The debate about Scottish Independence has mainly turned on knotty economic questions like whether Scotland can actually afford to go it alone. Such questions are of course important, but for most Scots – certainly for this one – their support for the ‘Yes’ or the ‘No’ campaigns rests not on dry facts and statistics, or even dreary old logic and rationality, but on gut feeling. To me independence and the mentality behind it just feel wrong. So allow me to vent.
A professor I had at Bristol University once told me a story. He said that the people of Bristol were the worst people of all. They were the worst because, living either side of the river Avon, they used that river to define themselves into two separate tribes. All the people to the south of the river hated all the people to the north of the river because they lived to the north of the river. And all the people to the north of the river hated the people to the south of the river because they lived to the south of the river. This was, said my professor, an absurd and a detestable state of affairs. The totally arbitrary dividing line of a river had been used to define equally arbitrary, mutually antipathetic groups. My professor was perhaps a little rough on the good people of Bristol as the phenomenon he described is certainly not confined to the banks of the Avon.
Humans clearly have a need to separate off into tribes, and part of doing so is finding an ‘other’ which the tribe can define itself against. This occurs at the micro level, as in schools where one finds the jocks, the nerds, the goths etc, through larger groups of people in towns and cities, all the way up to the national and international level. From top to bottom the in-group gains its definition partly by an antipathy towards the out-group. Rangers fans do not just love Rangers; almost as importantly, they hate Celtic, and that hatred unites them. Palestinian and Israeli extremists are not motivated only out of a love for their respective tribes, but also out of an antipathy towards each other, and that further binds them. It is from this kind of in-group / out-group mentality that Scottish independence draws its energy. But it is a contemptible mentality.
The history of human progress can be read as an emancipation from this kind of thinking. To begin with we were just a bunch of primates flinging shit at each other, but then human history happened – wars, empires, genocide etc – and now we’ve mostly awoken from the nightmare as liberal minded cosmopolitans. A break-up of the UK, a retreat inwards, would be a small setback in this rather concise telling of history.
It is particularly disappointing to see this mentality in the Scottish people who have always been such an outward thinking, and outward moving, people. There are more diaspora Scots than there are natives. Some of them, a certain Sean Connery springs to mind, vocally support Scottish independence in spite of living in sunnier (and more tax efficient) climes, such as the Bahamas. But most of them have gone out into the world and contributed to the flourishing of other countries, such as Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand, thereby ensuring that the Scots have a global imprint. To lock ourselves up at home is a betrayal of this heritage.
Also disappointing to see a left of centre party espouse this kind of tribal nonsense. The SNP thinks of itself as on the left, regarding the Scandinavian social democracies as models for a future Scotland. And very nice those countries are too – they have the best quality of life in the world – but in seeking to emulate them by breaking away from the rest of the UK, we could be consigning our English, Welsh and Northern Irish brothers and sisters to decades of Tory rule. Scotland has 59 Westminster constituencies, many of which are safe Labour and Lib Dem seats, and only one of which is presently occupied by a Conservative. It’s all very well building a nice egalitarian country for us 5 million Scots, but what about the other 65 million people living in the UK? The left is supposed to be cosmopolitan. It’s supposed to broaden the in-group of people we care about. Narrowing it is the hallmark of conservatism, and sadly too, the hallmark of the petty minded nationalists of the SNP.
Whilst I’m on the topic, I had planned to make a searing point about how I would never vote for a political party with the word ‘Nationalist’ in it. Annoyingly, as my Dad pointed out to me, the SNP, canny bastards that they are, have actually called themselves the Scottish ‘National’ Party, thereby pulling the carpet from beneath my moral grandstanding. Perhaps a watered-down version of my point still stands…
In any case, we should be thinking internationally rather than nationally. Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony awakened patriotism in a lot of people where previously it had been dormant; and it did so because it showed a multicultural, cosmopolitan, modern, thriving and buoyant United Kingdom which had set aside the dividing lines of race, gender, class and all the rest. To retreat from this would be backwardly tribal, a betrayal of Scottish heritage, and a boon to Conservatives. So, though its rather early for all this, I say , Vote No.