK economy Brown and Darling may well have saved it.

How opportunistic, how desperate, do the Tories have to be in order to turn to this particular duo to preserve their Union? (A union that was born in duplicity to serve the desires of the elite - offering the ghostly promise of a slice of British Empire spoils for the Scottish nobility in return for their nation – those nobles got precious little spoilwear btw). It’s sickening and depressing.

Darling has fought a pretty good fight actually. But he has, as others have said, been all head no heart. An appeal to the wallets of the middle class. And Gordon’s fundamental decency is heart-warming whatever he’s supporting. Nevertheless, they are wrr, they are wrr, they are WRRRRROOOOONNNNG on this. Why should the people of Scotland continue to be ruled by a managerial class based in London and working for international money markets and multi-nationals? Why should the Scots the be dragged into military adventures they don’t support, host a Trident missile system they don’t believe in, or put up with the frothing blimpish bigotry of UKIP? No reason at all actually.

And the supposed economic uncertainty  of independence cuts no ice with me either. In fact it's annoying. What about the uncertainties involved in voting no? Imagine an election next year dominated by anti-EU rhetoric, followed by withdrawal from the EU? And there are no guarantees an English electorate will allow the passing of so called devo max in any case. Cameron (and the others) are promising what they may not be able to deliver. 

And it's almost too obvious to keep listing all the small countries that do very well thank you economically with their own currency to boot.

I also think a left leaning Scotland over our border might – in the long term – be good for the Left in England. If there’s a stable, fairer society across our border why wouldn’t increasing numbers of people begin to wonder aloud why that couldn’t happen in their (our) own country? And why wouldn’t they begin to join the organisations and movements that could make it happen?

The most likely thing is still that the Scots will probably say thanks but no thanks. And I think they’ll regret it. Most of us regret most the things we don’t do, rather than things we do. It’s the chances we don’t take that hurt us. The times when opportunity knocked but we couldn’t make it to the door in time. That’s what keeps us awake in the cold dark hours.

And yes, if they do go for it, there’s bound to be unforeseen and surprising consequences – and there certainly won’t be a Scottish Socialist utopia coming into being overnight – In fact in many ways the real arguments will begin after the vote. But I can’t help being energised by the prospect of a new country exploding into being next door. We should all respond to the adrenalin of that. And it’s a lesson in how passion and organisation and having the right arguments and being prepared to deploy them over and over again can achieve wonders. And that’s a marvellous thing to see. As marvellous as Fonzie’s jacket and quiff...

It’s not w, wrr, wrr-wrr- wrrrooonnng. It’s right. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to see it.