Media Watch: Iain Banks on Independence

The Scottish writer Iain Banks said:

When I was about eight, I informed my parents that I felt more British than Scottish. They were horrified. These days, I feel a lot more Scottish than British. Sometimes I feel more European than British.

“Back then, I felt proud that we had the best police in the world (for so I was told) and the best post office in the world (etc) and that we had the BBC and the NHS and all the other institutions that united people through the feeling that – despite the class system and the divisions between bosses and workers – we were still somehow all in this together, still one nation.

“Then Margaret Thatcher took over the Tory party and swung it to the right. Out went one-nation Conservatism; in came deep cuts, privatisation, the glorification of greed and globalisation. And the Big Bang for the City; the deregulation programme that was at least necessary and arguably sufficient to set up our part in the financial crisis that started in 2008 and whose most debilitating results we have, perhaps, yet to suffer.

“The thing is, the Scots never fell for Thatcherism. We were always sceptical. When she announced that there was no such thing as society, most of us were, frankly, incredulous. Thatcherism, and the enthusiasm with which it was embraced by so many in England, made a lot of Scots begin to realise that we were, after all, meaningfully different en masse from the English; more communitarian, less convinced of the primacy of competition over co-operation. There was no one nation.

“So, the Scots learned to vote tactically, ganged up on the Tories and reduced the Conservative party in Scotland to a rump. In England, even in the depths of its unelectable ghastliness, I don’t remember seeing a poll where they scored under 30%.

“I spent the early and mid 80s in London and Kent, returning home in 1988. From then on through the 90s, I recall reading Scottish National party manifestos and thinking, they’re to the left of Labour. Of course, given that Labour had moved to the right of Ted Heath’s last government, being to the left of it didn’t represent that Herculean an achievement, but still.

“Until then, I’d only ever voted Labour. After Blair did the same trick with the Labour party that Thatcher had turned with the Tories, I never voted Labour again. I voted Green, Scottish Socialist party, Lib Dem or SNP, mostly as protest votes, but, gradually – and with rather more hope – increasingly for the SNP. Not because I was particularly nationalistic – like a lot of people on the left I’ve always been suspicious of the populist, divisive appeal of nationalism – but because the SNP’s policies were more progressive, more left wing, more fair, in the end, compared to any other party with a realistic chance of achieving power. Labour stopped being Labour, so I became a pragmatic voter for the SNP.

“These days, I support the idea of an independent Scotland. It’s with a heavy heart in some ways; I think I’d still sacrifice an independent Scotland for a socialist UK, but… I can’t really see that happening. What I can imagine is England continuing to turn to the right and eventually leaving the EU altogether.

“Scotland, though, could have a viable future either as a completely independent country or – more likely – within Europe. The European ideal is taking a battering right now, certainly, and the gloss has come off comparing our prospects to Ireland’s or Iceland’s, but it remains both possible and plausible that Scotland could become a transparent, low-inequality society on the Scandinavian model, with fair, non-regressive taxes, strong unions, a nuclear-free policy, a non-punitive tertiary education system, enlightened social policies in general and long-term support for green energy programmes.

“We’d need to make sure our banks were small enough to fail, and there are problems of poverty, ill health and religious tribalism that will take decades to overcome. But with the advantages and attractions that Scotland already has, and, more importantly, taking into account the morale boost, the sheer energisation of a whole people that would come about because we would finally have our destiny at least largely back in our own hands again – I think we could do it.

And that we should.”

Taken from The Observer (28/08/2011).