Back from the Easter break and a ream of memories from a sunny Perthshire – towering Scots pine against a blue sky, a Landrover up into the hills above Loch Tummel, ever vigilant deer herds staring hard at us, red grouse close by…boating on the loch, riding through the woods…alone on the golf course beside the Tay with woodpecker accompaniment from the beeches on the first nine and *ptarmigan calls from the larch woods on the return…dinner on Loch Tay…and several visits to a favourite bookshop in Aberfeldy, followed by a homeward stop for a distillery tour.
Like hundreds of thousands of others we escaped the city (where I’m told our nearest highway, Great Western Road, is the most polluted street in Scotland) to breathe deeply on the tourist trail – hardly news when the country faces Brexit catastrophe. But an escape does offer a fresh perspective. Our boat trip for example, from a new jetty on Loch Tay, is underwritten by the European Development Fund – a gentle reminder of ‘Brussels interference’. But, more significantly, I’m one of many Scots who now looks differently at our country since the indy referendum which charged our view of ourselves with renewed relevance. Suddenly the way the country looks, how it operates, and doesn’t, became political. Instead of just enjoying Highland Perthshire, we looked at it through the eyes of strangers and imagined what they saw, searching for ways of justifying our expected place among the independent nations.
Does this look like a normal, right-enough European country-in-the-making? Can we improve it? How can we entice more visitors?
It was and is an expression of pride in Scotland which the oxygen of the referendum fuelled. While others talked the country down, we took pleasure in declaring openly how much we loved it. Rather than just accept that Perthshire in spring is a place of beauty, we took to the internet to say so. It doesn’t sound much but, given our natural thrawn reserve, I think it was significant in helping us all feel part of a movement that celebrated the nation and whose sole purpose was to make it better. The air of optimism was important and a counterpoint to the cynicism and scorn of the Unionist campaign.
This instinctive public engagement leads to new ideas and provides impetus. Instead of our customary complaint of What Can Ye Dae? we took to agitating and creating answers. Imagine, we said, just what we could achieve with the ability here in Scotland to invest our resources in what we think matters instead of living off powers like income tax adjustment which were only surrendered for partisan reasons along with a block grant that lets English bigots on the internet and the media claim they subsidise us. The latest example is their objection to Scotland spending on Aids prevention drugs not available in England. Why should you get something we don’t when it’s our money you’re spending…
Reminding ourselves of what is wonderful about the place we live in spreads the idea that it is worth defending and nurturing – and that it is our job to do that. That means taking responsibility and the ultimate mechanism for that is independence. Part of the process is telling the world we’re here – come and look. Whatever you thought of Scotland and whatever you imagined Scottish nationalism to be, think again.
Which is why I shook my head in despair at a couple of items Twitter directed me to, bitching (the correct word) about Nicola Sturgeon promoting Scotland in the United States. They were by Labour commentators who belittle Sturgeon and by extension Scotland. Telling the world we don’t belong, that we only exist in the shadow of others and should never venture beyond our shores because we are not worthy is a message that can only appeal to a disaffected rump of readers. Experience of current affairs in a globalised world informs sane people that you have to engage internationally because that is the now the way of the world – our food is imported, according to the supermarket shelves, from Guatemala, New Zealand and China, never mind Europe. Our distilleries are owned by companies from the Caribbean to Bangalore. Twenty two per cent of our service sector companies are foreign owned. People’s own personal lives for business and leisure mean overseas travel and communication. One of our biggest industries is tourism bringing visitors from the States and elsewhere. What kind of dog-in-the-manger, dreary 1950’s outlook on life would you need to be offended by your national leader leaving the country to play some politics? (My first visitor on returning from Loch Tay was from the west coast of America. He was enthusiastic about Sturgeon’s impact there saying she had really impressed and he hadn’t known when Scotland was so centre stage. She was taken seriously as a world political figure.)
My suspicion is that some of these journalists don’t believe a word they write. They too live in the globalised reality and hop on and off planes but there’s a living to be made pandering to the darker instincts of extremist right wing opinion. And there’s people prepared to pay so long as you can prostitute yourself and still look in the mirror. What would be interesting is the reaction of the anti-Scot hacks if they were offered money by the other side. Would the same principle apply?
I suspect it would. And never underestimate the capacity for conversion among the most ardent adherent. One of the biggest transformations was Brian Wilson’s from SNP agitator in Argyll to anti-devolution Labourite – a phenomenon akin to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Today there those like Tom Morton and Mike Dailly who have gone public with their conversion to independence despite brutal denunciations of its evils in the past. As countless Labour voters have found, once you step over the door, you never go back. Added to the release of knowing what you really believe, is the humiliation of realising you were had by the previous lot for so long. You are embarrassed by who you were and what you thought. The zeal of the reformed becomes real.
I wrote weeks ago about the conversations I was hearing and how people sounded deeply hostile to the SNP – beyond reason, I’d say, and sometimes armed with little information but plenty of prejudice. I’m sure that remains true but the flip side is a steadily moving glacier of opinion that may now be unstoppable. Day by day we hear of foreign politicians, academics, commentators and former opponents who, in assessing the likely impact of Brexit, can only conclude that it strengthens our case for self-government. Typically, they say: I’m not a nationalist. I voted (or would have) No. But Brexit is a dreadful mistake and Scotland has a chance to escape before it’s too late.
This in turn leads them to look with clearer eyes at our economy and its prospects. They then see that even without oil, Scotland is stronger than many existing EU countries and has massive potential to expand across all fronts, that non-Scottish decisions on for example, renewable subsidies being stopped, stunt our growth.
These voices spread the idea that independence isn’t just an option, it is seriously regarded by sane people without affiliations to be a preferable one. It makes it easier to answer the question from September 2014 – What are you afraid of? We now have a clear contrast. Instead of an albeit imperfect status quo, this time we have an impending disaster covering everything from the loss of satellite navigation (all our geo-positioning for sat nav, Deliveroo and every kind of device is operated by a satellite system open only to EU members) to the numbers of EU nurses applying for jobs in the NHS – down 90 per cent.
The tables have turned. Instead of Nationalists defending what seems like a risky choice and a rocky time, it is Unionists who have to justify the choice of economic suicide and a spaghetti disentanglement of regulation and agreements led by a band of ministers who don’t command their own party’s respect let alone a wider public. Many of the arguments for Brexit descend too quickly into prejudice and incoherence based around an inflated view of Britain and a barely disguised xenophobia. This is likely to be reinforced when the campaign hots up and metropolitan luvvies begin what will be an emotional appeal to stay British. They seem to have missed what Britishness has become in the eyes of the world…self-destructive, deluded, bitter (personified by Ruth Davidson), intolerant, right wing, rejecting parliamentary scrutiny and dismissive of its constituent parts. Our claim is strong enough but the wilful neglect of the Ulster question to leave the Republic with a headache after years of peace negotiations is unforgiveable, as the EU is making clear. And when even the Labour FM of Wales which voted No, weighs in – well, it shows you got it wrong. To the balanced voter weighing up his options, the prospect of independence in the EU is losing much of its horror when compared to the unfolding tragedy of diehard Britnats embarrassing the country on a world stage, kowtowing to dictators for business and knowingly taking us down a road to ruin.
The lack of effective opposition is disturbing as Labour fails in its principle duty to hold to account – it is the UK that resembles a one-party state. I can’t help feeling that Theresa May would benefit from a democratic block on her own Brexit idiots but it looks as if we will have to wait for the EU to provide that. Britain really is in a state these days.
Affairs will resolve themselves over the next two years and the only question is if that glacier of opinion can move fast enough to save Scotland. Springtime in Perthshire was a glittering reminder of how much that matters.
*Capercaillie. Sorry – city dweller.by