Homage to Caledonia

Imagine I sold you my house. We’d agreed the price, shook hands (those were the days), signed the papers, paid the lawyers. I moved out, you moved in.

About a year later, you decide that, as the family has grown, you could do with a bit more room and you draw up plans for an extension and possibly a new kitchen. And if the budget allows you’ll maybe put in a couple of new carpets and paint the spare room.

A couple of days later I call you. I’d heard a rumour you were planning some fairly radical changes to the property and would like to give you my input. To do so properly I’d like you to send me a copy of the architect’s plans so I can tell you whether to proceed or not. And, to be honest, blue would never work in the spare room. It always used to be green and it should stay green. And have you considered wooden flooring as an alternative to carpets? It’s so much easier to keep clean.

Naturally, you’d politely decline my offer of help on the not unreasonable basis that you, not I, own the house now. You’d tell me to mind my own business and if I like green spare rooms that much then I’m perfectly at liberty to paint the whole of my own house that colour if I so wish. And please don’t call me again.

Such a scenario would be the illogical and ludicrous, but this – extending the vote to those born in Scotland but not living there – is in effect the voting franchise being proposed by unionists panicking at the now inevitable prospect of Scotland’s independence.

This is highly significant. Up until very recently, the Westminster position has been to simply deny Scotland a second Section 30 order that would lead to a second plebiscite. However, in the last couple of weeks some Conservative insiders have finally admitted that denying democracy really isn’t a good look and, with successive polls suggesting that independence is fast becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland, wholly unsustainable. They know that they can’t win the game without changing the rules, and while their brazen act of gerrymandering is constitutionally outrageous it does helpfully prove that they now accept that a vote is going to happen. And that’s a huge shift. Up until now, I’d always thought that we were only allowed one in 2014 because they thought we’d lose, so why would they grant us a vote when they know we’ll win? But it seems I was wrong. Good.

The SNP policy – at least amongst the hierarchy – has been that the Section 30 route to a vote is the only option because the 2014 plebiscite is the recognised “gold standard”.

I have to say though – I was there, and I didn’t see a great deal of gold. The breaking of purdah. The vow. A public admission of postal vote tampering. Vote No to stay in EU. The politicisation of the treasury and the civil service. EVEL.

However, there was one thing that we should be justifiably proud of. We made the franchise as wide as we possibly could, even if it may have actually made winning our independence harder.

Ahead of the 2016 referendum, Liam Fox justified the disenfranchisement of EU nationals living in Britain (and therefore mostly favourable to the EU) on the basis that it would “dilute” the views of the British people. Two things spring to mind. Firstly, there’s a clear message here. You might live here, you might work here, you might pay your taxes here, you might raise your children here. But you will never truly belong. And secondly, imagine the wholly justified outrage if Scotland had attempted to run the 2014 referendum on narrowly ethnic – rather than widely civic – lines. The fact that we didn’t even consider such a thing hints at a mature country with deeply held democratic beliefs and traditions – not least the centuries old conceit that people, not parliaments, are sovereign. We should be justifiably proud of that.

In any case, changing the voting franchise is a non-starter. For one thing, the excellent one we have is already enshrined in law. Secondly, under George Galloway’s suggestion a Scots born person living in London gets a vote where Bromley born Mike Russell – Argyle MP and Holyrood Brexit secretary – doesn’t. It’s patently absurd and wholly undemocratic.

Indeed, I’m not even sure if I was in the former’s position I’d even want the vote. I often think that if I decided to move to, say, Spain and they had a referendum on staying in Europe (on anything) I’d want a say – as I’d be living, working and paying my taxes there. I’d have skin in the game. And, if in the meantime Scotland wanted a vote on its future? I’d figure I’d chosen not to live there any more. I’d forfeited my agency the day I got on the ‘plane. And here’s the thing: I’d be fine with that. Let Scotland be Scotland. I’d drink my rioja and pay homage to Caledonia.

What’s more, last week’s intervention betrays a fundamental – and probably wilful – misunderstanding of what Scottish nationalism actually is. I was struck by a tweet from Rachael Hamilton MSP branding SNP members – of which I’m one – as bigots. This was closely followed by a bizarre interview with gentleman farmer, Alliance Party founder and pal of Boris, Jamie Blackett in which he accused Nicola Sturgeon of fermenting civil unrest and compared party members to Nazi Brownshirts. This was news to my English born friend and fellow columnist who was so appalled with my thuggish bigotry that he retired to Stranraer, joined the SNP and spends his time campaigning for independence. For my part, I’d be outraged at Mr Blackett’s equivalence of my entire family’s constitutional worldview with terrorism and mass murder were the juxtaposition not so hilariously barking mad. Then again, if the answer is an alliance with George Galloway then he’s almost certainly been asking the wrong question.

Seriously though, what the Blacketts of this world will never begin to understand is that modern Scotland wants its nationhood to be decided not by ethnicity but by the simply virtue of existing in place. It’s a modern, inclusive, decent and profoundly civic definition of citizenship that has been welcomely repeated often by the First Minister. In a time of existential crisis, it’s impossible to overstate just how reassuring this can be, particularly to people who just got here. They, too, are Jock Thamson’s bairns.

The late William McIlvanney once described Scotland as a proudly mongrel nation. If every dog has its day, ours is closer than ever. In the words of the song, we’re all Scotland’s story and we’re all worth the same.

The imminent vote, open to all, will reflect that eternal truth. And so, forever, must the independent Scotland that follows it.

Keep safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.

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  1. Another, excellent piece particularly when you mention ‘Gerrymandering’ as you are very close to where this was the Tory/Unionist voting system in N.Ireland for years except there they adjusted Constituency boundaries, in Nationalist areas Constituency size huge whereas in unionist areas Constituency’s were small and what about the ‘dead-mans’ vote leading to the old joke ‘vote early – vote often’!!!

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