Scotland could be independent, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
Perhaps it’s the London media bias that means I don’t know the narrative, for while the press is writing about the for and against of a referendum, the vote’s wording and timing, I want to know the bigger thing – what’s the story that the SNP and the first minister Alex Salmond are telling about why they want independence?
Understand me, I am a Londoner and would need the genealogical flexibility of a American to call myself Scottish, but I do count myself British more than English, partly is it’s a more welcoming identity to those of us who aren’t ‘pure bred’ English.
I like Scotland and its culture and visit often. And I also like that Britain is one of the bigger boys in the EU and UN.
Past stories and glories
Bits of the UK have broken off before – Scotland in the time of Braveheart (700 years ago for those interested in non-Hollywood dating) and the south of Ireland a century ago.
Braveheart may have a Hollywood version of the past, but it is a perfect Hollywood film. It has a clear goal we can all relate to – freedom (sorry, “FREEEEEEDOMMMMMM!!!!!”). Freedom from English lords sleeping with your bird, freedom from uppity Sassenachs lopping off heads. It has masacres and horrendous events to unite the people.
The film has a perfect a villain in King Edward Longshanks and his hankering for a bit of Scottish oppression and suppression of its identity. The English king was ungentlemanly enough to kill those come to parley and unmanly to have a son who was good with colours. Boo, hiss.
Likewise, the Irish war of independence from 1919 was against a clear enemy. Though this time Kind George wasn’t personally killing locals like his ancestor, those who swore allegiance to him were up to some very nasty stuff. A positive alternative was offered to the oppressive monarchy, a republic, and there were decades’ worth of beef against the British to give a deeper narrative.
Again, it was about freedom and the ‘story’ of independence had its big set piece in the form of the Easter Rising and its aftermath to share and embolden others.
Brits and Scots
Now, it’s good that Scotland hasn’t had any marauding English lords in the past few decades, let alone armed uprisings, but it does mean that the call for Scottish independence currently lacks any recent stories to tell, no deaths to be avenged.
Likewise, there is no real villain. David Cameron may be awfully, awfully English, but he’s not awful enough to kick his colleagues out of windows (no matter how much we may wish it). Likewise Scots are so oppressed that, well, two out of the past three prime ministers were born there (though I understand why many aren’t too keen to claim Tony Blair as one of their own).
Even the Queen can’t be set up as a villain as Scotland plans to keep the monarchy, and it means there is no ideological reason for republicans to vote for independence.
Finally, Scottish culture doesn’t seem to be oppressed any more than other bits of the UK. It has its own laws, issues its own bank notes, has its own TV and radio channels, university system, own sports teams, better NHS than in England, cripes, even the magical Scone Stone (unless England needs it). However, Scotland will keep the pound and the queen, so no revolutionary changes ahead.
It’s a rambling, bureaucratic narrative, it’s about nuances and shades of grey in terms of national politics .
So what is the story it is trying to sell? I can think of some stories that are being hidden.
At the moment, Holyrood telling Westminster to butt out makes me think of relationships where one part suddenly wants an open marriage and tells the other to put up or shut up, it’s not their business, regardless of the effect it may have.
It also hides that, like a divorce, there will be some petty squabbles that will turn bitter, from who gets North Sea oil, how the BBC and other UK institutions will be split, to who has to pay Fred the Shred’s £700k a year pension.
It also means that Britain will go from being an EU big hitter (even if David Cameron’s punching allies) alongside France and Germany, to both the Rest of the UK (RoUK) and Scotland ‘becoming Denmark’. Don’t get me wrong, I like Denmark, but EU leaders don’t – and they push mid-sized nations around.
On the up side, it does mean under EU rules that Scotland will have to pay for English students to study there. And it will get its own team in the next Olympics.
I can see why Scotland wants more powers from Westminster, and they deserve them. Federal countries seem more dynamic to me, from Germany to the US and France, and I can get behind anything that loosens Westminster’s grey grip on the nation.
But sorry Alex, this isn’t a compelling story for Scotland or RoUK – “join me to fight a few Westminster regulations but don’t worry, Brussels will still send us a few, so come join the fight for a slightly different type of nation you have now.”
Scotland’s story is only one star
Compelling films are about big change, typically about characters who go from one, negative state into a more positive one by the end. Scotland isn’t negative – it may have had a case in the 1980s, but not now.
The 21st century story isn’t here, it’s a rambling, bureaucratic narrative, it’s about nuances and shades of grey in terms of national politics .
While I ponder on the story of 21st Scottish independence, I prepare to host a Burns night. As I said at the start, I am not Scottish but wangle it as it is part of my homeland. If Scotland leaves the UK then France will be the closer independent neighbour to London than Edinburgh.
So perhaps expect an invite to Bastille Day in 2015. Plus ça change plus, c’est la même chose.