I’ll make a confession: I don’t think Scotland needs independence. I’m not certain full independence is the most desirable option. At this stage in the debate, on Wings Over Scotland, that might be a quite contentious assertion. But last year, on numerous talkboards and comment threads, starting with that statement frequently saw me being called a “cybernat”, an “SNP stooge” or in one instance, “Salmond’s stormtrooper”.
That was because the statement always came with a “but”: “…but we do need control of welfare” or “…but we do need fiscal autonomy”“. And the “but” never went down well.
Full fiscal autonomy was the reason I voted Liberal Democrat in 2007. It had much to recommend it over the SNP’s full independence policy, both for Scotland and the rUK. It would have been a gradual approach that wouldn’t have scared many horses, north or south of the Tweed. It was an “I do want independence but am too polite to say so, in a very British way” kind of option.
It could have passed barely noticed by the UK media. Friends and family in England would have responded to your declaration of being a “full fiscal autonomy supporter” with a weary eye-roll and “Do shut up about Scottish politics, dear”. Independence, even if virtually synonymous in the detail, instead attracts “What? You want to rip my country apart, literally destroy 300 years of history and rob me of my entire identity, you evil separatist nat bastard?”
Perhaps it’s partly a woman thing. Visit any pub and observe the dynamics. A group of men will likely be having a heated debate – politics, sport, prowess with women. A group of women – unless you happen to run across a radical feminist or socialist meeting – probably won’t. Instead, women will generally tend to look for compromise, common ground. It’s unusual within a group of women to have a full-on heated argument about politics.
To some this may appear as weakness, whether found in a man or woman. Some testosterone-filled types, of either gender, might believe those reluctant to engage in knock-about politics will be easily won by the side most likely to deliver it: threaten yon wee wifey wi’ a doin’ and she’ll come round tae yer wey ay thinking, eh?
They couldn’t be more wrong. When you seek consensus you expect it back. If you begin a comment thread, “I don’t support full independence but…” you expect those you’re seeking common ground with to meet you some place other than their extreme. You expect “Well I see what you’re saying, but…”, and then some sort of movement towards the centre.
Instead, you get abused, patronised, met with intransigence or attempts to silence debate. One of the strangest cases of that was Martin Sime being savaged by Willie Rennie (if such a thing is possible) for daring to speak up about devo-max. He too was subjected to the “SNP stooge” treatment. This from a party which in 2007 had full fiscal autonomy on their manifesto and asked people to vote for them to deliver it!
(Which, incidentally, they could possibly have done in coalition with the SNP in 2007. Alternatively, they – or indeed Labour and the Tories – could have taken part in the national conversation and listened, debated, discussed the future and possibilities that were opening up. Instead, they preferred Westminster, the Lords and the Calman commission, telling us what they’d allow us when we returned to voting the right way.)
By 2011 there was no-one to vote for but the SNP if you wanted real change. The result of that election speaks for itself. Yet still the Westminster parties and their media weren’t prepared to listen or debate. Under-the-line comments, blogs and discussion boards attracted large numbers of eloquent, passionate and well-informed posters, punctuated only by the old “You’re all anti-English…watched Braveheart too often” comments from the other side.
Instead of rising to the challenge and making an attempt at honest engagement, the No side chose to carry on demonising, acting as if they – our elected representatives, who we pay well to speak on our behalf – were under attack from some orchestrated, hate-filled bunch of obsessives, personally directed by Alex Salmond.
This is as much a nonsense as it is offensive. The internet is an open forum. If there’s a large amount of passion and energy on one side and none on the other, that should tell any fair-minded observer something – and not, “Oh, it must all be an orchestrated campaign”. Even if the polls most favoured by Better Together, the ones where support for independence hovers around 30%, are correct, that’s one in three people in Scotland who support independence.
I still didn’t favour independence in 2011, when I first stumbled onto such threads. In fact I’m probably somewhere in the Better Together statistics of “No-voting SNP supporters”, having said “No” when polled as recently as May. But, that “No” was always hugely qualified. It was in fact a “No but…”, the “but” being my complete support for the aim of bringing more powers to Scotland, a real excitement about the debate on Scotland’s future, a new passion for politics. A “No but… the UK, if it’s to remain, needs radical change”. But there’s no way to qualify a No in an opinion poll.
The refusal of those on the opposite side to debate, discuss, listen or even consider what might be best for Scotland – or indeed the UK generally – is baffling. Their haste to resort to abuse of anyone trying to debate is even more so. (I was deleted and banned from the “Better Together” page for saying joined-up policy-making was impossible when health and welfare are run by different governments, for example – while being frequently abused as a cybernat, stormtooper or whatever the term of endearment of the day was).
When the history of Scottish independence is written after 2016, historians will find scant evidence of “cybernats”, while gutter-level abuse will abound right across the British media – and, particularly after this Tuesday, in the pages of Hansard.
I said at the start I don’t think Scotland needs independence. However, not a thing anyone at Westminster or in the No campaign could now do or say would convince me to vote against it. It is patently clear Westminster cannot and will not deliver what Scotland does need. It doesn’t care, and isn’t interested. As Michael Moore said himself to the Economic Affairs Committee, UK interests cannot be separated out from Scottish ones: there are only UK interests.
“Shut up about what you want and just vote for our interests you moronic, deluded, cybernat. And stop voting for that fat twat dictator as well. Then perhaps after all that we can talk…” isn’t the most persuasive of arguments – unless you count being persuaded to join the SNP and the Yes campaign.
You can only seek consensus with those willing to look for it. In many ways I’m grateful Westminster has shown its true colours this early on, and that no option short of full independence is on the table any longer. In the absence of any other option, we certainly do need independence. And we need it urgently.