View from Arthur’s Seat

In the early hours, found myself on Twitter – a bit like the President – and found this. It’s from Jackie Kemp whom I criticised for her views on independence not long ago so, to be fair, I reprint now her thoughts after the EU referendum. And most welcome they are. I like the connection between our history and culture with a European tradition and a  more elevated view of the world beyond trade and immigration.

For most of my life when I went home to Selkirk, I was routinely hailed as Graham – my father’s name. I liked the idea that people, who only vaguely knew me nevertheless knew who I was by association. And both my father and I were in the same trade of journalism which made it appropriate – like being known as Jones the Post or Williams the Bread in a Welsh valley.

So, for those who don’t know I’ll introduce Jackie the journalist as daughter of Arnold, late giant of Scottish newspapers, still keenly missed. She won’t mind. She is keeper of his archive and of his memory.

On which point I remembered him when journos gathered in the Jinglin Georgie in  honour of Ian Bell. Arnold was an habituee of Fleshmarket Close, as I was myself, now heading towards the fiftieth year since I first entered the Scotsman’s hallowed doors. We may ponder what both would make of Scotland and our media today.

Anyway., here’s Jackie….

March 11, 2017.
Climbing Arthur’s Seat on an overcast March day, thinking about politics, I wonder if Nicola Sturgeon is going to call a second independence referendum; if Theresa May is going to trigger Article 50 next week. Holyrood Park is busy – the route to the top is thronged and I hear snatches of conversation in many languages: French, then Polish, French again. A group of fit-looking German men files onto the path above me. It seems to me, returning after an absence of a few months, that Edinburgh increasingly feels like a European capital.

Behind me an English student is entertaining a visitor: “This is ten minutes from campus.” They are arguing about whether the rock paths laid on the hillside to protect it from erosion could be considered natural. “Is an anthill natural? Ants modify their environment.”

I move aside to let them pass, looking down at the upturned boat shapes of the Scottish Parliament, designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles, at the entrance to the park. There, the gold stars of the European flag are flapping in the breeze. I consider the issue of the rights of EU citizens resident here.

First Minister Sturgeon has assured the many European citizens who live and work here that their contribution is valued and their rights will be protected as far as she is able. This is in stark contrast to the mood music coming from the government in London. The situation north of the border is different. Scotland’s population has hardly risen in a century and it needs more immigration not less. The country benefits hugely from the presence of the EU nationals who work in every area of life and it is an issue of general concern that they have had almost a year of uncertainty and anxiety about their status. Friends of mine are in this category and I can only imagine how difficult it is.

EU nationals resident in the rest of the UK have not been treated with respect by their government. It is all very well for Tories, like Lord Forsyth on Any Questions on BBC Radio Four last night, to denounce their worries as needless and say they should apply for citizenship. But that costs almost £1000 for an adult or a child. Some don’t want to do it anyway. And rumours fly – the fact that the Westminster government has not chosen to unilaterally guarantee their right to remain suggests it may be bargained with.

It is a compelling argument for an independent Scotland in the EU that it would mean Scots free to work and trade across Europe and the many amazing Europeans who choose to live and contribute here could do so with confidence.

I carry on with the climb, looking over as a shaft of cool, northern light illuminates the huge dome of Edinburgh University’s McEwen Hall. This place sees an increasing number of Europeans in graduation gowns; it is popular with EU students who can study on more favourable terms than south of the border, and they are now more than ten percent of the intake. Edinburgh’s resounding 75% vote to remain in the European Union, higher than anywhere in the UK, adds to the sense of welcome.

There is a sense of shared belief, shared purpose, shared goals with other European countries. The European project to work closely together to avoid conflict on our continent, to guarantee human rights and to treat people equally, chimes with Edinburgh’s values. Over in the west of the city, I can see the top of another impressively-domed building, the Usher Hall. At the International Festival founded in 1947, when the musicians and artists of the continent strived to replace the guns of war with the language of culture, the Austrian Jewish pianist Artur Schnabel returned from the US to play there. And the Vienna Philharmonic, which contained 60 former members of the Nazi Party, played there too.

I carry on up the hill, this time tuning into the conversation of two locals entertaining a European visitor. “It’s only an hours drive to England, but London is eight hours drive.” They tell their friend that the north of England is being badly managed from the south of England. “They are on the point of rebelling.”

That may be wishful thinking. But it is a reminder of another concern for me: that the current Westminster government is led by the right-wing of the Conservative party and that it’s approach to Brexit is ideological and rankly reckless.

While breakfasting on porridge and tea this morning, I listened to the Director of the Centre for European Reform Charles Grant tell Good Morning Scotland that not enough people in London understand the legal, financial and technical complexity of Brexit: “Our partners in Europe worry that the people with the most influential positions around number 10 and the Prime Minister are not great EU experts, and they worry that the British don’t know what they are getting into. You can’t just cut through all this boring bureaucratic stuff. You can just leave the EU. But then there’s no law governing contracts, there’s no law governing companies working in the EU but based in Britain or vice versa, or the rights of individuals living in the EU or vice versa.”

Boris Johnson is still saying all this will be easy. Does he know what he’s talking about? Johnson and his colleagues are burning bridges and damaging alliances across the continent. Perception is important and they are creating the impression that England is not friendly to Europe.

The Westminster government is also ignoring the spirit of the devolution settlement and all that was said in the run up to the last independence referendum about the UK being a union of equals. In a union of equal nations, the fact that one of them clearly voted a different way would be regarded as an important issue, not dismissed as if this were the same as an equivalent number of voters in the other country. Appearing to treat Scotland’s institutions with contempt may be a dangerous course.

Taking a breather on the edge of the path, I hear a cough and an “Excuse me”, right behind me. A middle-aged English couple, lightly dressed for a muddy afternoon on the hill, seem to be in some difficulty getting out of a rocky dip up onto the path where I am standing. I stretch out a hand and help the woman, who is ahead, up onto firmer ground. They smile and thank me.

My third issue in terms of a second Scottish independence referendum is that the prospect of Scottish independence would be a cause for regret in many ways. We have had a long alliance with the other UK countries, I feel at home down south and would be reluctant to give up my share in it. It seems to me it would be worth considering this challenging course only to preserve our membership of the EU. A future being out of both the EU and the UK sounds like isolation. But I also wonder if Scotland can best exert its influence on the situation by holding a second referendum. If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ this could be grounds for a second referendum on EU membership.

The UK will likely dissolve. If there is a hard Brexit, surely it would be folly for the Westminster government to try to maintain a hard border across 300 miles of Ireland. And Dublin presumably would be reluctant to do so. The obvious answer would be to move the border to the mainland, and create a united Ireland.

For England, if an independent Scotland were going to remain part of Europe, the best hope of managing the future relationships of the former UK countries would be for all to be part of the EU. That would allow the common travel zone to continue, free trade and so on. Surely, England would have to think again?

I reach the rocky summit, worn smooth by legions of feet over the centuries, and look across the city to the blue of the Firth of Forth and Fife beyond. Here is gathered a polyglot crowd of – mostly – the jeunesse of Europe.

Something has shifted in the emotional landscape. In 2014, Scottish independence would not have been welcomed in other EU capitals. It was viewed as divisive. But now, Scotland’s civic nationalism is seen more positively in contrast with the right-wing views populism of ‘Les Brexiteers”.

As I stand here, my dog resting after the walk, looking down towards the port of Leith and the Firth beyond where ships once brought wine from France and oranges from Spain, where a new bridge spans the waterway, I feel perhaps Scotland should seize this moment. I was a No voter in 2014, but if Nicola Sturgeon triggers another independence referendum next year, while Scotland is still a member of the EU, I will vote ‘Yes’. The situation has changed, and I have changed my view.

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17 thoughts on “View from Arthur’s Seat

  1. I picked this up yesterday evening. Its a lovely bit of writing, it I suspect, says what many are now thinking.

  2. The young fellow who spoke wisely at the libdem conference and now this view from another former NO voter. Welcome aboard.

  3. Derek, I sincerely hope that you are right, and that many others will reach the same conclusion as Ms Kemp. Her inherent decency has brought her to this point – as she has realised, Scotland and England hold incompatible world views, as personified in the two women in power in each country. For decent people, the choice is stark. Welcome aboard, Jackie.

  4. Eloquent!

  5. Beautifully written and very moving. Thanks to Jackie for sharing her thoughts with us.

  6. What I have found in conversation with Edinburgh indyref1 No voters is that Brexit is having an effect on them directly or on their offspring. Whereas they were comfy with the status quo in 2014 their feathers are ruffled with Brexit and the balance of advantage is now with Indy Scotland mainting euro connections. Even if they are not yet committed to Yes in indyref2 they are giving it a hearing. Voter by voter we seem to be getting there.

  7. I am starting to feel a growing sense of Inevitability in the Air , little things like the Spanish Threatening a veto often used to scare people has been shown to be the rubbish it always was . The slow relentless movement of people willing to vote for Independence now on at least 50/50 now possibly more by now , it’s like Dominoes falling one by one, Nothing dramatic just a slow relentless push, This is why Unionists are starting to become more hysterical by the day, we know they can’t hold back this Tide , and the penny has finally dropped they now realise it as well now .

  8. Pretty much hits the mark.

    I’m guessing by this point you’ll have seen the FMs speech?

    So much for ‘bluffing’. 🙂

    • Ha Ha yep right between the eyes our Nicola.
      BBC now on full UKRUS Mode, it’s good to see them remaining totally neutral as usual, I wonder how long this reporting News thing will last , rather than making stuff up ?.
      Oh here comes the Constitutional Lawyers and the experts to tell us what we are allowed to do , Aye f/in right comes to mind.

    • dennis mclaughlin

      Nicola is our true Trump card in this “game” as Mayhem calls it.
      Westminster’s sheer intransigence towards the Scottish Government is backfiring very badly.
      Coming up to Scotland for their conference and telling Scots what they should be doing is soooo Maggie Thatcher on the Mount.
      One by one they are burning their bridges in this Union of Equals,it’s slowly turning to dust and ashes despite all the anguished frothing we have witnessed this week.
      Well done Nicola!.

  9. Wonderful, moving writing. I really do hope that it is as portentous as it seems.

    Thanks for bringing it to us.

  10. Very well written piece. What puzzles me is why it has taken so long, to the brink of disaster, for people like this intelligent, articulate woman to see where Scotland’s interests lie.

    Actually I can say that it’s most likely the selfishness of a certain class of Scot, many of them in Edinburgh, resting on their laurels of cultural and academic excellence in the Athens of the North, secure in their AngloScottish ascendancy, but deaf and blind to the plight of the ordinary Scot and to the plight of Scotland itself, as a nation.

    But now the phantasm of impending Brexit is haunting the lofty halls of entitlement, like a banshee foretelling the death of a thousand “cuts” whose sting will be felt so keenly when our bourgeois capital city is cut adrift from European funds and favour.

    We can but hope, that for once in its shameful history of selfishness, compromise and betrayal that Edinburgh wakes up to its duty, and destiny, as the leading city of this nation and does the right thing, even if its motives remain firmly based in self-interest. As a Glaswegian, I can take that.

  11. Dignified as well as eloquent. The emotional case as well as the political case is strong.

  12. Alasdair Macdonald.

    This is a poignant, reflective, even elegiac, piece. I thank Ms Kemp for her frankness and honesty. It can often be difficult to change ones mind, particularly about something about which she has had deep and strong feelings. It is courageous to put her thoughts into the public domain and, sadly, when someone puts her or his emotions on show there are some who will sneer, usually because, they find confronting their own attitudes and emotions in a similarly honest way.

    I welcome her to the YES side of the argument.

    What this illustrates – and I hope many on the YES side take note as we embark on another journey of persuasion – is that in order to change the mind of another person, we have to start where she or he is on the spectrum between NO and YES. We have to show respect and recognise that while a particular factor might not be important for us, clearly it has strong resonance for this person.

    Of course, most NO voters, like most YES voters voted according to some principles and values. Circumstances have changed since 2014 – the huge SNP win in 2015, the Conservative majority in 2015, the SNP/Green majority in 2016, the win for Leave in England and Wales (and, in votes across the UK), but the majorities for Remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the mendacity of the claims of Leave (although Mr Osborne’s assertions on behalf of Remain’s Project Fear were almost as venal) the election of President Trump, the results of the recent election in Northern Ireland, etc.
    And, when circumstances change, people change their minds, as Ms Kemp has done.

    I now have to examine my own conscience and ask myself, what I think of Mr Jim Sillars’ apparent change of mind from YES to NO.

    • Indeed, respectful persuasion is the way to go.

      This article is delightfully written. A real gem.

      Welcome aboard!

      (Sillars is something else.)

    • Apropos of Mr Sillars, he has flouted so many of the rules of SNP membership I’m surprised he hasn’t been suspended as a member of the party. Margo, were she still with us, would have had a great deal to say to him!

  13. All your thoughtfulness will have no impact on Southern or the local branch of the Brexiters. You will not have an influence for good if Scotland votes No and we are in the UK.
    They will simply impose their rules, you can talk all you want they won’t be listening. We are either committed to an Independent Scotland or you suck it up and put up with it. There is no reasonable middle ground.
    Any other attitude simple makes it easier for the Tory rightwing.
    We should keep in mind when Brexit creates bad conditions in the UK, as it will for the non favoured areas and groups, the press will be looking for a new scapegoat.

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