Vive Le Quebec Libre!

Does anybody actually read stuff in the Scotsman? Does it matter if it makes sense or not? I read Brian Wilson’s latest version of We’re a’ Doomed because it was based on Quebec which interests me and which I know from experience is frequently used to misinterpret events in Scotland. Only this time it went further and misinterpreted reality.


It seemed to be saying that since people have fallen out of love with the Parti Quebecois today, nearly 20 years after voting No in the referendum, it proves that independence wouldn’t have worked. He says that as we know ‘independence is forever’ – unlike the Union presumably – and since Quebecers don’t like the party of independence so much today, therefore it would have been a mistake to vote for them in 1995.

Quebec voted No by one per cent and today people are against another referendum. Wilson relates this to Scotland and writes:

There would be no opportunity to think again, as the Quebecois have clearly done. If that one per cent had tipped the other way, the huge majority against independence which now exists would be wasting their time saying so. They would just have been left to count the cost or ship out.

First of all, that one per cent win is surely the definition of democracy…that’s where the majority win…that is the same as the British system and the basis of elective politics. Clearly Wilson isn’t aware of it. It is why we have (against his wishes) a Scottish Parliament and why we are in the EU.

Second, if Quebec had become independent, the nature of the debate there would change so that a referendum (on independence) would be irrelevant. People would be debating and voting on the issues that matter to them in an independent Quebec, not in federal Canada.


You might as well say that if we vote for the SNP at Holyrood today, it proves that voting for Labour in 1999 was a mistake! The thesis is to pretend that your vote doesn’t change anything, so that independence in Quebec would not have altered it a bit, it wouldn’t have made people happier, wealthier, it wouldn’t have developed or improved and voters would still be in the same mindset they were 20 years earlier in federation. When they didn’t like the policies of the ruling party so much they wouldn’t just vote for other parties within an independent Quebec, they would vote to end their independence!

Where, in all world history, has that been the case? Who gives up their independence? When Australians dump Labour for the Liberals, are they saying: Let London take over again…please?

Quebecers have decided they don’t want another referendum, not now. The only way that is relevant to Scotland is if we vote No and opinion says we’re not happy to go straight into another, as people will say. Maybe Quebecers no longer look to sovereignty as a solution in their current condition. That doesn’t negate what they felt in 1995 and doesn’t tell us anything about what Quebec might be like if it were now independent.

The Wilson case is fraudulent. But then as Donald Dewar said, there is nothing he can’t turn to partisan advantage. But my point is that this piece is so illogical that it should have been returned as unusable. It asks us to imagine that the state Quebec finds itself in today is the same state it would have been in had it voted to leave Canada in 1995. How can anyone know that?


The PQ lost this time because people want to concentrate on jobs and the economy not the constitution. That is their wish at this time and they don’t buy the idea that a new referendum campaign will deliver that. That’s not what half the people thought in 1995 and it isn’t what many of us believe in Scotland today where controlling our own economy – and national dignity – in the face of the humiliation of claimants and growing use of food banks, has become essential.

But you simply cannot say that because people reject an idea today under one system of government – federalism – it therefore means they would have rejected it under independence. In fact it is extremely unlikely the referendum question would even be a topic for discussion if Quebec had become independent – it would be an irrelevance. Such is the Looking Glass world of the one-eyed Unionist whose hatred of his own country’s self-determination is used to defy all logic. Why it is printed in a mainstream paper as a credible or even sensible argument is baffling.

It isn’t that we can’t learn from Quebec for good and ill. My own experience was based on a two-part documentary for Radio Scotland in 95 in which I was doubtful about the sovereignty movement’s motives. I made that explicit in an article for the Edinburgh University Public Affairs magazine.

The key difference between the referendum processes for me was the question. Quebec’s was a rambling effort that essentially asked the people for a mandate to negotiate with Ottawa for more powers and concessions with the background threat of secession if the federal government didn’t agree.

Scotland’s question in contrast is commendably concise and to the point and means we take our sovereignty, assert our independence and then negotiate the split.

The two concepts are quite different and I didn’t agree that the Quebec option amounted to independence at all.

I also think that Quebec’s movement is dogged not so much by worries about political independence but by linguistic chauvinism. The dogmatic adherence to language as an essential qualification for (some) employment restricts access to the talented from outside and deters economic migration. It attempts to defy globalisation and social mobility. Incomers resent it. That kind of exclusive policy is the opposite of modern Scottish nationalism and the Yes campaign.

Rather than contorting the evidence to fit a tortuous case against our country as Wilson desperately does, the real lesson we should take from Quebec is to be internationalist and inclusive in outlook and to be clear in our intent.

Scotland’s openness to all and welcome for immigrants is a strength in the global economy and serves as a badge of decency and humanity. Our short, direct question makes clear our intent while the willingness to share (services and resources) where appropriate is our mark of goodwill. But don’t expect the Britnats even to begin to understand…

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22 thoughts on “Vive Le Quebec Libre!

  1. Thank you Derek.

    Your blog is a lifejacket.

  2. “Does anybody actually read stuff in the Scotsman?”

    The only stuff I read is where an article has been quoted elsewhere as sensible; and none of Brian Wilson’s pieces meet that specification. And it never ceases to amaze me how stupid are some of the ‘leading’ commentators who support NO. They spin and lie about everything thinking people believe them when in fact they either ignore or laugh at them.

    And it also never ceases to amaze me how blessed we are with intelligent commentators on the YES side. It is due to that and the Internet that we are slowly gaining ground. Good journalism is certainly not dead in Scotland if it is produced outside the MSM.

  3. Ex British politicians such as Brown,Darling and Wilson thought all they had to do,as far as the referendum goes,was turn up and make a few pronouncements which would have the natives scurrying for cover.
    Unfortunately,they didn’t anticipate the internet and blossoming grass roots campaign for the Yes movement.
    Unless they have cogent,reasoned arguments then people are just going to ignore them,which I am sure will come as a very unpleasant surprise.
    Our communities are becoming energised by the debate and I would hope that post independence,this will continue and people will only be elevated to positions of respect through recognition of public service and not service to political parties.
    Oh yes,and as you point out Derek,Scotland ain’t (or should that be n’est pas) Quebec by any stretch of the imagination.

  4. Derek,
    What is Brian Wilson but an apologist for the British State which has provided him with a good living in the past?
    The comment about shipping out is a telling one. Brian styles himself as a bona fide Highlander, well, there’s plenty of room for those in the Highlands so many of them were ‘shipped out’ in the past.

  5. I know the North Britain still employs an editor but perhaps this explains why Wilson’s incoherent pish manages to reach the printed page:

    Quote by Ashley Highfield at Johnston Press, owners of the North Britain (from Hold the Front Page March 2014) …

    “One of the direct results of the relaunch programme is that we now have a platform to provide greater efficiencies in our content gathering operation from our journalists, freelance contributors and readers,” he said.

    “Using web-based editorial software the Group is now allowing trusted contributors the ability to author content directly.”

    So basically Wilson’s diatribe is dialled in and the editor has better things to do than check contributed copy. Johnston Press shed 609 jobs last year bring the total to 1300 in the past 24 months.

    Interestingly: “Today’s report also makes clear that JP will not sign up to the government’s proposed new system of press regulation underpinned by Royal Charter.”

  6. Margaret Brogan

    The front page of Scotland on Sunday (13/04/2014) conveys the real quality of the paper. Alex Salmond, democratically elected leader of this country, apparently being told what to do by an unelected dolt who fronts a party of racists and oddballs.
    Do they still call this journalism?

  7. Fewer and fewer read what is in the Scotsman and since The Scotsman rarely makes sense, I suggest reading the Herald instead.

  8. Oh dear,which is polite swearing, and I feel like swearing after reading the scotsmans rubbish journalism,and the bbc,s blatant bias
    Having just woken to politics for the first time.I find YES very positive and exciting,
    no justs grinds on with warning after warning about what we shouldnt do, i.e. space threats ,cataclysmic dark forces,and love bombs which made me puke.
    I really dont care about the effects of independence as I know we have clever people,and we will get there,wherever there is ,but at least it wont be on my knees with a begging bowl
    so to ruin this nice rhetoric,FUCK OFF WESTMINSTER

  9. Wasn’t it Cunningham and Brian Wilson who set the 40% rule in the Referendum in 1979, that 40% of the Scottish population had to vote for the outcome to be valid. Had it not been for this sleekit wee rule we would have had an Assembly. And Wilson has a cheek to talk about democracy. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.

    • It was Cunningham MP, who sat in an English constituency. Wilson, a mere activist, was Chairman of the ‘Vote No’ campaign at the time and no doubt supported Cunningham’s timely intervention. A fun fact is it took Wilson 13 years of trying to become a Labour MP after losing in 1974, 78 and 83 elections, and coincidentally, he won the Cunningham district, North Ayrshire, in 1987.

  10. “The dogmatic adherence to language as an essential qualification for (some) employment restricts access to the talented from outside and deters economic migration. It attempts to defy globalisation and social mobility. Incomers resent it.”

    Not often I disagree with you, Derek, but living in Catalonia I wouldn’t call seeking to preserve the language which partly sustains the culture of independence here “linguistic chauvinism” nor any of the above things. It may have been in Quebec, I don’t know, but …

    You just can’t generalise about language or its place in any society, really. However it’s not the main point of your blog today so not worth arguing about.

    • It depends how you do it though. The PQ apparently considers people who are bilingual to be lesser mortals than monoglot Francophones and discriminates against them in public employment. Their strategy was extreme chauvinism and a wedge strategy designed to cleave the hardline Francophones to them and to hell with everyone else.

      If Catalonia goes down the same route they too will alienate everybody. They need to do what the SNP have done and build a big tent that includes Castilians, Basques and other Europeans. Adopt the language of ‘the people of Catalonia’, not ‘the Catalans’ or worse ‘us Catalans’. That is when you should be worried.

      My reading of the situation there is that they are not making those mistakes. I know they have links with the SNP and have been studying the Yes campaign.

      Promoting a language can be done without preventing or denigrating those who speak other tongues. Look at what has happened in Ukraine when the new government in Kiev removed Russian as an official language. That was beyond stupid and it alarmed their Russian citizens who leaned towards Mother Russia for protection.

      There is also the risk of the Madrid government doing a Northern Ireland and cleaving off some part of Catalonia to ‘protect’ Castillians.

      • Muscleguy, I think you’re right – the Catalans don’t really need to make statements about including Basques, or even Hindus etc. The understanding is that anyone who lives in Catalonia is Catalan, and 60% of the population agrees this (with assimilation of coming up to 10% immigration, a big percentage Muslim, in the last 20 years, that’s quite a tribute to their thinking). Especially when you think that without recent immigration, Catalan unemployment might be halved.

        On the other hand, in regions like Extremadura, only 6% or so apparently consider incomers as Extremeños.

        As you might guess, there are high feelings at times about the Spanish language after independence, due especially to attempts to “hispanisize” Catalan culture and schoolchildren by central government, but the firmest proponent of including Spanish on a par with Catalan as official language post-independence is the most independentist party of all, ERC, often demonised as extremist in the rest of Spain.

  11. The Quebecois are French, and belonging to ‘the defeated’ saw them treated as inferior by the UK and Canadian federal governments, and also exploited by major US corporations. Which explains how they ended up with the dirty jobs, the lower wages, the worse housing.

    So don’t rule out the economic and social dimensions. Such as the fact that prior to the 1960s most of the top posts in commerce, industry, academe and other fields were filled by those who spoke only English, in a province where 80% of the population was French speaking. Quebec was an internal colony.

    If this is what you mean by “the talented from outside” then such a term could also be used to justify colonialism. For wasn’t it ‘talented’ Europeans who took such benefits to unenlightened regions of the globe? Wasn’t it a ‘mission’?

    Perhaps the subliminal message always was, ‘Lose the Frenchness, submerge yourself in anglophone North America, and everything will be just fine’. But why should any people have to abandon its very identity to be treated properly? Is this refusal to deny your very self what you mean by “linguistic chauvinism”?

    As for your statement, “The dogmatic adherence to language as an essential qualification for (some) employment restricts access to the talented from outside and deters economic migration. It attempts to defy globalisation and social mobility”, how many people do you think get good jobs in Russia without speaking Russian, in Argentina without Spanish, Scotland without English? . . .

  12. Great article Derek,

    I haven’t read the Scotsman on line or hard copy for about a year, although I continue to get its emails despite having tried to unsubscribe. I have to delete them manually, without opening them. I can’t for the life of me think why any self-respecting person in Scotland could give it even a glance.

    Funny though how Scots voted against devolution in 1979 (due to people like Wilson) but voted overwhelming in favour of it 20 or so years later (despite people like Wilson).

    How does the dafty explain that one?

  13. I have often thought that the Scotsman is been funded for the last couple of years by the establishment as part of the No campaign, because its circulation is not enough to be a viable proposition

  14. After watching different details of what has been said by westminster people
    They are not this politically stupid
    Just sayin……. .what if the tories dont want to keep Scotland,but APPEAR to want us,this would allow them to negotiate a better deal on debt etc.Whereas if they said go away,then europe and voters would say THEY deserve what THEY got!
    Also they could set labour up as the bad guys in this ,which would leave them with a clear run in 2015
    Everybody is cheering at their gaffes,but trojan horses come in various guises
    If this is true then they are cleverer than I thought

  15. Derek, you say: “He (Kettle) has a long-term, trusted and knowledgeable correspondent based in Edinburgh. Did he consult Severin Carrell before writing this?”

    I think we’ve just disagreed again re. at least some of the first part of that sentence. Though even Severin has never gone quite that far, admittedly.

    I’m always puzzled by the Guardian’s broadly pro-Catalan stance in contrast to the stance of its Scottish correspondent on Scottish independence. That goes for most of the UK press, by the way.

  16. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

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  17. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

    Derek writes:
    “I also think that Quebec’s movement is dogged not so much by worries about political independence but by linguistic chauvinism. The dogmatic adherence to language as an essential qualification for (some) employment restricts access to the talented from outside and deters economic migration. It attempts to defy globalisation and social mobility. Incomers resent it. That kind of exclusive policy is the opposite of modern Scottish nationalism and the Yes campaign.”
    I write:
    The following is not intended to be rudely hostile to the foregoing, but rather to reflectively prod rather than just reflexively nod. One might suggest that the complacent and frequently self-righteous “laissez-faire” attitude to language survival so typical of English-speakers arises from a smug assurance that the mere lumpen weight of numbers will guarantee their own hegemony over any irritating linguistic “other”. My own view is that this “benign tsunami” reading of rampant anglophone globalisation is, as far as the future of human consciousness is concerned, no less destructive for being in reality alarmingly shallow. Media-inculcated uniformity and despotism march in goose-step. Languages are not decorative bunting. Each is a (feeble or courageous) struggle to thrust a torch into the unsettling night of human existence. Each is a (feeble or courageous) resistance against (and a potential escape route from) the mental and social Alcatraz which reductionist globalisation increasingly threatens. It is (always!) time to reread George Orwell’s 1984:

    “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought – that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc – should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and very subtle expression to every meaning that a party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word ‘free’ still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.” (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

    So the pressing existential question which remains for Quebec French-speakers is how to secure the future of their language on the North American continent. Any response (be it Scottish or Canadian) of “Who cares?” would be as thoughtless as it was ultimately impoverishing.

    Given all the foregoing, I will not now plead pardon for some relevant French!:

    “Un peuple qui perd ses mots n’est plus entendu de personne” (President François Mitterand)

    “Et par malheur ne s’entend plus lui-même” (Philipe de Saint Robert, writer)

    “Pour nous, Canadiens, la Francophonie n’est pas seulement une façon de vivre – c’est une façon de survivre” (Lucien Bouchard, ex-Canadian ambassador to France)

    • I think this is a fantastic post. However, my point was that while I approve totally of supporting language, there is a point at which enforcing it too much deters incomers who may well be the seed of the next generation and of economic progress. The evidence suggests that Quebec was focussing too much on saving a language at the expense of developing its economy and the people said Enough. The point of nationalism is not to diminish your country – au contraire. Please keep reading and posting. felicitations. Derek (chauvinism may not be the best use of language)

      • Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

        Thanks for getting back to me, Derek. (Sorry for garbled italics – caused by a misplaced oblique.) I do of course appreciate the validity of your point that a sensible balance must be sought between economics and linguistics. In this regard the Québecois clearly value their language very highly. Till the pips squeak, in fact. The Scots? My perception is that unfortunately most would feel that the only “sensible” balance is to sell language dirt cheap. Give it away, indeed. (There are exceptions on both sides of the referendum divide – I have for instance no reason to doubt the integrity of Brian Wilson’s own lifelong commitment to Gaelic). But valuation is often subjective. The 18 year-old family cat has a tooth-problem. The vet quote is £300. What to do?

        The point of “nationalism”? Tricky word to start with. Scottish International Party might have been a more optimum title. In your main article you fault Quebec for a language-policy which “attempts to defy globalisation”. I realize you would not not for a moment counsel abject surrender to globalisation. But therein lies the tension. If we are not to become faceless economic ciphers (whether under capitalism or communism) we must be willing to take the monetary “hit” on things which we have decided are of just too much value to sell. Some things have to be non-negotiable if life is to retain any quality. Is there anything like a Scottish consensus regarding the latter?

        Opponents of Scottish “nationalism” are of course only too happy to demonise the term, pointing to obvious historical precedents. But it really takes a very jaundiced eye indeed to see any such malignance in the current Scottish scene. To its great credit, Scotland is in fact rehabilitating the term. Nonetheless, it is important for independence supporters themselves to distinguish between reactionary and progressive trends. The challenging conundrum for Québec is to ensure that French flourishes while differentiation is yet viewed benignly.

        Apropos of all this, I wonder how many of your readers are aware of the short documentary on youtube called “The Make Believers – A Documentary About Media Bias”:

        Very relevant (and ominous) are the comments from the Québec contributers regarding their own referendum experience. Trudeau and the Canadian government lied, scaremongered, and illegally funded their way to a Federal win (of less than 1%, as you mentioned). The anglophone media played its part well. A key factor was relentless doomsaying regarding currency and pensions. There were (unfulfilled) promises of more powers for Québec if it voted no. And here the mystery of the Cameron’s “love-bombing” farce is solved. It is evident that London has closely studied the Canadian script and has been carefully implementing the successful Trudeau formula.


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