I was reminded of an endearing trait of a former partner who was plenty intelligent/educated and would hold her own in any discussion but who, when pressed to discuss and not in the mood would simultaneously declare the discussion over and that she had won with the simple expletive: ‘Cos!
I soon came to appreciate the fine distinction between “because” and “cos”, which was the former anticipated rational statements of explanation to follow which expressed the argument in more detail and, hopefully, was persuasive in winning it. ‘Cos! implied no such thing and functioned in our discussions much as DefCon 5 and ICBM launch function in international brinkmanship.
I was reminded of this in a small tweetfest with Duncan Hothersall, one of the more compulsive Twitterati who is also a staunch unionist and Labour activist in Edinburgh. Needless to say, we don’t see eye to eye much but he is sincere and non-malicious, even as his passion does lead him astray occasionally. We were discussing Canavan’s aspiration for Scotland to escape Tory policies through independence.
Duncan objected to this: “I’ve long admired Dennis Canavan; it’s really disappointing to see him using the “vote indy to get rid of Tories” line.” When I responded “Why? Scottish Tories are a spent force in most Scottish constituencies.
#indy is the answer to avoiding their crass policies” he explained “Because (note we are not yet in ‘Cos! territory) an honest #indyref debate needs to be about the constitution, not a way of fixing elections.”
At that point I realised our problem lay in our differing reading of ‘country’. If I understood him right, he sees both Scotland and UK as “countries”—”And of course Scotland is a country. And a part of a bigger country. And these two things are both fine.” he tweeted. And this may be the root of some confusion in this independence debate. To Duncan, the idea of dissolving the union is a political sleight of hand that fragments what, to him and others like him is an entity, a country called UK or Britain.
That’s a hard one for me to accept. Having been born in England with an English dad and had my education with large pink-painted maps of empire on classroom walls throughout, I still see Scotland as my country and England as part of my heritage and feel much pride in what they achieved together with no small help from the Welsh but ‘Britain’ has faded to a geographic concept that, for me, ranks with ‘Europe’ as a geographic term that carries little patriotism or emotive identification.
Some people (perhaps Duncan?) argue that the political union and shared history of three centuries has become the dominant factor in identifying ‘country’. But I would cite Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Portugal or Poland as examples of countries that disappeared from maps—but never disappeared from the self-identity of the people who made up that country.
Sometimes countries exist in people’s minds before they exist in reality. The Austrian politician Metternich’s dismissive assessment of Italy as “only a geographic expression” was disproved within a century by Garibaldi. Despite centuries of city-state politics, its unifying culture, language and history made it a country before its citizens realised it. Bismarck and Germany are a similar parallel story.
A similar situation applied to England’s 13 colonies in America. Under the unifying pressure of the Seven Years’ War and the haughty attitude adopted towards them by the British government, the stirring sentiments of their Declaration of Independence codified what the bulk of people there already knew: that they had become a country. Because of the cultural distinctiveness derived from environment and common experience, they had already been thinking that way for some years beforehand.
So, back to Duncan and his elastic understanding of what constitutes a country. There is no doubt that many people in Scotland continue to think of ‘Britain’ as their country, even if they are now in a minority (barely 12%, while ‘all’ or ‘more’ Scottish tally to 64%—according to British Social Attitudes Survey 2011). Given a decade of growth due largely to English immigrants, those are surprising figures.
Where most confusion arises is in England. While the union and the Scots presence in it has registered, most consider it a variant of Edward’s cuffing of Wales into line four centuries previously. For a nominal ‘union of equals’ it has been breathtakingly one-sided with some space being found in the English parliament for fifty or so Scots and their presence in the Lords no greater than that of CofE Bishops.
More importantly, traditions of the English state, such as centralisation, sovereignty of parliament, deference to the monarch, even in business affairs like Crown Estates control of seabed and presumption of seniority of English courts have simply been presumed to extend to Scotland, even where they are in direct conflict with Scottish culture and tradition.
It was difficult enough to redress this in the early days when a post-Darien Scotland came almost bankrupt to the negotiating table. But the population imbalance of roughly six to one has worsened to twelve to one. The booklet In Bed with an Elephant captures the Scottish dilemma of making her voice heard but is unknown among the great majority of English who see no anomaly in using the terms “British” and “English” interchangeably.
Given the relative remoteness and unimportance of Scotland to the bulk of England’s citizens, it would perhaps seem artificial if it were any other way; how often do Scots consider or refer to—let alone understand—Shetlanders? But with so many poorly informed English politicians (Cameron; IDS; Farage; Mayor Boris) wading into the independence debate and so many Scottish politicians (both Alexanders, Davidson, Curran; Rifkind; Brown; Darling; Kennedy, etc) basing their career in England, it is little wonder discussion stalls on terms of reference rooted in English and/or Westminster practice, to the annoyance of those who think the union’s other partner has a say.
What we need at this point is a latter-day Canon Kenyon Wright to articulate that say in a manner that is obviously not tholed to any political master. What the Yes campaign has now is the modern equivalent of Paolo Vestri in 1997—the pivotal desk jockey organising the campaign. But what it needs is the Garibaldi, the Bismarck, the Bolivar, even the Wallace who will articulate—beyond anything regulation-issue politicians in Westminster or Holyrood can achieve—the aspirations of a people to be in charge of their own country once again.
That person must then articulate a new 21st century incarnation of “for as long as one hundred of us remain alive…” that will lift our hearts, inspire our future and give us Scots back the sense of purpose we lost when this British Empire partnership with our good friends to the South ran into a wall.
Simply stamping our feet and grunting “‘Cos!” isn’t going to be enough.