I’m told that I believe Scottish people are genetically programmed to be superior beings to the rest of humankind. Particularly the English of course, and we’re specifically programmed to be fair and true with a strong commitment to social justice. I expect I must believe that this trait comes from the failure of the Roman Empire to dilute our bloodline all those years ago, certainly to the extent which they did with those to the south of The Wall, making us the quintessential noble savages, a race of warrior-poets with a long denied historical right to our lands.
Not only do I not think that, but no-one does. Not a soul. It is still, however, raised as a straw-man argument against the idea that people living in Scotland (of a range of origins and ethnicities) are better placed to govern it than people living outwith it. Johann Lamont took it on in an ill-tempered debate a while back, but it was a line taken rather articulately by a Guardian editorial recently, the following being the most instructive:
“There is a myth in the yes campaign which casts the Scots as unusually social democratic, fair and inclusive in ways that the English and Welsh are not, in a Britain that has otherwise bent the knee to corporate interests.”
There are a few obvious problems with this that are worth getting out of the way. Being more socially democratic is a political preference which, while obviously entwined with moral sentiment, is not one and the same thing as morality, so fudging it in with ‘fair and inclusive’ is a fairly dodgy move. I don’t think that Scotland’s one Tory constituency, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, is an enclave of immorality with people in it who are fundamentally unfairly minded, I think that a variety of social and economic conditions have been met there, and not elsewhere in Scotland, which have led those people to still vote Tory despite the destructive Thatcher legacy which killed the Tory vote in, say, the central belt where I grew up. The Guardian sees it as a purely moral issue of course, which is a problem I’ll come to later.
They go on to say that the issues facing Scotland will be the same facing any other Western capitalist nation, France for example, so there’s no reason for independence to be found in that predicament. There’s a deeply conservative suggestion in there that we shouldn’t hope for or try anything beyond the current state of affairs, but it’s a non-starter when you think that clearly the Guardian wouldn’t advocate the UK and France becoming a single state in response. And why not? Would that be because The Guardian thinks that British people are unusually more fairer minded than the French? I hope not.
Professor John Curtice is quoted in that editorial, he is not only apparently the only politics academic available for TV work in Scotland, but he is always keen to point to surveys which show that general attitudes don’t vary as much as the Yes campaign would like to think. But the way that this is seized on by the unionist media involves a deliberate conflation of social attitudes and political culture. Our political culture is very clear on these issues: there’s the aforementioned one and only Tory MP in Scotland, there’s the fact that the Scottish Parliament, designed to reflect a range of positions in its proportional make-up, gets criticised as being a ‘cosy consensus’ of the centre-left. 91% of Scotland’s MPs opposed the bedroom tax, 79% opposed privatisation of Royal Mail, yet we have these things. We famously make little to no difference to Westminster election outcomes – even when we get Labour it’s because the bulk of England has agreed. We elect only a solitary UKIP MEP despite them having 4 times the coverage of the SNP, and again they seize on it – ‘we have the same political culture after all!’ they declare, ignoring that this is a world apart from winning the thing. They actually won that European Parliament election in England, by the way, coming a distant fourth in Scotland.
When people vote they still do it in far, far greater numbers than a social attitudes survey has looked at, and they are voting with the knowledge of what each party has done to them in the past, and what kind of future each party is offering. The responses in the abstract of a guy in the home counties and a guy in Govan could be broadly similar, after all they both live in a late-capitalist society where they are told that they are competitors in the same market, and both face the same barrage of the ‘British Values’ imperialistic and royalist propoganda in the mass media, but they will have had very different experiences of the political power that has effected them. Their historical view of such things as shipbuilding, trade union battles and the conservative party will be inextricably linked to the conditions that surround them, and as such two people that are broadly similar in many ways will be overwhelmingly likely to vote differently when it comes to choosing a government. Scotland isn’t just a nation with it’s own legal and education systems as well as Parliament, it’s a country with a historically very large traditional labouring working class. Combine these things with a history of being shafted by Westminster governments it didn’t vote for and you have my case for independence, not a genetic superiority fairy tale.
Of course that traditional labouring class is, as a result of successive Westminster governments waging war against them, always changing. But we can use this opportunity for self-governance to build a kind of society which addresses the wrongs of the past while embracing a different kind of future to the one we are being forced into at the moment, forced into as clear as day when you look at what we actually vote for. Of course all Scottish working class people have more in common with workers in Yorkshire than the Duke of Buccleuch and the Earl of Whatever, but Scotland is a nation with a Parliament, so we’re in the position of being able to fight. Turning down that opportunity won’t do workers in Yorkshire any favours, particularly for the decentralisation that I would argue that they too are in desperate need of.
Another Guardian editorial, in describing Trident as being in a “relatively remote location” (that’s 20 miles outside of the third largest urban mass in Britain) and apparently advocated making Faslane “sovereign British territory” in what would effectively be a piece of military occupation just outside Glasgow, showed more staggering myopia. This willful ignorance from a supposedly liberal newspaper which of course backed the orange book Liberal Democrats on their journey to the current coalition, is frustrating, but they must feel wounded in some way. The imagined suggestion that Scottish people have figured out how to be more right-on Liberals than they have in London, which as we all know is the centre of the cultural universe and where everything of any value happens, is galling to them, even although it’s neither true nor the point. Essentially they feel as though their cosy middle-class liberalism is undermined by the suggestion that others care more than they do. They need moral superiority. And that is what activism actually means to a great deal of the Guardian reading population – caring about something that isn’t happening to you. It’s separating your recycling and eating local produce while making sure your kids get into a really good school and that the wisteria is trimmed from the Aga chimney in a timely manner.
Alright, as flippant as that wee stereotype I’ve just laid out may be, the truth is that a working class Scottish person doesn’t care any more or less about anything that isn’t specifically happening to them than a Guardian reading liberal does. We’re not just all from the same island, we’re all human beings. They are just as horrified by events in Gaza, and feel just as angry at the limits of what we can do about it, and are just as worried about the effects of climate change on the widely poorer southern hemisphere. But the fact remains that we have a different political culture here, and the fact remains that eating Tory brutality like the poll tax or the bedroom tax when there is such overwhelming political opposition to it here is not helping either groups of us. Not those in the rest of the UK that it is actually happening to, not those in Scotland. Lasting change to the structure of society can only happen by taking on the constitutional arrangement which has us in a stranglehold at the moment, and all of the good willed recycling separation and local produce consumption in the world isn’t going to change that.
The truth is that we don’t believe that we are better than English voters, we believe that we are equal to them, and that it’s about time that was reflected in how we are governed. It’s disappointing that a section of the liberal establishment are threatened by that, but perhaps it’s a good sign that they are.