By Laura Muncie
The first confession is that in 2014, Scottish independence was too much of a quantum leap for me. Things have changed, but here is why I supported keeping the Kingdoms united.
We have to go there, Brexit- the subject everyone wishes would jump off said ‘Brexit cliff edge’ and vanish. But we need to discuss it because a continued political union inside the UK is mostly about identity.
Are you Scottish? Scottish and British? English and Scottish? Scottish and European? Have you adopted Scotland as your homeland having come from elsewhere? What is your identity?
The Brexit result south of the border took me by surprise, in part because it was more about emotion than we realised. Online data mining tapped into this successfully. The heart CAN rule the head. Surprising news!
With Brexit wearing down the economic benefits of staying in the United Kingdom, I suggest any future Scottish Independence referendum is about emotion and identity more than economic pragmatism. The southern neighbours are opting for ‘no guts no glory- let’s cut loose and make our own way’. Surprising because they seemed the less volatile member of the UK. Who knew confident England could be radical and rebellious? wasn’t that more what us Scots were about ?
Brexit is partly a desire to restore pride and sovereignty after years of soul (and life) destroying austerity. There is also that niggling fact that the UK is trailing in the wake of bigger economies, and the UK Government has struggled to change the trend. A radical change could open up new avenues- a relaunch. Add in fear that a dodgy kind of foreigner would arrive in their thousands courtesy of Germany, and we had ourselves a crisis- an identity crisis. I don’t agree with the above sentiments, but these were concerns people had. Raising the red white and blue was attractive.
Voters in Scotland now need to decide what their future identity will be, because it will be directly tied to a constitutional future. What is your identity? What do you stand for?
My second confession is that in the past I would identify as ‘British’ in situations where I felt uncertain. ‘British’ to me offered protection. Applying for a student work visa abroad I was ‘British’. German documents I was ‘ British’. ‘British’ was dependable and it felt like it carried more clout. Being ‘British’ stood for something: fair play, fish and chips, nice friendly policemen, no to the death penalty- or something like that. The British were a force for good.
But Brexit and the lead up campaign unleashed the ugly side of ‘British’ and paraded it for the world to see. An act that is quite unBritish as it turns out. We don’t wash our dirty laundry in public, though there is something in our character that enjoys seeing others make a mess. Needling America over their choice of President is a hobby, but an hypocritical one given the hard line talk coming from Trump was not light years away from rhetoric in the UK. It was just wrapped in politer language so as not to appear as crass as the golden comb-over man we poked fun at. There was much Trump/ Brexit sentiment crossover.
It is not a good time to be ‘British’.
The Brexit referendum has produced a darker British identity. It is hard line, anti-foreigner with a misogynistic undercurrent. I thought the battle of the sexes was done that we all agreed to help each other and be better people. But it seems some things we chuck return like boomerangs- even ones that shouldn’t. The dominant British identity has a liking for things American, values, wealth and wants to reassert power. It has a thirst for war and by supporting US intervention in Syria, it looks like the UK may get its way. How sad for the people of the Middle East whose lives have been devastated by wars. “Buccaneers of the world” nostalgia is strong in Britain. The British identity comes with lots of strings attached, including Scotland’s devolution and Northern Ireland’s peace.
So far it seems democracy and fair elections are secondary to rebuilding the newly ‘freed’ UK. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, vile anti Muslim campaigns, MP expense scandals and flouting of election laws should be our warning signs. Does the UK even have a functioning democracy? Is ‘the West’ really ‘the best’? These are big questions.
Mhairi Black gave a recent talk about Westminster and the practices that pain her there. As is common among us Scots, she uses humour to describe what a hopeless and frustrating situation it is. Political tactics of time delay so that debate on a bill is dropped. Game playing as far as to pretend to be unable to count to 40- the number of MPs needed for a quorum. Archaic practices that add layers of unnecessary complication so every little thing takes an age, so many tactics to throw a spanner in the works. Lives and livelihoods turned into a game that taxpayer’sfund. No wonder the youngest ever MP can’t stomach it. If you want to make a difference, Westminster is not the place to be.
Holyrood has a modern parliament unburdened by ancient practices. The architects designed the seating in the chamber to reflect modern debate with seats in curved rows, a less hostile design. The House of Commons sit on benches opposite each other and face off. In Holyrood when people want to speak they press a red button and are invited in. In The House of Commons rowdy mobs are held to order by the Speaker of the Commons. Holyrood is more civilized, it works. But how long will it run like this? If powers currently in Brussels are handed back to the UK, won’t future discussion in Holyrood revolve around fighting to get those powers back? Or be spent mitigating the ill effects of Brexit? Time that could be better spent discussing constituency concerns and initiatives. Our Parliament is at risk of being made dysfunctional too.
My third confession as a former a soft ‘no’ is that I had no information about, or desire to find out about Independence. A ridiculous admission to make that someone would choose to be uninformed, especially as we have the internet. But there was no real need for me to read up on anything. I was happy with my life, I knew who I was, it was my business how I voted, and ‘no thanks’ to anything else. But Brexit forced politics through my front door and that is when the reading and researching into the other side of the debate started. I found legit pro Independence counter arguments for the points I previously hesitated over: currency, hard border, global influence. If you reach across the aisle and hear what the other side have to say, there is lots out there. Worth doing because at some point the Brexit result will force itself through your front door. It is hard to say how that may happen, but it will affect your life at some point. Maybe your graduate work scheme will no longer offer work experience in Europe, or your friend will decide the battle to stay on in the UK is too tough so they return to Poland. Or maybe you meet someone special, but give up on the budding romance because they live in Spain and trying to live together would be a small nightmare. Business relocation and the associated job losses have already started.
Brexit poses Scotland problems especially in part is because it is geographically different to England and Wales. The Brexit supporting countries are landmasses, Scotland is a mainland with lots of inhabited Islands. Scotland’s landscape brings with it natural resources but also higher costs due to distances to transport goods,longer hours for HGV drivers and waters to cross. Goods produced in Scotland sold to the Continent now with tariffs, are going to find margins squeezed. It will be easier to move production south.
Fresh Scottish goods are going to have to compete with equivalents down south and getting the economy going post Brexit may mean that England produces more goods for itself, reducing our market to sell to them.
I am particularly concerned about how rural communities and the Islands will be affected when environmental and cultural projects that receive EU funding no longer have that money. Scotland has some of the most important environmental interests in the world because of our long coastline and islands. Scotland’s landscape lends itself to ocean studies. But some Brexiteers who have influence over the UK Gov don’t believe these projects have worth.
Don Cummings, founder of Vote Leave, adviser to Michael Gove said about climate change:
“there has undoubtedly been hype and dishonesty from many people exaggerating the precision of our knowledge and distorting science for various purposes. Spending decisions taken because of “global warming” are stupid, counterproductive and a waste of money”.
Whither you believe climate change is a natural phenomenon, or is caused by human activity, we can surely agree it is still good to monitor changes. Brexit is not going to be easy for Scotland. This will be the cost of holding onto a British identity.
The fourth confession is that I didn’t care much for the Independence supporters chat. I am sorry if you are reading this and are one of the enthusiastic campaigners. Former me thought you seemed blinkered and that your group had never gotten over the Act of Union. Scotland got a raw deal, but it was hundreds of years ago, the Union had not been all bad, it had its upsides couldn’t we all just move on?
Things are different now. If Scotland gets in the way of Brexit, it will be resented by the UK Gov and possibly clamped down on. If Scotland allows a hard Brexit to go ahead, we will resent our neighbours and be poorer. The North South power struggle will never end. I now think we should let our neighbours do their thing. Go on the Brexit adventure, chase those new deals, rebuild itself. Scottish Independence is now the more sensible option for the future.
My final confession is my British identity has been peeled off like an ill-fitting jacket and cast aside in the corner. Maybe it never really fitted me properly or I have outgrown it. Some call this ‘ unpatriotic’ but I prefer that label to the label ‘Brexiteer’.
Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity are the words on the Mace at the Scottish Parliament. I think that suits us better than the Brexiteer values.