At a recent Craft Market in Tarbert, one of our traders was attending two women, who were looking carefully at everything on sale and making complimentary comments. Finally, one of them put the last thing back and said, “Well, it’s all really lovely, but we’ve decided we’re not going to buy anything while we’re here because you Scots want to separate from us English.”
I suppose she thought she was being clever, but there’s something equally outrageous and depressing about this kind of ill-informed and arrogant sentiment, an old-fashioned, petty, putting-you-Scots-in-your-place mentality, which goes back centuries.
Westminster still suffers from an Empire chip, harking back to the old days when Britannia ruled the waves, ethnic minorities were openly exploited and territories ransacked for whatever was valuable; turn on any radio debate now and you’ll hear someone saying that if we’ve got Trident, and a big fancy warship, we can be a world player. It’s the reason elements of our government still hang on the coat-tails of our former colony America, desperate to be part of any action that might make England look big and important. And that means Scotland’s foreign policy is tied up with England’s, which in turn is heavily entangled in the way the American government views the world.
In the course of researching Celtic Fringe, I read up on the ‘45 Jacobite Rebellion, but what came before it was far more telling. For a hundred years before the Union, initiatives to bring England and Scotland together had been grumbling on, but none had the legs to get very far. The Union of 1707, about which some people are peculiarly misty-eyed, was not something that Scotland solicited. It was the failure of the Darien Project, and the English sabotage of it, which initiated what was little more than a blackmail proposition.
Darien anticipated the building of the Panama Canal by positing an overland trade route that would facilitate trading between the Pacific and Atlantic, remove the necessity of sailing round the dangerous seas of the bottom of South America, and cut transport times in half. It was a brilliant idea, but bad advice, bad planning and ignorance of tropical conditions and diseases put paid to it at huge cost. Had it succeeded, it would have put English trade under Scottish control. Westminster made it a treasonable offence for any Englishman to invest in it, then sat back and watched while the colonists died. When it was over – a process that took five years – and Scotland was ruined, Westminster offered Union as the only course of salvation.
It’s easy at this point to argue that it’s time we all let go of the past. Just after we moved to Lewis, Scotland commemorated the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden with a series of television programmes. To hear the academics, clan leaders and politicians arguing it out, you would have thought the battle had taken place a week last Thursday! These things go deep, handed down from generation to generation, and even if there were more Germans on the Culloden battlefield than English, it’s always been seen as a Scottish/English fight.
Fast forwarding to the 21st century, Westminster finally sent heavyweight representatives up to Scotland this week to contribute to the independence debate – a rare outing for David Cameron, who has thus far considered it too far beneath him, preferring to stay safely in England throwing playground threats about like, “If you vote Yes, you can’t have any money”, and “There’ll be no going back, you know.” The trip was an activated panic button, marked by the kind of deep insincerity born of being caught with one’s pants down. Resorting to orchestrating scare mongering stories regarding the presence of banks and supermarkets is low-grade stuff, and if we fall for these hysterics, we deserve everything we get. The tactics show that in 400 years, Westminster's attitudes towards Scotland have barely changed, and a No vote will secure extended rule by a government deploying the usual bullying devices to keep us in our places.
It seems to me that the people who live in Scotland have listened to this kind of disrespectful, patronising stuff for so long that we’re in danger of believing it. Independence doesn’t have to be a destructive, bitter act. It might actually improve relations between England and Scotland because the goalposts will have changed. Scotland needs to stand on its own two feet – that’s not vindictive, it’s just the act of a maturing country that has different ambitions to its parent.
I don’t particularly want my adopted country run by someone whose attitudes express contempt for Scotland and its people. It doesn’t make any sense for this country to be run from Westminster, which helps itself to Scottish taxes and then wastes them on projects like Trident. I don’t want to be associated with that racist lout Nigel Farage. I don’t want to be associated with war mongering nuclear devices, which cost a fortune and serve no purpose except to enable Westminster to puff out its chest.
What I do want is for Scotland to put an end to 400 years of fannying about between Westminster and Edinburgh and take its chance. We're hearing a lot about what won't happen, and a lot about the bad things that will happen, but closing the door on the Union will open other doors, and create different opportunities and attract different people with new ways of looking at our country. That sounds like good medicine to me, a vote for positive change and the chance to think outside the box. One recent article suggested Scotland could be another Hong Kong if it ditched subsidies and embraced a free market economy - it's radical ideas like that that a country on the brink of change should be discussing, thinking about how Scotland could prove itself on the strength of its own ideas and initiatives, rather than clinging to the old and familiar devil we know.
How many generations get the chance to participate in tearing up the old constitution and writing a new one? To negotiate a new place in Europe and send those nuclear missiles back where they came from? Westminster can keep its fantasies of world-scale aggression – with independence, Scotland wouldn’t have to be a part of them. What a fantastic responsibility and opportunity, to think about what Scotland would want, and drop that English yoke. Uncertain, yes, scary, certainly, but many countries have trodden the independence path before us and survived to tell the tale.
Was it John Major yesterday who said Scotland was destroying history? What a daft thing to say. History can’t be destroyed, for it has already happened and is beyond our power to change it. History defines the future, and has led us here. Where it takes us next will be decided today – and far from destroying history, we could find ourselves making it.