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.
What a thoughtful, measured article – thank you. My English husband has come to a similar conclusion, moving from a firm ‘No’ in 2014 to a regretful but resolved ‘Yes’. Time to screw our courage to the sticking post…
Thank you for a very insightful piece and in particular for me, the land mass/island geography element.
That’s good – well written, well reasoned, and well balanced. It’s also good to see new people writing for The Orkney News.
I still have a hope that Brexit won’t happen – that somehow, someone will decide that even preparing for it is just not working, and it won’t work when it happens, so, let’s call the whole thing off.
I have no solid reasons for this – just being hopeful in the face of such confusion.
I see Scottish independence as a good way for Scotland to avoid what may come with Brexit, but, in fact, don’t want to see England go down the pan either. I don’t want to see any nation go down the pan, if it can be helped. Individual nations, working together. Sounds familiar.
As to being ‘British’ – I refer to myself as Yorkshire/Irish – as being from Yorkshire is a very different way of being, to being from the South of England. Unfortunately, they don’t have that on forms, sometimes I add it.
The other one which trips me up is that list of ‘White/ Asian etc. etc’. I’m not white, I’m pink, and who knows what bloodlines flow in my veins? What nonsense – again, sometimes, I make a new box on the form – but , often, I’m given another form. Authority doesn’t like that kind of gentle anarchy.
That was a very illuminating article, well written and a valid account of the internal conflicts we all contend with as we eventually reach conclusions.
This was one person’s personal view.
It wasn’t there to convert or dictate the ground rules for making any political decision – it just gave a blow by blow account of how original attitudes were amended in the light of an event that would impact the life of the author – Brexit.
I share some of the feelings expressed in the article, despite the fact that I started as a Yes voter in 2014.
Brexit will impact us all – and that’s the big news story.
All over Scotland, folks are wrestling with the same questions that were mentioned in the article. I believe most of us will end up coming to the same conclusions (if they hadn’t done so already).
Another referendum on Independence is inevitable.
New converts will bring new perspectives to the debate – which is something that is extremely welcome – a future Scotland has to accommodate the aspirations of many, many people from different walks of life.
As a country, we are about to start our own journey.
I wonder how many have realized how being British has been different things to different people. There was a time in the past that we were proud to have our British passport and almost felt sorry for the foreigners that didn’t have one. But that was from our peculiar point of view watching the foreigners queue up with their passports in a different line at British passport control. I’ve seen a diffent view since then. The one when I flew from one European country to another. It felt so strange that our passports stayed in our pocket. This was a free land where it no longer mattered which country you came from. This was the Europe of free movement.
And I suspect this article was written more than a few days ago. Before Theresa May prostituted our Britishness for the price of a special relationship with benefits. How many lives has that cost? Perhaps that type of Britishness brings clear focus to the difference between Scottish Britishness and and British Britishness. Are the Scots singing Rule Britania as American bombs rain down on Syrians, now they now of our prime minister’s collusion?
‘Britain’ is a useful word, for if you choose not to refer to these nations as a ‘United Kingdom’. (Ho Ho Ho). ‘Britishness’, is a different matter. The characteristics which were considered to be typically ‘British’, and which folk bemoan the loss of, are, to my view, just part of being human – the better aspects of our nature – whatever nation we belong to. Treating people right, having a sense of justice, fairness, dealing with hard times as best you can, being kind to those weaker than ourselves, of whatever species. Those are the good human traits, not necessarily ‘British’, at all. Just – human.
And, I can’t help adding – what on earth constitutes a ‘British’ person anyway ? A mixter-maxter race – and a good thing too!
That’s just my view.
I like this. Not preaching, or hectoring, or even trying to convert
That was well said.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts,
Apart from the actual “Brexit” (which had yet to happen), all the negative aspects of Britishness and Britain which you list, were there in 2014, as obvious and as plain as day. In fact, they have always been there and, in my view, very cleary obvious.
Good points well made, Laura. It’s a journey from No to Yes for many people – it took me from a long time before 2014 to get there. (The No campaign in the indyref really pushed me over the line). I’m pretty relaxed about my Britishness though, for one has always had to tune out the reprehensible bits (the National Front; the arrogant condescension; the Empire; the impartial BBC we thought existed but doesn’t; and all that). It’s part of me, but it never defined me.
Brexiteers and Scottish indy supporters are both seeking ‘self-determination’ The difference is that the English have had self-determination forever (well, since 1066). It’s only after joining the EU in 1975 that they experienced not being totally in control of their affairs. A vociferous minority, spearheaded by UKIP could never accept that, hence Brexit. By contrast, Scotland has not been in control of its own destiny for over 300 years. And the mood music in the UK Government indicates that Scotland will lose powers rather than make any gains as a result of Brexit.
Good to hear from the other side, I was initially neutral on independence, but soon saw the potential of distancing ourselves from the very distant power structures in westminster, as we commit another illegal act of war and deport the windrush, I can see that the path to indy really is the only way, unfortunately we can’t save everyone in the UK, as they keep choosing the wrong politics, so lets make our own future, Ireland for example is independent but it isn’t really foreign, this is how I see Scotland some day.
Some indy supporters seem to forget that to get what they want, they need to move as many no voters as they can, there’s a negative streak in Scotland that says nothing good ever happens and I think this is why some are still “45” hopefully your experience will help them see another perspective. When it comes to identity being european is ideal for me, but I’m not really into the identity concept.
The foundation of Britishness for me *is* the empire. Fighting France for the opportunity to exploit foreign territories. Jingoism and willy-waving. But that’s because I don’t consider myself British. So it is interesting to hear others describe what it means to them, a gentler and more personal identity. Thanks for sharing Laura.
Thanks for your views Laura and welcome aboard , I confess I have always believed in an independent Scotland , when people travel and look around they can see the vast resources which Scotland and Scots are blessed to have . The extremely unfortunate fact is that these self same resources have been squandered and mismanaged to benefit other than the people of Scotland . ALL the unionist parties have shown that their focus and allegiance is not concentrated on the people they are elected to serve in Scotland but mostly on accepting and not challenging the Westminster cabal.
When we are independent ANY government which we choose to elect will be answerable and accountable to the people of Scotland and woe betide any who think they are just in it to feather their own nest
We must DEMAND the highest integrity and honesty from our representatives , as we can see in Westminster a prime example of graft , corruption , and a total disregard for democracy or honesty
Thank you Laura for such an insightful article. I made a similar journey from possible No to unconvinced to Yes in 2013-14 and voted Yes. Every time I read or hear the news I’m more convinced it was the right decision.
Your non-hectoring tone and statements of what made you change your opinion will do more to persuade others than any megaphone-bearing politician. Welcome aboard!
I’m sharing this with a few swithering friends and a couple who are absolutely NO to Indy. I hope your gentle non-hectoring style will resonate with them. Thank you.
Thank you for this considered article and Welcome.
Well Laura a really beautiful article, all I can say is welcome back.
Thank you for a very thoughtful and well written piece. It has been obvious for some time that the politics of Scotland and England have been moving slowly in different directions. A growing confidence north of the border since the opening of the Scottish Parliament, especially since the SNP took over, has contrasted with a xenophobic lack of the same in England. They realise that there is a lot wrong with their country but this has been channelled by unscrupulous politicians into a culture of blaming the EU and migration for their woes. The real problem is their politicians. The secession from the EU and the promised new beginning has been hijacked before it has even got off the ground.
I sincerely hope that we in Scotland can be free of these charlatans as soon as possible and build the new country that most of us want to see. A country which cares above its weight and doesn’t punch. A country which is guided by its citizens and not by the paid-for demands of big business, and other less scrupulous legislatures around the world. Yes Trump, and May, I mean you.
Another Scotland is possible. It is up to us to grasp the opportunity with both hands and make the most of it, because as sure as hell nobody else will do it for us.
If I had any comment on the article it was the description of the UK struggling with ‘austerity’. Lots of folks confuse the dictionary definition of austerity with the economic tool known as ‘austerity’. The TORIES made a conscious decision to use the economic tool of ‘austerity’. In its roll out format ‘austerity’ looked to be the best choice for dealing with the ‘crash’, then the economists re-ran the numbers, eliminated a raft of assumptions and concluded that ‘austerity’ (though carrying the ‘handbag economics’ provenance of seeming to ‘make sense’) was actually an economic poisoned chalice with two predictable (and now proven) outcomes. Before I say what they are, I’ll note that the IMF’s initial enthusiasm for the ‘tool’ was reversed, with it being reassessed as ‘damaging’. Now what were those two predicted outcomes? 1. it slowed economic growth (that’ll be the ‘damaging’ bit) – so why would anyone choose it? Maybe the answer lies in outcome 2. It protected and enhanced the wealth of the wealthiest. That’s not going to go down well in any kind of society with a hint of social democracy in their makeup! OK most economies got it wrong to start with, but then they ‘saw the light’ and opted for dumping austerity and promoting growth in their economies through using more progressive economic tools that created faster and more widespread recovery. And while most economies were shifting away from ‘austerity’ (the tool), the TORIES stuck with it, completely bucking a trend across most developed economies. (Only Greece, who had ‘austerity’ imposed on them, kept with it.) From a TORY perspective (remember, NOT the party of business – clarified ineloquently by Boris Johnson) ‘austerity’ made every sense. Their priority, as dictated by their small group of very wealthy ‘sponsors’, was to protect wealth. Job done, I’d say! Sadly ‘austerity’ is self-perpetuating. Once far enough down the rabbit hole, to keep things looking bad, and with a partisan press cheerleading and pointing the finger at anybody but the actual culprits, it can just keep going until the super-rich can buy every devalued public asset available. Of course, I could just be making this up, but try googling ‘austerity myth’ and immerse yourself in the magnificence of the con. And if you ask around, there’s plenty of (outsider) TORIES who still believe ‘austerity’ is ‘saving’ the country – after all it’s about ‘balancing the books’. The UKs wealthiest have DOUBLED their net worth since the crash. Top salaries have increased by around 180%, and of course due to stifled economic growth, average salaries are going backwards in value: MINUS 10% in 2015. Compare that to the ‘average’ French wage in 2015, which had gained 10% in value. Across Europe, only Greece and the UK have wages that have lost spending power since the crash. Here’s a link and a quote;
The Austerity Delusion – Paul Krugman. (2015) “It is rare, in the history of economic thought, for debates to get resolved this decisively. The austerian ideology that dominated elite discourse five years ago has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it. Hardly anyone, that is, except the coalition that still rules Britain – and most of the British media. I don’t know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere.”
Well written and very interesting. Enjoyed it.
Nostalgia for the sunlit days of Empire. Nostalgia for the days of certainty that Britannia ruled the waves. Nostalgia for the belief that God was a cricket playing white Englishman. Nostalgia for gunboat diplomacy. That’s what Brexit was all about. Nostalgia. If there is anything more detrimental to progress than nostalgia I’ve yet to find it.
“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’.”
As the American historian, Howard Zinn wrote: “While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”
What you describe might also simply be described as “living”, because as times goes you learn new things, you experience new things, and facts change. It would be strange if opinions or one’s sense of identity would not also change. A quote I often heard Alex Salmond cite is “When the facts change, I change my mind”, well, that might be quite relevant here.
If you once looked south for a part of your identity, and now feel disaffected by that, well, I hereby invite you to look to the North, I will be looking forward to see Scotland granted a seat at the table of the Nordic Council.
Regards from Denmark,