Tommy Sheridan used to have an answerphone message which said: “I’m out fighting the Tories – please leave a message.” Well I didn’t post yesterday because I was out fighting for independence…and when I got home today from a meeting connected to the cause I found a man from Labour for Independence* on my doorstep trying to convert the bloke who’s in painting my hall! The action for a Yes vote never stops and I’ve accepted an invitation to chair a Yes meeting in Edinburgh next month where I will be miscast as the unbiased moderator. I’ll let you know how I get on and if I was pelted with tomatoes (organic, on-the-vine…this is Edinburgh).
I was doing some reading online and letting ideas lead me when I came across a post on a thread where someone mentioned the success of small nations including New Zealand. A reply came in, I presume from a Kiwi, saying: Don’t imagine New Zealanders want to see Scottish independence…they think it’s a daft idea.So I wondered if that was true. There is an attitude from some recent smaller states entering the EU which sound as if they are lording it over the Scots and pulling up the drawbridge. You know, the thing – Scots will have to apply to get in and can’t take our approval for granted. So perhaps that’s a view shared in NZ, I thought.I messaged **Liam McIlvanney at Otago Univesity in Dunedin – twinned with Edinburgh if I recall – and told him who I was and what I wanted. Here’s Liam’s replyDear Derek,
Many thanks for your message. I very much enjoyed listening to you when I lived in Scotland.
As regards New Zealanders’ attitude to Scottish independence, I suppose the first thing to note is the – to my mind – rather surprising level of interest. There does seem to be a genuine appetite for hearing about the referendum. I’ve been on national TV news and national radio talking about the referendum, and our referendum events at the University of Otago are always well attended.
I haven’t come across any noticeable Kiwi opposition to Scottish independence. Most people seem to take a ‘If that’s what you want, then go for it and good luck to you’ kind of line. There is some interest in the idea that New Zealand – with its gradual disengagement from Britain and its almost imperceptible accrual of independence – might serve as a model for Scotland. There is also, particularly in the southern part of the South Island, some interest in the possibility that an independent Scotland would wish to cultivate closer ties with diaspora communities here.
What doesn’t seem to exist is any kind of anxiety about the effects of Scottish independence. NZ just isn’t sufficiently invested in a relationship with Britain for that to matter. The year zero of NZ politics is, of course, 1973, when Britain entered the EEC and abandoned NZ to its fate, forcing NZ to find entirely new markets for its goods almost overnight, This was certainly a more traumatic prospect than anything that an independent Scotland might be expected to face, so to that extent Kiwis pretty much fail to understand why anyone would be terribly apprehensive about embarking on independence when you have a market of 60 million people on the same island.
A ‘Yes’ vote in September might, I suppose, have some impact on fairly peripheral issues in New Zealand, such as the campaign (which will, I imagine, succeed) to replace the current NZ flag with a design based on the silver fern. Beyond that, there are no constitutional issues in NZ that might be affected by Scottish independence. Republicanism, for instance, is much less likely here than in Australia, principally because the crown is utterly central to the bicultural narrative that is the cornerstone of NZ society. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, was between the crown and the tangata whenua (the Maori iwi or tribes), and the Treaty holds a sacrosanct place in NZ society.
The other thing worth noting is the pride, shared by all shades of the political spectrum, in New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy. David Lange’s impassioned defence of this policy in an Oxford Union debate in 1985 remains a defining moment in NZ politics. One effect of this is that Kiwis find it absurd that Scotland should be saddled with the UK’s nuclear deterrent, against the wishes of its population. It’s quite startling to hear Chris Auchinvole, a National Party list MP (effectively a Tory) declaring that Scotland should opt for independence simply to free itself from the scourge of nuclear weapons.
Finally, if you want to follow any of this up, by all means get back in touch, but it might also be worth contacting one of my former MA students here at Otago who has just arrived in Glasgow to embark on a PhD in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow. She was the star of our recent panel discussion on independence.
I’m enjoying your blogs – keep up the good work.
Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies
University of Otago
Isn’t that cool? An interest on the other side of the globe and a sleeves-rolled-up approach to just get on with it if you want to …what are you afraid of? I’m paraphrasing, of course. And he reads the blog…just like you. But it makes me feel we’re not alone and I bumped into an American academic of my acquaintance in a coffee shop this morning who says she detects interest in the world of US journalism too.
Incidentally, the story the mainstream decided wasn’t a story – the UWS Broadcasting Bias Report – achieved 5500 hits on this site on day one, 5200 on day two and 3400 on day three…over 14,000 hits on one blog site for a single story. And since I am shared through other sites, you get an idea of how an alternative view ripples through the blogosphere. On which point my award of a Derek Bateman Broadcaster Union Jack oven glove goes to arch Unionist Grahamski Falkirk who heads the list for the most number of comments on my blog. Who’d have thought that a Unionist, one so dismissive of Independistas would be so enthusiastic about a Nat site…surely they are cruising to an easy win and don’t have to try so hard, no?
*Labour for Independence stages a public meting tomorrow at 7.30pm at the STUC , 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow with a heavyweight line-up explaining why they are voting Yes…Charlie Gray (Sir), Alex Mosson, Jeanne Freeman, Bob Thomson, Allan Grogan and Deborah Waters. I’ll be there…come up and say Hello, Comrade!