Independence for Scotland, whatever side of the debate you stand, is arguably the most contentious and divisive issue of our generation.
As Scots, we’ve witnessed Brexit provide the best example of how toxic nationalism can bleed into xenophobia, exceptionalism, and poor political choices that effectively ‘cut off the nose to spite the face.’ Then why, despite knowing all of this, do I feel so strongly that, for Scotland, independence is the right choice?
Many of us keep our heids doon
It’s not easy coming out on one side of the debate or the other; business owners risk losing half their customers, family events potentially ruined, real friendships strained and social media contacts being both blocked and “blockee”. Many of us keep our heids doon for this reason, because the feelings on both sides are passionate, and passionate voices shout the loudest and can say the cruellest things.
So, bravely grasping this particularly jaggy thistle, these are some of my heart-searched reasons why.
Scots dialect: perish the thought
In primary school, speaking in the Scots dialect was a punishable offence. Our Scottish accents and words triggered distaste and derision. We weren’t speaking properly, we were ignorant and common. I remember one braveheartian classmate having a stand-off with a teacher (a Scottish lady whose own burr had long been dethorned) over the word ‘ken’. “You mean I know,” she said, “Nut,” came the young warrior’s reply, “I KEN.” The outcome was inevitable, with the laddie being (figuratively) hung, drawn and thoroughly beaten with the dreaded “tawse”, or should I say belt.
An “aboot turn” occurred in the last year of primary school. Just as the 70s turned into the 80s, our Headmaster ran special classes and taught us old Scots, the meanings of words … (nobody knew that besom meant brush) and the poems of Robert Burns. He germinated a seed that perhaps we weren’t “coorse”, we had a worthy culture and, just maybe, those that had told us otherwise were wrong.
Oil and energy: an exercise in gaslighting
And then there was “the oil”, an insidious greasy bone of contention that punched through my teenage ambivalence where certain unionist politicians opined that there was no money in Scottish oil and gas and in any case its reserves were finite, in fact within less than 100 years fossil fuels would run out.
It was the beginning of the “too poor, too small, too dependent” argument, the original “Project Fear”. Nowadays most of us would agree that fossil fuels need to be phased out for the good of the planet, but far from making this old argument irrelevant, just this month, EnQuest is reported to have urged the UK Government to offer investment incentives to North Sea oil and gas companies in order to help the country secure its domestic energy supplies, while the Government itself has very recently announced a swathe of new drilling licences. The cherry on the top of this gargantuan wool-pulling insult to our intelligence is the fact that over £400,000 in donations have gone to the Tory party from companies and individuals associated with North Sea Oil. These donations include £25,000 from the Chief Executive of the aforementioned EnQuest; donations from that source alone since 2013 total more than £400,000 on their own.
What about renewable energy sources?
Renewable energy resources are a no less attractive fuel source there to be tapped, with the huge 307-turbine Berwick Bank (which originally had a Gaelic name that has since sunk without trace) offshore wind farm to be situated off the East Lothian coastline. According to Southern and Scottish Energy’s website, the turbines, (while wiping out a few unfortunate seabirds in the process) will generate enough power for 5 million homes, roughly twice as much as Scotland needs. However, a substation to be built on a greenfield site, (requiring hundreds of workers together with a mooted workers’ village), will divert power south to Hawthorn Pit in County Durham. Now I’m no economist, but there seems to be a wee bit of a pattern here and it isnae tartan.
Who needs biodiversity anyway
It is widely regarded that land ownership in Scotland is one of the most iniquitous in the world, with 50 % of rural land in the hands of 432 private owners (Quoted in Peacock, Land: For the many, not the few? March 2018). It’s also obvious that burning entire hillsides together with their resident endangered reptiles, insect life and flora as well as poisoning off every species of raptor is really not the best thing for biodiversity, but it’s when we hear that Tory donors are paying £15,000 for a day of blasting birds from Scottish skies (Herald, 4 July 2019) that we feel the rub. Scotland, the most lucrative avian purge theme park in the world.
Even looking good in fictional history is too much for some people
So now we reach the history part, but there is no need to retell historic injustices and cruelties. Greeting over long-dead Highlanders, or crofters shipped off to foreign lands to make way for sheep, is likely to gain derision, not sympathy, from those who support the Union. And yet elements of Scottish history have become tools in contemporary political spin.
Outlander, is a romantic but gritty work of fiction penned by the Canadian author Diana Gabaldon. The drama series traces the trials of a young (and very handsome) Jamie Fraser with his time-travelling Sassenach wife Claire as they survive through the ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion and its aftermath.
The series was scheduled to be shown on UK television several months before the 2014 independence referendum. However, this fictional account of Scottish history was effectively silenced by David Cameron himself who, as reported by The Scotsman in April 2015, put pressure on Sony to delay the drama’s release until after the vote had taken place.
This act of high-handed condescension was worthy of the show’s villain, Black Jack Randall himself. To decree that the Scottish people were not permitted to see even a fictionalised account of their own history was a low and insulting blow.
Looking bad in fictional history is fine, though
Many will remember Neil Oliver as a clean-shaven TV presenter, his long dark hair billowing in an Island breeze while his heather honey drawl caressed the stories of peoples gone by. He was a regular across mainstream television, making appearances on shows such as Coast, Time Team, A History of Scotland and Vikings. He was a popular and respected figure. What a gift then for the Tory spin doctors in the run up to the 2014 referendum when they discovered his politics did not align with that of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce or even Black Agnes of Dunbar. And the bow on his gift-wrapped quiff was that he was prepared to say so in public.
While having an alternate view of the independence debate is no sin, twisting historical truth to fit a modern political agenda arguably might be. Describing those forcibly and cruelly deported during the clearances as “economic migrants” does a disservice not only to the long dead, but also to living Scots. It even has echoes in current day Tory migration policy, where labelling the desperate as “economic migrants” serves to dehumanise them and legitimise forced deportation to yet another faraway land.
To see Mr Oliver these days may well encourage a belief in Karma. His onscreen activities have been curtailed to GB News and YouTube rants, where he peddles Covid conspiracy theories and videos with titles like “Vampires are Coming for Us.” No longer clean-shaven, his eyes are just a bit wilder, he is older, angrier. He may have helped win the case for the Union, but in the process he seems to have lost himself. “Mair to be pitied than scorned” as the Scots say.
Independence: it’s scary … if you’re a unionist
So why the need for this extreme level of “MacGaslighting”, the underhand and offensive truth twisting, the imperious suppression of historical drama? It’s almost as if our independence is a threat, something to be feared. It leaves a bitter resentment, a feeling of exploitation, of being taken on a ride “roond the hooses”.
These are just a few of my reasons why. At present, it is unclear whether the Scottish people will be allowed a second independence referendum, but if there is, I know which way I’ll be voting.
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