Collective Thinking: A Time For Visionaries by Ruth Wishart

Collective Thinking is our exclusive series of monthly Guest Editorials by a selection of our favourite figures from the independence movement.

Ruth Wishart is a respected journalist, writer and broadcaster.

As the 500 days till D day passed, many of us have been taking stock of the most important vote Scotland will face in our lifetimes.

For the chronologically gifted among us this will be the third major referendum in which we have had a chance to shape Scotland’s future.

In the late seventies we could only manage a whispered yes to a shilpit wee Assembly, but even that was torpedoed by a cynical manipulation of the rules by a London based Scottish MP. Plus ca change!  The forty per cent rule put any ambitions to even modest self determination on the back burner for another 20 long years.

Then came 1999 and all that, and the opening of Holyrood. A day marked by fine speeches, high hopes, and, for a while at least, a moderation in knee jerk cross party hostilities.

All of which has brought us to these crossroads at which there is undoubtedly dirty work afoot. Several recent incidents have persuaded me of the urgency of upping our game if we are to prevent the road to September 2014 being cluttered with petty bickering, character assassination, and internecine squabbles.

All of my adult life, it seems the energies of many left of centre, liberal minded Scots have been squandered in party political warfare.

Just forgiveable, perhaps if the parties involved had a profound ideological divide.  There are elements in Scottish Labour and the Scottish National Party who would sell their granny before conceding that they might have anything in common.  Like agreeing about a whole raft of issues around social policy and defence.

What a criminal waste of time and talents.

But now we do have a real divide.  Not, as some would have you believe between the parties, but between those energised by the thought of creating a more equitable communitarian society in a modern independent Scotland, and those determined to hang on to their status as junior UK partner no matter who is at the helm of HMS Great Britain, or in which alarming direction they are steering it.

This is not about party politics for me.  Nor should it be for anyone voting YES.  This is about the shape of Scotland to come, about the land we want to leave our children, about its values and priorities.

It is not given to many generations to have that priceless opportunity to rebuild the foundations of a reborn nation state. It should be a moment characterised by an adult debate, mutual respect, and an honest weighing of disparate opinions.

Instead we risk slipping into an unsavoury form of verbal mud wrestling with claim and counter claim as to who is threatening or trashing whom. We need to raise our eyes from that pettiness; we need to be able to say that whatever happens in 2014 Scotland was grown up enough to have a serious and tolerant conversation with itself.  And the footsoldiers in party uniforms have to remind themselves that this a battle of ideas not a war of personal attrition.

In fact, neither a battle nor a war but a moment of crucial self and national reflection.

One of the most unsettling things I watched of late was the respected, intellectually gifted journalist Isobel Fraser being the subject of ignorant attempted bullying by a member of the Scottish tribe at Westminster with something of a track record in that activity.  Another was the sly slighting of Mary Lockhart, erstwhile chair of the Co-operative Party, after she confessed in a thoughtful article that, after much soul searching, she had concluded she must vote Yes.

I do not suggest for a moment that all reprehensible behaviour in this national debate comes from one camp.  People of all persuasions are capable of opening their laptops before their brain is engaged. But there is a huge imbalance at the moment in the way in which the referendum campaigns are being reported. The daily scare stories orchestrated by Whitehall and dutifully recycled in Scotland might be risible, but doubtless the hope is that they will sow enough doubts and fears to win the day.

And what a hollow victory that would be.  Scotland the feart, cowering under a blanket of indecision when the call came to vote for a positive future.

This last weekend the Sunday Herald broke free of that negativity to bring us news of a new study suggesting how Scotland might re-configure itself on the Nordic model rather than continue to be dragged rightwards by Westminster and UKIP.

The Common Weal is a vision of the Scotland we might yet be.

And, boy, do we need some visionaries.

Ruth Wishart
Journalist, Writer and Broadcaster


There are 5 comments

  1. RadgeMachine

    One hopes that with the contrived Calmangate ‘scandal’ unravelling at a rate of knots, repeated attempts at banning this, that and the next thing having the Streisand Effect, Ian Smith, Foulkes and McConnell’s lurid racist fantasies being exposed to the wider public and today the 500 Scary (laughable) Questions being lampooned all over the nation; That finally, please anything that’s holy, Better Together will get the message that Scotland wants a mature debate exploring the possibilities of making our own way in the world, not some bizarre mix of Carry On Screaming and Mississippi Burning.

  2. thom cross

    Here is a visionary for you Ruth: CLR James being celebrated this weekend at Glasgow Uni.

    CLR James the late Caribbean Marxist, intellectual, author and cricket correspondent (The Guardian and the Glasgow Herald in the 1930s) is being remembered and celebrated with a Conference (9-11th May) at Glasgow University. The focus is the 50th Anniversary of the publication of his Beyond a Boundary a quite remarkable text offering a profound Marxian social analysis
    of cricket as a cultural phenomenon and its significant historical role in the liberation of the Caribbean.

    James ,born in Trinidad in 1901 came to England in 1932 and after a (very) brief involvement with the Labour Party spent his life ( in the USA, England and the Caribbean) developing a highly autonomous anti-colonial Marxism
    influenced initially by Trotsky (the Johnson-Forest tendency) . James retained
    a unique revolutionary optimism while opposing the barbarism of
    Stalinism and American power with equal gusto. His support of the Pan-African liberation movement enabled the rapid development of the anti-colonial
    struggles and within that movement he has produced vital ideas some of which are appropriate for our time and place.

    But it was cricket in which he invested considerable intellectual rigour that demonstrated his overriding passion. For he saw in the game within a Caribbean context a form of popular empowerment and self assertion that produced the cultural confidence necessary for political self-government and ultimately

    In his celebrated Beyond a Boundary ( “one of the greatest sports books ever written”) he offers quite a unique perspective on West Indian popular-culture with its distinctive class and racial contradictions . A brilliant scholar-activist, he saw cricket within the West Indies as a means of offering colonial people an instrument for self-realization. He saw self-realization and social liberation within the context
    of building sovereignty; identifying liberation of self as defining the political
    challenge within the wider context of national liberation.

    Some of what he has written, in a quite awesome body of artistic, historical and
    political writing can illuminate our own struggles in Scotland circa 2013/14.

    Thom Cross

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell

    Divide and rule, the Unionist tactic described here, has form among we Scots, a fractious people at the best of times. That we needs must avoid falling into the old trap of tearing each other to pieces while the vultures hover for the rich pickings is, given our history, to be avoided at all costs. Future generations will curse us should we screw up the opportunity of 2014.

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