The Dark Heart Of Union

We must focus on the positive and ignore the doomsayers is the Yes mantra, although it’s never really been true. It’s what we tell ourselves but you can’t debate without pointing to the other’s weaknesses, so we’ve done that while inculcating a perception of relentless optimism.

I think it’s working but there are times when a positive can be unearthed inside a negative and here is one such example. One of the ethereal themes is the nature of our political culture and how we feel it to be our own, distinctive enough from the prevailing attitude in much of the rest of Britain – but by no means uniquely so. We narrow our eyes mostly at the home of the ruling elite, the centre of the British state, in Whitehall and the billowing blue swathe of seats reaching from the Wash down into the Home Counties where the nature of governments is decided. We judge that their collective me-first mentality and rejection of communal values does not correspond to our own (higher-minded, don’t you know) egalitarianism.

You can knock that about as much as you like because it can come apart in your hands if you talk immigration, benefits cheats, private schooling and mortgages in many a social gathering in the Socialist Republic of Scotia.

There is a Unionist response to all of this which can be paraphrased from the mouth of Boris Johnson – it’s a pile of piffle. This riposte insists that we are no different, we just like to kid ourselves that we are and therefore stand accused of self-delusion and hypocrisy. And that’s no foundation for a nascent state. Personally, I’m open to this debate because it has a basis in truth and cannot be dismissed as ranting by outflanked blimps lashing out blindly.

However, there is an article by Rory Stewart MP in Time magazine which takes this to new depths and carries an alarming advisory for all whose inclination is, despite it all, to retain faith – and their vote – in the British state.

Rory is regarded in this house as a thoughtful and principled Tory who used Eton and Oxford as a route to public office rather than a slot at the money trough.

His CV is eclectic and run through with public service in Army, cultural work in Afghanistan, charity and parliament. We indulged his enjoyable if quaint concept of Middleland as representing Border history.

But if you read the Time piece you hear the voice of man unravelling as the folds of moderation and wit fall away to reveal a desperate and belittling figure verging on the edges of bigotry.

For, you see, Scottish Nationalists only pretend to be egalitarian, open to immigration, non-acquisitive and reasonable in order to hide our true identity as small-minded protectionists and reactionaries. Rory has worked us out.

“…like all nationalisms, it has a reactionary core. It assumes that one people – the Scots – are somehow, although they would never state it, intrinsically separate and superior and that the answer to their problems is to cut off a group of fellow citizens and treat them…as foreigners.”

Let’s set aside the first glaring irony. A Tory MP is calling US reactionary…he is a member of the most right wing government in modern British history whose bedrock policy is slashing public spending to 1948 levels by targeting the poor and the disabled. Depends on your definition of reactionary…

If Rory is right, does his description apply to Britain? Is flag-waving Olympia-mania not nationalism? Is ‘standing up for Britain in Brussels’ against every other EU country not nationalism? Is fighting in the Black Watch for Queen and country as Rory did, not nationalism? When he asks (and fails) to get 100,000 to link arms along the Border to declare their love of country – the UK – is that not nationalism?

Are the Norwegians who voted by over 90 per cent for their independence, not nationalists too…those same Norwegians not too intrinsically separate and superior to have open, friendly cross border relations with the rest of Scandinavia?

What about every country which gained its independence from Britain because its people wanted to go their own way (Rory was born in Hong Kong, lived in Malaysia etc)? Are they also superior in their own mind because their love of country – their nationalism – drove them to seek self-determination?

It goes on. The French are unashamedly nationalistic and make little allowance for others’ opinions yet joined with Germany to form the original EU. Where do they fit in Rory’s political atlas? Or indeed the Americans he was writing for? Is there a more nationalistic nation on earth than the star-spangled, war-mongering Americans?

He trots out the weary line that opinion polling shows our views aren’t really different at all and no less xenophobic, reactionary and right wing than the English population so what are we talking about? Well, if that’s true why does Rory’s party have only one MP here?

If it’s true, why do we vote for a party which provides universal benefits, free university education, no prescriptions, a living wage, no redundancies in the public sector, no PFI, for immigration, for keeping foreign students here, for the EU, against illegal wars, against nuclear weapons…? I think even Rory on reflection would concede there are one or two small differences with his Tory-led government’s policies, no?

It is also an aspiration. We dream of being better. We have ambition to prove ourselves. We feel pride at the idea of solidarity with neighbours, of an internationalist outlook, of arguing for peace without nuclear weapons. What’s wrong with aspiration? Isn’t that exactly what the No side lacks?

He tells us that we apparently believe that political attitudes are permanent, fixed aspects of national character. Do we? I think I believe that in today’s Scotland there is a broad left of centre consensus and that as late as the 1960’s we had a Protestant Unionist hegemony and that the Labour decades of the last 30 years are giving way to a more home-grown proudly Scottish philosophy which all the parties now embrace – Tories, Labour, Lib Dem, Greens and Socialists, not just Nationalists. Permanent and fixed it ain’t, if you simply check the history.

Then he writes: Their solution therefore is to simply exclude the ‘English’ (his apostrophes) whom they perceive as a fixed bloc of right wing voters, from voting by changing the electoral boundaries…

How could a peacemaker in Afghanistan fail to understand self-determination and what it means to people who identify with their home? Just how we exclude English voters needs too long to unpack.

We don’t have an English problem, we know they don’t all vote Tory, all English people are welcomed to live, work, vote and take nationality or otherwise. There is a nasty undercurrent here that he doesn’t have the evidence or the guts to flesh out but he does say we just blame London. Perhaps he should have a quiet word with his own voters in the North East about their views of London and its taxpayer funded featherbedding. He might get a surprise.

We desire, he says, to treat the English as foreigners. This is always a giveaway. Never in my life have I heard Scottish Nationalists refer to other UK nationals as foreigners. It isn’t SNP policy and nor is it the voters’ instinct. It comes only and alone from the Unionists who regard it as pejorative because they believe British people hate foreigners. Rory trips out the sly old lie.

But his killer point is that we are selfish for wanting to deny our natural resources to the rest of Britain and that we should be big enough to share. That’s right…the country that could have voted to be independent in the early 70’s and taken all of the oil and much of the gas to become, as the government’s own adviser wrote ‘as rich as Switzerland’, wants to scapegoat the English and punish them by keeping hold of what’s left. We really are an ungrateful bunch.

Aside from the obvious point that surely the ‘oil is dwindling and volatile’ and therefore virtually worthless (get on message, Rory), you’d think contributing £300 billion to London and paying in more than we get out over the last 30 years – plus bankrolling Thatcher’s Tory policies – would merit even a cursory thank you from the principled one.

Taken together, this inaccurate and prejudiced diatribe from a Member of the British Parliament gives us a glimpse into the barren interior of our country and how even the most intelligent and sensitive simply fail to comprehend that Scotland is our home and we want to run it our own way – among the most basic of all human instincts – not to be separate or superior but to be equal with others, sharing our resources and our people. It is Rory who concentrates on the frontier that is the Border. We have said there will be none.

But like nationalism, he his blind to it, except his own. He imagines anything up to half the Scottish population is essentially racist, no doubt hypnotised by the demotic Salmond. I don’t object remotely to Unionists explaining their beliefs and standing by them but I do resent being characterised as selfish, inward-looking and quasi-racist for wanting what every other country has.

And yet again this message of denigration and hostility is beamed by a Scot across the world through an international magazine while he claims to be interested in goodwill and harmony. Go and build your cairn, Rory and don’t insult our intelligence.

For me, the article marks the end of respect for Rory the Tory but thanks to him for reminding us all why we must vote Yes in order to regain our self respect and national dignity which so many care so little about. That’s the real positive…to know that even those who pretend love-bombing have the same dark heart that just can’t accept Scotland and Scots for what we truly are – a modern, multi-cultural, open nation on the cusp of statehood.

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