What does 'standing up for Scotland' really mean in the aftermath of September's referendum? Keith Howell asks the question.
by Keith Howell
In the forthcoming UK General Election, some tell us, time and again, that only they will really stand up for Scotland. They hope to hold the balance of power and use their influence to the full. Will that be for all of Scotland, or just those who want separation? Would it mean progress, or political and economic turmoil for Scotland and the rest of the UK?
In the midst of the Scottish Referendum campaign, I learned it can be difficult to say the most innocent of things, without being disbelieved, or offending heightened sensitivities.
Take my claim in an article, that I was an ‘ordinary’ man. The context was explaining my support for keeping our country together - surely of itself, not a particularly controversial idea. Yet, in the fevered atmosphere of that campaign, with views stated in ever more strident tones, every phrase was seen by some as a possible slight or attempted deception.
In saying I was an ordinary man, I intended simply to emphasise what to me is pretty obvious. Namely, that my opinion or vote, counts for no more than anyone else’s. Yet on publication, some responded indignantly, saying that referring to myself as ‘ordinary’ was clearly a device to portray me as one of the ordinary people. Whereas, they were clear I was not. They had done their homework on-line, finding I had been active in business, owned my own house, and it was in the country. Apparently, in the eyes of some, business people living in their own home in the country cannot be ordinary. Their tone suggested they had ‘privileged’ and ‘uncaring’ in mind. Even though this was someone they did not know. That is, me.
Another commented it was a bit of a cheek, referring to myself as an ordinary ‘man’. What about women, didn’t they matter? That was another curious, and unexpected, line of attack. I suppose I could have referred to myself as an ordinary person. It just did not occur to me. There I was trying to emphasise I was no better than anyone else, and already in a few opening remarks I had managed to set myself against the self-appointed defenders of the ordinary people of Scotland and women. Oh hum!
Recently, in a letter to the press, I found this high level of sensitivity still much in evidence. This time my mistake was to claim that I was not ‘against’ anyone, no matter how they voted in the Referendum, or the party they would vote for in the coming election. Rather, I explained I was against any ideology that promoted division and grievance between people. A subsequent respondent was having none of this. If I was against his beliefs, then I must be against him and all who agreed with him. Mmm. I guess building bridges between people in the new Scotland might be a little more challenging than I had imagined….
Standing up for Scotland
Like a lot of British men, I am reserved, don’t like to make a scene, or to be a bother. But some things will stir me into action. Injustice is one - more of that later. Another is politicians using double-talk to mislead and manipulate us.
You might think being a little economical with the truth, or making the statistics fit your argument, is pretty standard fare across the political divide. And you would be right. Or, you might cite how many politicians use exaggerated caricatures of opponents, and their opinions, to paint them in the worst possible light. And again, you would be right. But, as annoying and frustrating as these might be, this is not the double-talk I am referring to.
Rather, it is saying one thing, knowing it to be the opposite of the truth.
Take for example those who in the campaign for this General Election, say in serious and solemn tones, that only they will really stand up for Scotland. Really? Is that true?
These are the same people, whose ultimate and overriding objective is to break the UK apart. To divide the peoples of these islands, in order that they can continue to build their vision of a separate Scotland, in which the democratic will of those who do not agree with them is ignored. The very people whose clear purpose, in seeking to hold the balance of power in the UK Parliament, is to undermine that Parliament. To render it dysfunctional, seeking opportunities to accentuate differences, and drive wedges between the peoples of the United Kingdom.
In saying they are the ones who will really stand up for Scotland, what they mean is they will stand up for their ideology and those who agree with them.
We saw this many times in the Scottish Referendum. Those comfortable with the use of double-talk, would make assertions and repeat them again and again - perhaps regarding an economic ‘truth’ or a twisted view of what opponents supposedly think of the potential of Scotland and its people, putting words into their mouths (‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’, yeah, yeah, yeah). These catch-phrases are intended to capture the public’s imagination and steer the way they think. So it is with the ‘standing up for Scotland’ line. For the majority us in Scotland, it actually means the exact opposite of what it says, as they intend to act against the interests of those who do not agree with them.
Double-talk and the undermining of democracy
Over long years of campaigning in the run up to the Scottish Referendum, those with the power of the Scottish State behind them used every possible device and technique to convince people that separation was good, not risky. That division was the natural state for this country and its people. That to stay together with those we have so successfully coexisted with over the course of generations, was in fact bad. Yet despite all of that propaganda, the clear majority of people of Scotland, freely chose to stay together.
Those who led the campaign for separation argued, again and again, that the UK Government must listen to the democratic will of the people of Scotland. Yet when the Referendum result did not favour them, they lost their faith in that democratic will, preferring instead to pander to their own sense of grievance and self-importance.
In the Referendum campaign, they sought to claim the moral high ground, adopting the cause of overcoming poverty, to bring on board those on the progressive left of Scottish politics. These new voices were often more persuasive and effective as campaigners than those who drew them under their wing. Now those intent on separation at any cost cast themselves as being anti-austerity, offering instead growth in public spending. Telling people whatever will most readily win them over, no matter the consequences.
This is deeply cynical political posturing. Those proposing it are well aware that Devo Max, or full fiscal autonomy - control of all tax raising and expenditure – will open cavernous gaps in funding, requiring increases in taxes and cuts in spending, or increases in borrowing, all of which would create the perfect storm for another economic downturn in Scotland. Yet they push for it in any case, because it is viewed as a stepping stone to the full break-up of the UK. With only defence and foreign affairs controlled from Westminster, it would be a simple thing for the Scottish Government to stir up a grievance against a policy in one or the other of these, to enable them to claim the offence caused to the people of Scotland is sufficient to warrant another Referendum.
Just as in the 2014 Scottish Referendum campaign, economic consequences are disregarded. The very people they claim to be committed to help - those in poverty - would be the first to suffer during an economic crisis. And we would be in an economic crisis now with the current levels of oil price, if those who argued for separation had won the day. Just as we will be in economic crisis in the future, if full fiscal autonomy is imposed on us, by those determined to follow their ideological path without care for the impact on the rest of us.
So, who is really going to stand up for Scotland? Not those shouting the loudest about doing so. For they have their own special definition of Scotland and its people. They intend to stand up for their ideology and followers. Just as they have claimed the Saltire flag and Scottish patriotism as their own, so they arrogantly claim to speak for us all.
So whose voice is this anyway?
I am a moderate provocateur. ‘Moderate’ because I do not feel comfortable talking or acting immoderately. ‘Provocateur’ because I am sufficiently stirred by what I see happening to our country, that I feel bound to do all I can, to confront what is so wrong and doing so much harm to Scotland.
Some will know me for letters appearing in the press. Others, through my personal campaign on my own website. Still more, as someone working in a small way, alongside the hard efforts of others, in grass-root activism and campaigning, on behalf of this great country of ours, Scotland in the United Kingdom.
What I really want at the most fundamental level, is I suspect the same as the vast majority of us. Simply put, the best for all those we care for. Our families, friends, colleagues and fellow countrymen and women. And indeed, people everywhere. Yes, basically most of us want the best for everyone.
And by ‘us’, I mean all of us. Not just those who voted as I did in the Scottish Referendum. Nor just those who vote for the same party as I. There really is far more in common, shared and connected between us, than the differences that become so accentuated in the midst of political campaigns.
Some are deeply moved by a flag as a symbol of national pride, and a dream they are promised of a country transformed, with all its shortcomings swept away. But we must judge the likely reality of that promise, not simply accept the manipulative catch phrases of politicians.
A critical choice
We have a critical choice to make in the weeks ahead. For me, this will be more an ethical choice than political. To do what is right for all the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom. To oppose by all proper and fair means, an ideology that is based on promoting division.
In a world in which more than ever before the need for unity of purpose across all peoples is overriding, it seems to me only the most short sighted and corrosive of doctrines would seek instead to separate us. I reject that ideology’s exaggerated sense of Scotland and its people, that twisted insular ‘dream’ that seems to me more of a nightmare, in which it is claimed that only by isolating ourselves from those closest to us can we properly progress.
I am disappointed by a leadership that misleads and manipulates its own people at every opportunity. Promoting a cause that promises everything to anyone willing to tow the party line. I oppose their cynical attempts to turn the people of Scotland in on themselves. That is the very last thing we should do for the good of everyone in Scotland, for the health and well-being of all of us, most particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged.
What I hope for Scotland, and all of us, is that we can once again find the best of ourselves together, not apart. The best we can be, recognising the truth of what it means to be Scottish. Not based on blind faith, or false ideology, nor some fantasy of what Scotland and the Scots were or might be. Rather, who we are today and can find together as we make the very most of all of this.