ONE OF OUR GREATEST WEAPONS was muted during our independence referendum campaign. Right from the get-go of the campaign we were guilt-tripped by an odd warning of anti-English racism into laying down our emotional appeal for our own country. The English media sold the idea to the English people that the ‘rebellious Scots’ desired national self-determination because we were racist; an ethnic minority in northern Britain, high on a hateful Braveheart fuelled anti-English trip. The response of the Scottish independence campaign was a concerted effort to disassociate itself from all things historical, memorial and emotional. This absence became in itself a powerful force within the movement for independence, but it remained, and still remains, an absence.
Whoever came up with the notion that Scotland and England were racially different? What a complete absurdity. Scots, English, Welsh, Irish and Manx have together shared the tremendous racial mixing of every people group which has come to these islands since the Stone Age. A Glaswegian and a Londoner are as likely to be the genetic product of Celt, Pict, Briton, Saxon, and Dane – among many others – heritage as one another. The difference between the Scots and the English has never been one of race. We are different. We are linguistically, historically, emotionally, intellectually and culturally different from one another, and we always have been. This difference is precisely what makes us Scots and the English person English. One is not better than the other; each is simply different from the other. Yet for the fear of being thought racist we laid down our emotional claim to that distinctiveness.
Ignoring our emotional connection to our home – something Westminster never did in its campaign – and relying completely on rational and economic arguments, as important as they are, fundamentally weakened our case for independence. On the morning after the referendum I found myself weeping, quietly sobbing, on a coach. I needed a shoulder to cry on, and I am certain that I was not the only wailing Yesser that miserable day. Thankfully there was an understanding shoulder there for me. Only in the immediate aftermath, in the agony of defeat and bitter disappointment did I come to see, to the fullest extent, how deeply emotional this question was. It was about our home. This was family.
Reducing our argument to abstract reason and economics left us vulnerable to the weakness of selfish pragmatism. In fact this pragmatism did surface throughout the debate, and it did have its merits. It still has its merits. Pragmatism is following the rational route of what best serves me. It is certainly not pragmatic for me to be writing this at twenty past one in the morning.
Declan Walsh, in his article “The Fight Doesn’t End Here” published on the National Collective’s website (3 October), takes this narrow selfish pragmatism to its logical conclusions when he wrote: “Stop being defeated. Because you are not defeated. The things that you want can be achieved. They can be achieved with the rest of the UK.” Well of course what we want can still be achieved within the United Kingdom, so long as those things do not include national self-determination. If we want a single currency, then this pragmatic reasoning is a brilliant economic argument for becoming a state within a wider federal European Union. Scotland can still have everything that it wants and needs in a political and economic union with Mexico. This was never the question though, was it? Britain can be many things, but it isn’t. It is exactly what it is, and it certainly does not give full national expression to what it means – emotionally, culturally, and historically – to be Scottish. That was the question.
We set aside our emotional attachment to our home, our family and our identity, and left ourselves wide open to a continual and relentless barrage of emotional blackmail from the Better Together unionists and Westminster who never shut up about family, home and their fraudulent ideology of Britishness. Our emotional intelligence of being Scottish has never been Braveheart or Burns, but these things have played their part, and we should let them. Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Wallace wasn’t authentic, and I think that we all get that. It was, however, a picture of our history and culture, and that much is true no matter what caricature London wishes to make of it. The young Wallace who fought off the insolent mounted knights at Irvine Water near Riccarton for demanding all his fish when he offered half is still the story of Scotland. We have offered half, and we have been robbed of all our proverbial fish. Too easily have we forgotten that in the depths of our beings there already exists all of the reserves needed to set ourselves free.
Jason Michael, Ayrshire