A Response To Fiona Laird’s Guardian Article


Dear Fiona,

Thanks for your article, in which you weigh in to the Independence debate. Contrary to your fears – I welcome your opinion. I am sorry you feel silenced: I welcome your thoughts on Scottish Independence and consider your voice valid indeed. You’re an artist: you’re questioning things. This is good – very good. I hope I can do the same without being accused of bullying you into silence. You want to be able to talk about it, so let’s talk.

I don’t welcome your vote because you don’t live here: you aren’t mortally invested in this place – by which I mean, you aren’t living, working, buying, selling, learning, teaching, building, caring, recovering, making art, or dying, in this place. Our future in our hands: that’s what we’re asking for.

I support the Yes Campaign for many reasons, none of which are anti-English feeling, and it is irresponsible of you to suggest that this is at the root of the Yes Campaign’s inception. I was alarmed at this suggestion – published in a national newspaper – so here I am writing to you.

I think first we need to unravel and interrogate some of the analogies and metaphors called upon in your piece:

  • You open with the element of danger involved in writing the article. (This word is being thrown around a lot, I’ve noticed). This suggests an aggressor – here, the Yes Campaign – and a victim – you, the disenfranchised. We’ll talk about danger later. See above for my thoughts on your not voting in September.
  • You say ‘Let me dip my toe into the shark-infested waters of criticizing the yes campaign’.1. You’re rolling up your jeans and paddling about, which is fine, but doesn’t really equate with stripping your kit off and plunging into the North Sea. We can’t afford to have people randomly paddling about in the shallow end, dipping their toes in – and given the half-hearted investment this suggests, I wonder if it is us or you who are undermining the seriousness of this decision.2. The word ‘infested’ suggests disease.3. shark-infested waters: indeed, a scary thought. But in their own habitat, and left alone, the majority of sharks don’t go for humans unless threatened. Also – have you met the folk running the Yes Campaign? They’re not very shark-like. Sit down for a chat with them and you’ll find them not lurking beneath shadowy-waters doing deals with millionaires, but talking – and listening – with open-mindedness, positivity, and intellect.
  • Btw – the ‘yes campaign’ has a capital Y and a capital C – just as Better Together has a big ol’ B and a T; in your article you acknowledge the latter, and not the former. I find this annoying. Whether by accident or design – you have managed repeatedly to demean one half of the debate.
  • You compare your situation – and that of other people outside Scotland who want to be heard – to that of a lover whose partner is moving out, and allowing them no contribution to the discussion about the future. Hmm. This metaphor has some flaws. If partner A decides after serious thought, that it is in their best interest to end the relationship and move out, partner B rarely has a say. This is hopefully A’s choice as an autonomous being. However, say there are common interests – such as children- involved, then B must of course weigh in on their future relationship. In this way, an independent Scotland will always work closely with its neighbours for the benefit of common interests. How a Westminster government plays its part in the relationship depends on the Government in question, and the government in question is decided by how the people in the RUK are galvanized to vote. You will have a voice, if we vote Yes, on how we work together. If your partner wants to go, they’re gonna go. We all know you can’t make someone love you enough to stay. Even if you quote Shakespeare. (Who, I believe, would have voted Yes. But that’s by-the-by.)

That’s just a few thoughts on a few of the metaphors used: they’re clever, but misguided. What of the rest of your points?

You criticize the Yes Campaign for ‘intimidating’ people into silence. This is a heavy charge: based on what evidence? The manner in which the Yes Campaign conducts itself – ie. with lots of open audacity, in favour of covert practices – is perhaps a response to the lack of air-time/print-space it is getting in the media’s coverage of the debate. In this day’s edition of this newspaper alone, there are at least 3 articles or comments warning against the dangers of independence, and none mentioning the dangers of staying together, or the positive possibilities of leaving. I love reading the Guardian. So do loads of other people living in Scotland. There are tons of left-leaning, liberal people in Scotland – so many, in fact, that we haven’t actually voted for a Conservative government in donkeys years. But of that, more later. So, if The Guardian is ‘free to say anything’, why’s it being so one-sided on this massively important issue? And why feature an article which accuses the Yes half of the debate of being founded on hatred on the English? Yeah, a few nutters up here suffer from incurable anti-English sentiment, but really? I thought anti-English feeling had been relegated to dinner-party jostling years ago. That’s not the same thing as being anti-Westminster, or being anti-astronomical privilege in the face of widespread poverty. Do I really have to say to you, ‘Honestly! Look! I have lots of English friends!? (Just for the record: I do. Some of them actually live here! They get to vote too! Some of them are involved in the Yes Campaign: does that mean they hate the English? Oh, wait….)

How can a campaign silence its critics with little to no media coverage? Oh – unless you mean the backlash against fear-mongering rhetoric one might encounter on Twitter, FB or other social media platforms. Well, if we agree that social media is most fondly embraced and comprehensively used by younger generations, and if that’s where the most Yes noise is being made, you might want to consider what this suggests about the future of Scotland. If you’ll lend me your co-habitation metaphor once more: your partner is changing. I fully acknowledge that social media can be an effective platform for bullies, but the Yes Campaign is separate from extremist nationalist groups (see previous comment on nutters) who seek to intimidate pro-Union supporters. Please don’t confuse the two in a national newspaper.

You talk of the rest of England outside of London, and Wales: you’re right. They too, are left in equally cold climates by this London-centric Westminster government. I don’t know what to say about that, except that Scottish Independence might be the first step towards peacefully over-hauling a broken system – a system steered by governments bent on deconstructing the welfare state, rewarding cunning and greed, and dividing and conquering the country’s poorest until they vote for them out of fear of an alternative.

You write with passion about how you care for Scotland. It is with some sense of duty that you write this article. Cool. So – if you really care about the Scots, do you wonder why so many Scots must leave ‘for work-related reasons’? Aren’t you concerned about all those Scottish friends who work in industries ‘with no base there’? Have you considered the possibility that in an independent Scotland there might be a job for them – or at least for their descendants? Since we’re in the arts, do you question why there are so few Scottish artistic directors of building-based theatre companies in Scotland today? Why so often the top jobs in Scottish theatre are used as mere stepping stones to the more highly-coveted, largely Southern-based jobs?

Now, I’m all for travel, for studying, working abroad. But what happens when people leave and never come back because there aren’t jobs befitting their talents?

Let’s talk about danger. There are concerns for the possibility of restriction on movement and labour between neighbouring countries in the event of a Yes vote. Again –let’s consider this as artists: there are barriers in place which have nothing to do with immigration. Have you talked to any young people trying to move to London (where, as mentioned, people seem to need to go to find work/make a name/be taken seriously) recently? The rent is catastrophically high, as is the cost of living. I lived in London 10 years ago, and even then it was still a more welcoming atmosphere for artists trying to get started. Nowadays one feels unfit to live there without city-salary resources supporting a ridiculously privileged lifestyle of eating out, shopping, shiny cars, and – in some cases (a struggling artist friend found herself at such a party) – gold-champagne – guzzling parties. Yup – champagne with gold in it. You literally drink glass after glass of money. Now Fiona – I’m not saying you were at this Tosspot party, but open your eyes: the Government is run from a city thriving on greed. I want no part in that. There is anti-London feeling: it is based on the fact that power is based there – in a place largely uninterested in the goings-on outside it.

Why are we only drawn to analyzing the dangers of voting Yes? I wonder if this is because we are all becoming so accustomed to the ghastly state of politics and downward slide into elitist policy, that we think it better to start learning how to cope with it, rather than starting fresh in what we all acknowledge is partially unknown country. If you’d like to talk about ‘danger’, and weighing risks, then we could look at the dangers of remaining together, versus the dangers of becoming independent. Especially in uncertain economic times, people are afraid of change, and it is on this fear that some No campaigners are preying. But we need to consider the alternative, for things mustn’t stay the way they are. “You can’t change things by altering the existing model. To change things, build a new model which makes the existing model obsolete”. Said Buckminster Fuller.

Talking of danger: aren’t you alarmed by the lack of women in Westminster politics?

Are you seriously saying there is nothing pro-Scottish about the Yes Campaign? Have another look. The Yes Campaign (capital Y, C) is not campaigning on a narrow prejudice. I refer you to thisAgain: your declaration of this in a national newspaper is irresponsible. The Yes Campaign are in no doubt of the seriousness of this debate, so please don’t reduce our arguments – and attempts to address the balance of information being provided to prospective voters – to a playground squabble over who hates the English more and why we want to go off and play by ourselves.

I recently watched Tim Barrow’s ‘Union’ – a play about the events leading up to the Union of 1707. I began to wonder what the story might look like if we had retained our independence for another 300 years, at which Twitter-enabled point in history someone puts a bill on the table to form a United Kingdom. So indulge me for a second: the year is 2014; Scotland is an independent nation; there is a forthcoming referendum (as there wasn’t the first time around) on whether or not we should join England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and become the United Kingdom.

Imagine we were already independent. I’ve talked about my feelings on the media coverage. So what might the headlines read about the dangers of joining with our neighbours to form a United Kingdom? Chances of having a voice in politics for a woman in the UK: 23%. Chances of holding reckless banking institutions properly to account for dishonest practices: Low! Chances of ministerial abuse of expenses: High! Chances of finding affordable housing: dropping daily! (To name a few downsides of living in the UK).

So would I want to join?

Now, I really like my neighbours in Dunfermline, where I grew up, and in Leith, where I now live. They’re good people and happily I would sit down together with them, and work out how best to deal with that randy flasher from No.6, or the totalitarian block up the street threatening us with nuclear warheads. I just don’t want them telling me what to have for tea every night, managing my bank account, or running my house in sundry other ways.

So let me ask you this: if you were living in an independent Scotland today, would you join the UK on September 18th? Feel free to dismiss this as a fantastical question – I realize we’re voting in quite a different context – but I just wanted to prod your consciousness: I’m not sure your sub-conscious has been in touch with it to let it know the media might not giving a fair account. You are not alone. See previous thoughts on media-coverage.

You say you wouldn’t feel British without Scotland. Have you been to the British Library in London lately? There’s about 1 Scot in evidence in the otherwise beautifully curated exhibition celebrating ‘Britain’s’ literary and musical history. Just a wee example.

Oh, and your final paragraph: ‘Scotland, let us press you to our collective bosom’. The maternal/nurturer metaphor sits awkwardly with me. Have you heard? We don’t like being treated as a reckless, impetuous child. I know you’re speaking for you, not for Westminster, but I must deal with Westminster as the owner of the bosom, since they call the shots, not you. Westminster is not our Mother, nor has it been very nurturing of late, so please don’t try to woo and confuse us with poetry and bosom-pressing. I do believe there is a place for the artist’s voice in this debate. But it should attempt to enlighten and provoke, not mystify and sentimentalize with abandon.

I wondered if your piece is part of a longer article. Each and every side of this debate is and should be open to criticism – there is no perfection, here – but I wonder that your article couldn’t be either longer and more rigorous in its approach, or less heavy on unfounded declarations.

As you say – this is a serious business.

Elspeth Turner
National Collective

Photograph by Simon Baker

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About Elspeth Turner

Elspeth is an actor, writer and musician. Having studied and worked in London and New York for several years, Elspeth returned to Scotland and co-founded Edinburgh-based theatre company Stoirm Òg in 2012. The company made its debut with Elspeth’s first play, The Idiot at the Wall at the Edinburgh Fringe, and followed this with an extensive tour of rural Scotland in 2013. The show is due to tour Scotland and Ireland in Spring 2015. Elspeth’s next play is set in the North East of Scotland, and is currently in development for production in Autumn 2015. Elspeth lives in Edinburgh and is studying Gaelic with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. www.stoirm-og.com