I find it just hilarious how unionists of all stripes are falling over themselves to demand an independence referendum the day before yesterday when—until six months ago—they did all they could to block the possibility of any such thing. Most claim that there is no reason to delay, in fact delay is causing uncertainty and that;s damaging business and investment. The fact that a record investment in North Sea oil for 2012 has just been announced shows which side is closer to the truth.
The time between now and Autumn 2014 must be properly taken advantage of if we Scots are to have the scale of debate that the seriousness of an independence choice deserves. The calls for much clearer definition of what it is we would voting for/against are actually reasonable. Ask even SNP members and you will not necessarily get a coherent picture of what an independent Scotland would look like. Over next few months, this blog will try to address these key questions, starting with probably the most fundamental questions of all:
What kind of country do we want Scotland to be?
We need to do this right—ready, aim, fire takes time but that is the way to hit targets. Though we will not all share the same ambitions, there will need to be cultural coherence so we all feel at home: little is gained from anyone feeling foreign in their own or their chosen country. Everyone wants a country that is prosperous and peaceful, that can sustain its industries and enjoy a high quality of life indefinitely. But those are goals most countries share; what would be so special about Scotland?
Firstly, it would surely further develop its sense of Scottish identity. At the height of our partnership in the UK, this was at a low ebb, with Harry Lauder parodies and a chip-on-the-shoulder sense of inferiority. But Glasgow’s savage, devastating humour found wider expression in Billy Connolly; playwrights and poets, actors and dancers followed. By the 1990’s we were laughing at ourselves in Para Handy or Rab C. Nesbitt—a huge cultural renaissance was rolling that is with us to this day. From defining ourselves as not English or (worse) English side-kicks, the Scots have lost that chip and come of age.
Secondly, our English bête-noire has mellowed. The see-you-Jimmy pugnaciousness through which the English were seen as patronising colonials has mellowed to the point that a close social union with our now-friendly neighbours is seen as both natural and desirable. Whereas once Scots ‘patriots’ might have jumped down the throat of any English using ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ as interchangeable we are shifting to treating them with the same good-humoured tolerance extended to Americans who make the same mistake—as we would to a granny who is forever misplacing her glasses.
This profound development towards our southern neighbours derives from the Scots—always the junior partner in the Union—realising, as the Norwegians or Dutch have done for decades, that they were always just a small corner of the world. Arrogance or hubris or talking louder so the foreigner can better understand never took hold in Scotland as a method of cultural outreach; a more modest approach came naturally. When you’ve run a fifth of the globe as you own feifdom, as the English have, it’s hard to be humble.
So the international outlook of Scotland would be very different from that which Britain has displayed even after the empire was dusty memories. For a start, while there might be global friendships (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, US) there would be no global ambition beyond selling quality products (whisky, financial services, produce, energy equipment) and attracting tourists. The defense posture would, therefore be defensive.
While much attention would be paid to the British social union with our good friends the English, Welsh and Irish, new bonds to the Nordic Union countries will be forged. Similarity with Norway would extend beyond interests in oil, energy and fish to social programmes, specialist ship technology, foreign aid programmes and international peacekeeping under UN leadership. And, by becoming an active member of the Nordic Union, we Scots would have access to one of the richest international clubs in the world and re-forge trans-North-Sea ties that 300 years of fixation on London had lost us.
By staying a member of the EU, the whole relationship with that body would change. No longer the recalcitrant semi-member that Britain has played under English leadership, Scotland’s oil-fuelled economy and fish-rich seas would make them a valued member and its fifteen members (comparable to Sweden or Austria) would soon be pulling more than its weight by leading groups of smaller countries with a common interest to balance even those of France and Germany. By being proactive, Scotland would be influential with friends to an extent greater than the rump UK with its 75 members has ever been.
Perhaps most importantly, Scotland could forge a unique role for itself in the world. Much funnier and full of character than the stodgy Scandinavians, better known than any other country its size through golf, its 20m+ diaspora, English-speaking friend of the US, historic friend of the Russians, former partner in the British empire with links to the Commonwealth, a place of beauty and energy riches, if Singapore can be a recognised trend-setting world leader, which price the Scots could do better?
It’s up to us: we could be rich Norway with a wider set of friends and a better sense of humour. We could be prosperous Austria, doing business all over Eastern Europe but with a magnificent coast to match our magnificent mountains. We could be easy-living Portugal, proud of empire-building history and content to compete amicably with its much-larger neighbour on the same land mass. Or—best of all—we could make some new contribution to civilisation that puts our 2,000-year-history-so-far in the shade.
It’s a future of hope, of ambition and (if we play this right) better relations with England than we have ever had.