I am issuing this joint statement with David Mundell. ‘We are both very happy to have the evident support and love of so many friends in all parties after our recent decision to come out. Living a double life has been Hell and the relief of not having to hide who we really are is immense. We would like to be allowed to carry on with our lives from now on.’
David came out as gay, giving rise to headlines declaring: Gay Man Comes Out as Gay. I have come out as an independence voter with the headline: Scottish Nationalist Admits Voting for Independence.
It’s funny how people react sometimes. Most folk I know didn’t think Mundell was a story at all and its publication betrayed backward thinking rather than liberal acceptance. If public figures were to be judged on their sexual proclivities…
Then last night on the World Tonight on august Radio Four, the BBC news bulletin led with the death of the Eagles guitarist – led the BBC news – in a funereal tone, with music clip and a statement from his family. I’d never heard of him. Honest. To treat the poor guy who wrote jaunty sub-Country songs as if he had the status of cultural ground-breaker David Bowie was ludicrous. But that’s just my reaction.
My blog pointing out that independence was my goal – almost, but not quite, regardless of what follows – brought some comments that made me wonder momentarily if my fingers had slipped on the keyboard and I’d accidentally done a Mundell. There was indeed much love for the expression that independence is the main prize and, crucial as the husbandry of a new country is, that sits secondary to the main objective, simply because there will be no new Scotland to construct otherwise.
But I sensed shock too. I was, said one, at least ‘being honest.’ There was some bewilderment at the idea, as some correspondents put it, of getting independence first and working out the next steps afterwards. Imagine! Such a person has no imagination…I was to one a flag waver ‘and they don’t care about social justice.’ To another I wasn’t to be completely written off because I was sort of interesting – a museum exhibit perhaps.
I do admit to being curious in some ways but I also firmly believe I am something rather more than that – I am in the overwhelming majority.
I know everybody claims support or a personal mandate to justify arguments, even ones they can’t otherwise sustain, but my premise is strong and simple – the Nationalists who turn out massively to vote SNP, work for the party, pay for the party and will back independence to their death, have but one principal objective. They are the believers – to the Unionists, the loons and flag wavers – but to a political movement, they are the beating heart that pumps the lifeblood and who never let you down. Such people used to inhabit the Labour Party. They were passionate too. They gave up time. Sometimes they gave up work. They travelled Britain to campaign. They were bound by shared commitment for a cause. They too were loons to their opponents. But like those of us today who retain a sense of purpose, they didn’t care what was said about them. Their devotion to Labour made them impervious. Nobody who ever truly believed in a cause wavered in the face of scorn. I used to sit in Tory conferences and watch close-up the faces that glowed and the eyes that turned spellbound when Thatcher entered the hall. Don’t talk to me about loons.
And the people I’m talking about are rarely in the news, except maybe when their town gets flooded or there’s a lottery winner nearby. They have little presence in mainstream news and neither do they figure in alternative media. They don’t have blogs, unless it’s part of a community initiative. Mostly they live away from the metropolitan centres and inhabit small-scale urban and rural Scotland. In Portsoy and Fraserburgh. In Portlethen and Johnshaven. In Arbroath and Carnoustie. They’re in the towns that litter the map and whose names we mostly see on motorway signs.
I encountered them as a BBC reporter in the days when journalists actually went somewhere instead of googling. I met Tories in Kirkcudbright, Liberals in Inverurie, Nationalists in Montrose and Shetland Movement men in Lerwick. Away from the Central Belt hothouse where the media fulcrum is, attitudes and outlook are often very different from the obsessions of the chattering classes and the bletherin’ bawbags.
This is where we still find the loyal bedrock of SNP support and they aren’t spending time planning a Workers’ Co-op after independence. I doubt if they’re thinking much beyond a country initially run by the people they already trust to do the job – the SNP. It is the very managerial ability of the party after all that has boosted its support. If they only offered ‘the dream’ but no competence, they simply couldn’t muster enough votes. It’s competence allied to the vision of independence that makes the package attractive. Why would you throw that away as soon as the goal is achieved?
In speaking to those scattered Scots I tried to understand what it was that motivated them – often people don’t know themselves until it is teased out of them. It is, I think, quite simply a sense that they can do things better themselves and have lost trust in the British system. As Britain has become steadily become more unequal, the political class in London less representative – their expenses troughing a low point – and Holyrood more successful, they have seen a better way of meeting their aspirations. Their faith is in the parliament and that has swelled as the SNP has grown into the role of government. Pretty obvious, really.
And I would say they are – very broadly – dismissive of attempts to design too much the architecture for an independent country before we get there. They do need to see a coherent plan before voting Yes which makes sense of currency, the EU and how the split will be managed. But they trust the SNP to construct the framework. That’s why they vote for them. To those for whom independence is the springboard to a socialist state – or some version thereof – this is looks like a mistake because the Nats won’t be radical enough. Good argument. But does it really echo around wider Scotland? Remember we are asking people to do the most radical thing any recent generation has faced – break up the British state. No matter how you oil it, it’s still a massive spanner in the works. And after the scorched-earth business of indyref1, they are left in no doubt how big a task this is and how hard the Unionists will fight. The imperative is to win first, not get lost in debating the aftermath. Why follow the Ally Macleod doctrine? ‘What will you do after winning the World Cup?’ ‘Retain it.’ Maybe get the priorities right and win it first…
And I’m afraid the let’s-get-radical argument has a flaw too. To most Nationalists the SNP itself is radical – because of its primary aim of creating a new country. The British certainly regard it as a fairly radical plan. And within the SNP it’s clear there is a wide range of different characters with varying emphasis in policy areas, left and right. It’s precisely the combination of the two – characterised to a degree by Salmond and Sturgeon – that appeals to them. It allows them to marry what is a nominal right-wing policy of cutting corporation tax with apparently left-wing land reform. (And when they didn’t go far enough on the latter…well you know the story)
This is why the argument of the SNP monolith fails with the majority – they already see their party having different voices encompassing left and right but which are still able to combine in the national cause.
That breath of opinion suits the voters who, contrary to what most of the politically committed like to pretend, are not ideological and don’t see the need to only follow one policy line or indeed the need to follow any dogmatic policy line at all other than What’s right for Scotland. (I’m aware here I’m really just spelling out why the SNP has proved so successful)
Sneering, as some are inclined to, at the foundation of SNP support isn’t going to win many arguments. If they (we) take any notice at all it will be to use it as a reminder to vote SNP twice.
And the bedrock, if I read it right, is also convinced of a point perhaps wilfully missed by all the media. It is that the very accomplishment of independence will provide an impetus to change. The fact of becoming a new state, of re-writing the relationship with London and the realisation of self-determination will act as an inspiration. The confidence derived from the opportunities of controlling our own country, making new friends and alliances and fine-tuning our tax system to develop the economy, will fuel the new country. At least the theory of fulfilling our true potential will be tested. For them this will be Day One of living in a better country. To the question: What kind of country do you want to live in? their answer is: an independent one.
We will not wake up the day after and ask: What do we do now?
I’m with the people who actually deliver the SNP votes regardless of the fine detail of the blueprint and in spite of the scoffing. Out there they are getting on with the real job. Objective One. And I’m proudly waving my flag.
Post Script. In passing can I put in a word of support for G A Ponsonby who has been traduced by some who should know better. There is much personal acrimony in this and some seem to forget he deserves respect for creating Newsnet and helping kick start new media. He scares the pants off journalists (hence the childish response of the likes of Paul Hutcheon). He has worked harder than anyone to expose the Press and, if I don’t accept all his conclusions, his detailed scrutiny of the BBC has had real impact. It chimes with opinion much more than the BBC would care to admit. The indy movement would the poorer without his contribution.by