How to make sense of the citizens of a country who in the 1960s viewed nationalists as “bampots”, 55 years later, contemplating separation? A bampot, by the way, is (according to this delightful small lexicon of the great Scottish vernacular words you find in everyday conversation) “a somewhat combustible individual”
I well remember the couple of characters in my (shipbuilding) town of the 1960s who were prominent nationalists. We regarded them with benign amusement harking back to the 1930s
So why have things changed?
The discovery of oil off Scotland’s eastern waters in the 1970s was the game changer – which brought electoral fortune to the nationalists. “It’s our oil” was the simple but powerful slogan which played a significant part in bringing down the Labour Government of 1979. Actually that was the electoral arithmetic of the time – the wider mood music was an ode to a government and social ideology which seemed to have lost its way.
And that’s the point – ideology not nationalism is the issue.
Scotland was left in 1707 with its own proud institutions – the legal system (based on Roman law); its educational and church systems. It remained therefore a nation - and developd a strong attachment to egalitarian values which have always been more contested south of the border. In that sense, it’s the rest of the UK that changed in the late 1970s– rather than Scotland.
Margaret Thatcher’s pro-market stance alienated the Scots – her encouragement of greed offended us. And, after 18 years of that, New Labour clothed itself for another 13 years in that same neo-liberal mantle. The 1999 devolution settlement gave us the chance to demonstrate a different type of politics – and, as I wrote recently, that opportunity was taken by the much-maligned politicians
It was the Labour and Liberal politicians who controlled the Scottish Parliament from 1999-2007 who gave the Scottish Government its distinctive policies – eg free residential care for the elderly (when in England they are charged 300 pounds a week); free university tuition (when in England they are charged 9,000 pounds a year); almost free drug treatment; health services remaining in the public domain while the subject of profit in England; support of initiatives in community ownership of rural land. Renewable energy……. all legitimised by a clear and strong commitment to “social justice” and community empowerment.
I’m proud of that record and would wish to see it extended. It’s a superb example of the sort of federalism which has proven so powerful a system for countries such as Germany.
But we can no longer identify with the divisive ideology at the heart of London government. In the 1960s and 1970s the strongest movement I was part of was the anti-nuclear one. The nuclear submarines were based on my river just across the water from my town. I was part of several large protests about this. I was also proud to support the plays of radical John McGrath and his 7.84 theatre company.
Let’s remember what 7.84 stood for – that 7% of the people (ten) owned 84% of the wealth. 40 years later the percentage is more like 1:99.
That’s a critical part of the reason for the current mood in Scotland. The question, of course, is whether people can stop the world and get off. We are part of a wider system which has to be changed. Can we do it better in – or outside of – the UK. And what happens if and when the English say they want to leave the EU?
The books I received yesterday and which I will read this week are -
· The Road to Independence – Scotland in the Balance; Murray Pittock (2008). With a preface by the Leader of the Nationalist Government, the author - an English Professor of Cultural Studies now based in Scotland - has an agenda - but it is a thoughtful book which helps explain the frustrations in the post-war period of the sort of nomadic Scot who had benefited from a British imperialism which quickly collapsed.
· The Battle for Britain – Scotland and the Independence Referendum; David Torrance (2013). A neutral book by a journalist. Not as dry and technical as some others, it still lacks some fire
· Evidence, Risk and the Wicked Issues – arguing for independence ; Stephen Maxwell (2012). Stephen who came to Scotland in the early 1970s was initially an academic; then a Lothian Councillor; then Head of PR for the Nationalist Party and Deputy Head of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Service. He died, sadly, in 2013 and this is the book to which I look forward the most.
· Class,Nation and Socialism – the Red Paper on Scotland 2014 ed P Bryan and T Kane. As one of the authors in 1975 of the first Red Paper on Scotland (edited by a young but already ambitious Gordon Brown) I also look forward to this collection - not least because John Foster ( a co-author with me of the 1975 Red Paper) is one of the authors.