Views

The STV Leaders’ Debate

Alec RossBy Alec Ross

The keenest mind in Scottish politics cuts immediately to the crux of the issue – and to the only question that should occupy the minds of every Scottish voter between now and next Thursday. “Who shall speak for Scotland?”. Of course, three on last night’s panel will forever, come what may, answer “not Scotland”. Which makes it impossible for them to deliver their promises in the highly improbable event of them becoming First Minister of Scotland. On the other hand, of course, they’d have every chance of delivering the goods in an independent Scotland. To which we must conclude that opposing the democratic processes of the country they live in and the parliament we pay them to work in represents their comfort zone, and is much more important to them than winning the powers to deliver a better Scotland. And that is shameful.

The First Minister’s point – that only she and her supporters believe in the right of Scotland to choose – is inarguable. The inference – that the opposition leaders in Holyrood seemingly believe as a matter of faith that Scotland cannot be trusted to run its own affairs in the way median sized countries with only a fraction of Scotland’s resources do – is clear.

That’s not a political point, by the way. I just think that if, and there is, a clearly demonstrable better way for Scotland through self- determination – like having powers over welfare and drug policy and being allowed pursue a humane and practical immigration policy that welcomes folk as all the Jock Thamson’s bairns without whom our economy cannot function and when xenophobia and intolerance and dog-whistle policies fill the vacuum vacated by compromise and moderation – and if you unthinkingly reject that alternative, along with the life chances of thousands of weans because, you know, the “precious union”, or to ensure you see out your hollow existence in comfortable ermine, then you and I have nothing left to discuss. It’s over. In truth it’s been over for a while.

And while it’s been obvious for the sixty or so years that Scotland hasn’t returned a Tory government whilst being mostly gifted one anyway, and this is not me making the case for some sort of Scottish exceptionalism, Scotland has been pursuing a different political course. That is now in starker relief than ever.

The people holding Scotland back aren’t the Bullingdon Club London Elite. In truth, and polls say so, the Boris Johnson’s of this world would happily trade a Scotland that is, to them, a pain in the arse that is thwarting their path in the sunlit uplands of Brexit and Empire 2.0. The Andrew Neil interview of Nicola Sturgeon was revealing – by back heating the same old agenda items that an informed Scotland had engaged with and in many cases resolved in 2014 – oil, the euro, Scotland’s place in Europe – how wilfully far behind the curve both he and the establishment he represents actually are. Which is of course why broadcasting ought to be fully devolved. And, from an establishment perspective, why they will do their damnedest to make sure it never happens.

No. The people who are holding Scotland back aren’t wallapers and grotesquely over promoted vanity projects like Boris Johnson. It’s useful idiots. It’s people like Jackson Carlaw, Willie Rennie, Joe Swinson. People who live in this country but who represent the neoliberal instincts of another one. People like Ruth Davidson who characterised us as thieves and vandals. People who vote against legislation to stop the dismantling of the Edinburgh parliament in which they sit and are handsomely paid to represent us. People who are the Scottish Cringe personified. Proudscotsbut. Folk who take their tartan out of a drawer half-pished at Hogmanay or at a Burns Supper and regale us about how Scotland built the world, and then put their Scottishness back in its box, lest it offend. The polls close at ten. I’ll vote No. Give me a chance to walk the dog. Keep calm, carry on. There, there. Better Together. We boast, we cower.

Ok, let’s draw this a close.

I’ve been busy this past month, chairing the dairy seminar at Agriscot, speaking to a dairy farmers’ buying group in Derbyshire and, as recently as Monday night, spending an evening with the farming discussion group in Kirkwall. Without exception, the mood was positive, the tone respectful (and often humorous). There was a desire for consensus and no fear of tackling difficult subjects. We disagreed often but laughed plenty. Then we went for a pint. I’d conclude that a) no, Michael Gove, we haven’t had nearly enough of experts. In fact, bring them on. And b) it feels like there’s a chasm between what the 99% is articulating extremely well and what the 1% isn’t even talking about. It’s almost like globalisation has seen the 99% take all the ideas, and the 1% take all the wealth. Tonight’s debate only reinforced the sense that intellectual pessimism is the default consensus of a neoliberal orthodoxy that, sadly, isn’t short of proudly Scottish based apologists and folk who really should know better.

To be fair, I’d also have to conclude that farmers, wherever they come from, are up for a tear. But I always kent that. Lang may their lum reek.

I got a wee bit of a telling off from a pal last week for quoting Robert Bontine Cunningham Graham, first president of the Scottish National Party, who wrote:

“The real enemies of Scottish Nationalism are not the English, for they were ever a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our real enemies are among us, born without imagination”.

He suggested I was condemning the 55% who were not yet – or would never be – ready to ditch the absurdity of London rule for the normality of independence.

Well, mebbes aye, mebbes no. Voting against ourselves was the greatest and most self-defeating act of epic self harm ever committed by any country against itself. But, like everything in history, it needed people and institutions – the Scottish media, the Scottish unionist parties, the Scotch Whisky industry, Gordon Brown, the Treasury, the civil service, the head of state – to make it happen. Without compliance it doesn’t get started. Without meek acquiescence the game is up. By extension, the only reason Scotland isn’t already a newly independent nation is because it chose to play along with the ridiculous and demeaning charade that we are somehow in a union in any real sense of the word.

Scotland can be normal and govern itself imperfectly.

Or Scotland can continue as abnormal and outsource its governance to a country that clearly despises it and has clearly no interest in a place that it thinks of as a region in the rare occasions it thinks about us at all.

A good pal celebrated her 40th last week, and at some point in the evening, her son asked me about the consequences of another hung parliament for devolution. He’s fourteen, by the way. They all think like this.

So. There is hope. As Obama said after the accession of Trump, “I don’t call it the end of the world until it’s the end of the world. And we’re still in the game. History isn’t straight lines. It zig-zags. Brexit, Trump. Bumps in the road, aye. But not the end of the road”.

There’s talk about bigger pictures, but these are far from parochial concerns.

It comes down to whether we see ourselves as a country or a region. Whether we believe we can run ourselves. Whether be boast, or cower, or both.

We’re not born with imagination but sometimes we have our lack of imagination thrust upon us.

My hunch is that the sooner we realise we can be as good as we want to be, the sooner we reclaim our independence.

Let none of us, wherever we come from, live without imagination.

Alec Ross

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