Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scottish democracy

One of the first lessons a young man learns when dating women is to avoid the YES/NO question at a dance! It gives the girl the prerogative to say no and if you want to date her and you are not the best looking guy on the dance floor you have to try a different approach! I don't know what was in Cameron's mind!  

I normally keep this blog to woodworking matters but on the eve of a historic and highly divisive event I make an exception! As a proud Scotsman (by blood) with family roots north of Glasgow (where I lived) where my grandfather on my mother's side was a landowner and my other grandfather was a churchman in Edinburgh (he worked helping in the slums),  I have no vote, nor do the rest of the UK over the destiny of the entire UK. So, if I can influence just one vote I will have done my best.

Images courtesy my friend Tim

I made a video (below) about my home roots at Carbeth estate where my grandfather used his  privilege to set up around 200 huts in the 1920's for Glaswegian workers to enjoy the countryside. My uncle (my guardian) followed the tradition but the Carbeth Huts became a class war issue hitting the national headlines under the ownership of my cousin in recent years whereby the rent was put up from just over £10 per week to just under £13 per week (the first rent rise for a long time). Huts were burned down by some of those refusing to pay rent, air guns were fired and a dog killed and there was an orchestrated hate campaign against those who paid their rent and against my cousin who was regarded as 'the toff living in the big house'.

There are lots of 'toffs' living in big houses in England behind electric gates and who do NOT allow their land to be used by less advantaged people at a low rent. Before you immediately think I have scored an own goal, I accept a serious question in a modern democracy is whether inheritance is fair (it is taxed) and this challenges the very Monarchy that Alex Salmond welcomes as the head of the new Scotland (if he is to be believed). Land ownership is only the visible face of perceived elitism. There are much more. So here lies all sorts of ambiguities to the complexity of modern Britain! However, I believe there are points here that suggest the Carbeth issue is in a way a microcosm of what is happening in Scotland:

Alex Salmond states he will refuse to pay the Scottish share of the national debt (akin to Carbeth hutters not paying rent), and uses bullying and intimidation in his campaign (e.g. intimidation of the principal of St Andrews University to support Independence and some business leaders)Many people believed the Carbeth land belonged to them and the issue was deeply rooted in the Highland Clearances. The other significant point is that after painful negotiations the Carbeth Hutters dispute has been resolved in as much as the land ownership has been amicably transferred to the hutters (as my film shows) and is a first for Scotland, so, much change has already evolved from what I recall as a Feudal society. Interestingly The House of Lords is based on privilege and whilst some wish to abolish it, in theory it is independent and many of its proponents have instigated huge social reform or justice for minorities such as Lord Longford on prison reform.

But does this Feudalism still exist in Scotland? Salmond has constantly referred to the 'Westminster elite' (and that banks and supermarkets are puppets of the government) and claims the Scots are still 'underdogs'. I would suggest a very real issue is one of geography: the very northern tip of Scotland is 300 miles from Edinburgh, Cornwall is around the same distance from Westminster. Some Shetlanders who want independence from Edinburgh, claim the fishing industry will keep them going in the way that Salmond claims oil will fuel Scotland's overall independence. Well, other nations poach fish and there are no guarantees there will be a high price on a barrel of oil with alternative energy technologies fast emerging. 

An oil rig in the north of Scotland

Separatism will badly weaken defence which will affect every corner and whether you believe in Trident or not and irrespective of cost, the world out there does not just belong to sandal wearing pacifists as history tends to repeat itself! It is an unresolvable human characteristic since the bow and arrow. National boundaries are not 'invisible' as Salmond claims when economic differences between nation states inevitably emerge such as higher food cost in Scotland and a separate defence system. Vulnerabilty on the internet can happen very fast. The argument that he is being 'perfectly reasonable' to allow Trident five years to be dismantled is disingenuous. Is the option that a tug turns up and simply tows it away overnight! 

Alex Salmond has demonstrated he is the supreme champion of divide and rule (right down the middle fifty fifty!), but don't be fooled that the Scots will rule themselves as the world is more complex today. There is the question of currency,  membership of the EU and the small matter of just how bloody minded the English government might be after the referendum! There are just no guarantees. What  special right has this ambitious politician with his highly efficient tightly nit small team got to break up historic and current bonds and friendships between the Scots and other's in the UK, not to mention creating divides in just about every Scottish community? 

Hadrian's Wall - keeping the Scots out!

There has been much talk about a fairer society in Scotland and yet Scotland under Salmond has negotiated successfully more and more for what it wants from Westminster. Poverty is not just a Scottish issue. In my own southern English wealthy city of Bath there are currently food banks. We already have polarity in our society. Why encourage more? The debate has been largely parochial, but a fantastic debate and as a scotsman myself with a loving bond with my mother country I would want the best of equality of opportunity there. Glasgow is far more vibrant creatively than where I live, the Scots identity is very strong in the media and the achievements for innovation are legendary. But this will be an uncomfortable divorce and  Salmond has been dangerously clever at appealing to emotion and using manipulative Braveheart language over huge uncertainties and assumptions that on Thursday everything will fall into place for Scotland. 

The English have been caught napping but then they have no say! They probably thought it would never happen. Salmond has won either way. Britain can never be the same again. The deal on the table offers far more to Scotland either way and even a revolt in Westminster now! What a disgraceful mess politics is on all sides when broken promises are default mode!  Fairness is a touchy issue and a can of worms! But I can see the excitement about a perceived better future by Scots feeling negated by Westminster but his is the whole north/south issue. 

The English do have a lot to learn from the Scots and not least the sense of community that is lacking in England and the warmth and friendliness is endearing, but we are a unique multi national partnership and the outcome of this is a huge risk. 

As an innovator myself and thankful for my Scottish DNA, taking risk is the basis of trying out new ideas. In my field as a furniture designer I see Britain as a conservative backward looking nation generally and the Scots are very likely to take a risk in a few hours from my writing this. But in tossing a coin (because this is what it has amounted to) do I'm going to stick my wee Scottish neck out and say the vote will be 'no' and that the cards on the table has to be more change for Scotland! Nothing is forever; another referendum another day, an appeal? Etc Etc. 

A unique quality of Britain is we work well together and we look after each other. We have just got to work a bit harder at it. Thanks for reading. No hate mail please!

Ps. Remember that guy in Glasgow who watched his kettle boil one day and therein started the Industrial Revolution, or was it some other guy in a tin mine in Devon? Come on, lets all sit doon aroond the table and have a wee cuppa tea!       

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