After the referendum last September, the Scottish National Party became the most popular political party in Scotland. The reasons for this may seem unclear to people who do not understand Scottish culture.
Before I go into that, here is my own position. As a former interviewer for a research organisation that formerly worked extremely closely with national government, I was initially a no. I just could not permit myself the space to consider whether Scotland could afford the number of disabled, long term sick, or unemployed people that we support without the ultimate insurance of the UK. When I finally discussed it with a friend who is a lot more interested in domestic politics than I am, I made the decision to take the risky, yet positive Yes route. Why did I change my mind? Certainly not because of oil revenue. Oil does not really affect Glasgow, it barely affects most of Scotland. The chattering classes on the east coast would tell you something different, but the chattering classes on the east coast are not really considered to be very pro-Scottish by most of Scotland. There are logistical reasons for this that most Scots, never mind anyone else, do not really understand. There is also a strong sense of rivalry between east and west, which historically far outweighs anything as mundane as the price of oil.
So, first, the east-west divide:
When you drive to Scotland from England, you have three main options – the A1, which takes you up the east coast, the M6, which takes you up to a fairly straightforward artery to the formerly industrial zones in the west, and a wee road that we like to send the English tourists through Galloway, via Moffat. The Moffat road allows you to delude yourself that you are seeing pretty parts of Scotland, whilst gently directing you towards Edinburgh. It never fails to make me chuckle, this idea that we are keeping the best bits for ourselves, and directing the tourist traffic away from Scotland’s actual capital, Glasgow.
I have lived in both cities as well as a considerable number of other areas in Scotland, and contentiously, I can tell you that it is a lot easier to live as a single person in Edinburgh. Like Kent, it has a steady through traffic of incomers, and an arguably more cosmopolitan atmosphere generally. Like Kent, although people are generally less friendly, they are actually a bit more tolerant of strangers. I have shocked many an Edinburgh native, when asked about the two cities, when I have said this, as they assume a natural rivalry exists. No, we in Glasgow are quite happy for Edinburgh to accomodate all the tourists they want. It keeps the place tidy for the extended clans that prefer to do Scottish business and shopping in Glasgow, from most of the rest of Scotland, including places that are actually nearer to Edinburgh. Glasgow is designed for mercantile and domestic business, central Edinburgh is designed for something somewhat more genteel and anglified.
So what implications does the information I have given you so far have for the new Scottish culture that has developed since the referendum?
What do Euan McColm, JK Rowling, and ‘what about my pension?’ Historywoman, all aggressive Unionists have in common? They are all residents of Edinburgh. They genuinely believe that their self-hating and often ill-informed opinions reflect the views of most of Scotland, because they are assured by their positions that the masses really care what they as individuals think. JK, as it turns out, is a titanic egotist that believes the slavish followers that hang on her every word, without any alternative information to her apparent dislike of the country she is choosing to throw her money about in. They are apparently unconcerned who they are bombing, and whose house gets fracked, as long as they are right, right, right. Euan even tried to tell me that the SNP were at fault for the activities of SEPA, an organisation that I am familiar with from my days working for the main utilities companies in Scotland. Sorry, Euan, but SEPA have never done what they say on the tin, it is nothing to do with the SNP, a party somewhat fettered by its own democracy.
As a result, many unthinking no voters believe that the question of Scottish independence is akin to a primary school exam question. It is multiple choice, and all they have to worry about is getting the answer right. They do not like the couthier elements of the SNP, or the devotion shown by some supporters (particularly those who are formerly left wing activists) and they do not trust that anybody in Scotland has sufficient wit to run a country. When you consider that Scotlands upper working and lower middle class are often heavy drinkers, who work extremely hard and have limited time for information gathering, never mind thinking, it is less surprising that they take the views of these people seriously and write the entire argument off as ‘lefties dreaming about oil.’
As the Scottish voting public have demonstrated since the referendum, the question of independence for yes voters is not at all about oil. Whether you are left or right wing, it is about your idea of what a nation is, your level of self confidence as a person as well as a nation, and your opinion of how well the UK functions for you as an individual. I am sure that if you are a mean-spirited academic worrying about your pension, a fearful author worrying about your house getting burgled by poor people, or a minor journalist who just wants to be in with UK bricks, the idea of independence is very frightening.
If you are a cultural observer, however, it is more of a question of how one would go about making the country work for people who have been forced to accept a culture of loss, historically, industrially and in terms of the lose-to-win social housing rules. What Scotland actually needs is a generation of factories, in order to achieve future generations of bankers, engineers and designers to move the country forward. Are we likely to achieve that by ensuring that we are under Tory rule from the over-populated England? Many middle class thinkers in Glasgow apparently think not, going by the referendum results. Despite an engrained class tension, exemplified by a friend of mine from Pollokshaws, who despite a £50,000 a year job as a builder, cannot imagine owning a house ‘because he has no capital like the middle-class c****,’ Glasgow apparently has the confidence that Edinburgh appeared to lack at the time of the referendum. What my friend requires, apparently, is an injection of morale that people like Rowling and McColm cannot find in their hearts to provide in the country they choose to live in. Good luck with that stinking self-hatred you are punting.
Meanwhile, the English media would have the snarling chavs believe that the Scots are whinging cowards, milking the teat of English supremacy whilst complaining about their lot. They have been trained to think this by enthusiastic misinformation, and they are very good at hating whomever they are told to hate. Hating is apparently much easier than thinking, or hoping, or building anything new. It requires no energy at all.
What the #SNPbad crew do not understand is that the SNP are a conduit. They are not just one party. Many of us in the party detest the couthier elements, but it does not mean that we will cease to support the SNP for as long as it takes to rebuild our country and create a new basis for healthy discussion. No, we do not sit over a brazier discussing the good old days of scraping a living off the croft, people working in mines or tales of shipbuilding. Yes, we are aware that there will be decades of hard work, just to persuade people that it is OK to think, OK not to hate, Ok not to rely on past wounds for guidance. What we all have in common is this dream of self determination, unchained to the desires of public schoolboys lining their pockets with backhanders, defence spending and welfare pensions which relentlessly punish people who are without hope due to a lack of strategy from the top.
My view comes from one of the most stratified cities in the country. Nevertheless, unlike the impoverished No voters, we managed to agree on one thing – Scotland needs to be Scottish in order to progress.