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Do we want to be part of the world or part of the kailyard?
Alex Wood
It is an exciting time. Scotland is examining itself and contemplating its constitutional future. There’s a proper place in that process to debate financial issues such as taxation, currency and benefits. Unfortunately, there is no answer to many of these conundrums.
The level of benefits in the UK (and most of these other matters) is determined by two factors: the state of the economy and the politics of the elected government. In an independent Scotland, the exact same factors would apply.
What we should expect are statements about the kind of society which the unionists want the UK to be (or even a defence of the society which it presently is) and definitions of the society which nationalists want post-independence.
Do we want a more entrepreneurial, competitive society or a more co-operative one? Should market forces dominate in the hope that rewards and wealth for the successful may trickle down, or should we seek a less divided, more equal society, accepting state intervention in the economy and higher taxation? Do we value trade unions as a necessary defence for employees or are they a barrier to economic success?
Do we want comprehensive education or a selective system?
Where do we stand on foreign policy: as part of an American-led alliance, and entering the conflicts which ensue, or in a more independent, possibly less influential position?
Within the bounds of our own small country, what do we want: a Scottish Review culture or a Sunday Post culture, part of the world or part of the kailyard?
And when we’ve answered these questions, which option, independence or the union, best takes us towards what we want?
Before we reach that final question, however, here’s another that requires answering: would the answers which the Scottish people give to these questions be the same as the answers which would be given in England? If the answers (whatever they might be) are the same either side of the Tweed, then why divorce? If they’re significantly different, why remain together?
Early in my teaching career I was, I suspect, in a unique position outside Brechin High School: I worked in a department which contained two Brechin City fans, myself and the principal teacher. Brechin drew Rangers in the League Cup and we were going.
One of our students, a Rangers fan, asked if we could get him a ticket and take him with us. No problem, although his ticket was for the home end.
Five minutes into the game, a Brechin defender tackled a Rangers forward. ‘Get stuck into the fenian bas***rd!’ yelled our young charge. A local tapped his shoulder and quietly admonished him: ‘That’s no’ the way we speak here’. He took the lesson. Unfortunately there was no-one at the away end to advise the 3,000 or so Rangers fans whose unending choruses of ‘The Sash’, ‘Derry’s Walls’ and ‘Hello, Hello’ were also foreign to Brechin’s terraces.
That’s why I’m unhappy at the suggestion that Rangers might, like Livingston, be demoted to division three. The division two and three fans attend for the game as much as their team, for the camaraderie and the banter of the unsegregated terraces. Why should they be subjected to such sectarian bile? I’m also sceptical about the proposal that Rangers might be transformed, a la Real Madrid or Barcelona, into a fan-owned cooperative. If the Rangers fans controlled the club and its policies, we would still be waiting today for the first RC signing and for even the mild, ineffective management calls for an end to sectarian singing and chanting.
Rangers’ high-spending has ruined Scottish football and almost ruined the club but the Scottish business community is unlikely to let Rangers go to the wall. It plays many roles, not the least of which is to permit a substantial section of the poorest and least powerful of the Scottish working class to adopt a swagger every Saturday, believe briefly in its superiority and identify with the symbols of an outdated establishment.
David Cameron and Alex Salmond are still shadow-boxing in advance of the referendum. Cameron certainly didn’t score any points on his recent foray into Scotland.
He did however, quite unintentionally I suspect, box Johann Lamont into a difficult position. He established that this is a fight between, in the one corner, the Westminster unionist coalition and, in the other, the nationalist Holyrood government. Labour’s only conceivable role is as a second to the Tory fighter.
Two factors have pushed Labour into this uncomfortable position.
Firstly, Labour’s Westminster MPs know there can be no UK Labour government without a mass of Scottish seats. That not only means no independence; it also means no further devolution, or the right of Scottish MPs to vote on purely English matters becomes untenable. Secondly, there is an almost tribal sense of outrage, that the SNP has fundamentally undermined the Labour vote, even where Labour assumed itself impregnable.
I had an interesting chat with a Labour Party activist last week. Like me he was a Labour councillor in the 1980s but I left Labour (or it left me) many years ago. Yet I continue to admire the instincts of the diminishing number of Labour activists rooted in working-class communities and committed to social justice and a more equal society.
My colleague was depressed. Why, he asked me, should he be standing defending the social and constitutional status quo? Why should he be asked to campaign for the union along with the unionists?
He did not believe a ‘Yes’ vote impossible and wondered, in that situation, how Labour would be judged. It would have cleared its own pitch for decades in post-independence politics. Indeed would Labour’s best position not be to advocate a ‘Yes’ vote for independence but to pose a different vision for Scotland’s future than that proposed by Salmond? For the reasons I’ve given, Labour won’t do that, but the fact that a Labour activist is thinking thus should set alarm bells ringing in Keir Hardie House.
This article was first published as the diary column in The Scottish Review on 24 February 2012:

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