When I was a wean, I went to a Catholic primary school that happened to be in a different parish from the church where I got dragged to mass of a Sunday. From time to time one of the priests would visit the school in order to talk to all the children from his parish. I used to dread the announcement that we had to go along to see Father Tolan. Father Tolan had a superpower. He could make time stand still when he spoke.
Father Tolan droned on in a monotonous tone. I can’t actually tell you what he was talking about, except that it probably involved Jesus. His little chats never lasted longer than 10 minutes, but they seemed like they went on for hours. He had nothing to say that was of any relevance or interest to a 10 year old obsessed with apemen, dinosaurs, and languages. There was nothing for it but to count the flakes of dandruff gently settling on the shoulders of his black suit and wish it was dinner time. Over 40 years later, and Father Tolan remains my own personal boredometer.
Folk south of the border seem to have woken up to the fact that Scotland is about to hold an independence referendum, and they’ve taken to expressing their opinions about it in the comments sections of the newspapers. Which they have every right to do and is perfectly reasonable and fair. But for those of us who have been arguing, campaigning, debating, and discussing Scotland’s future for pretty much the entirety of our politically aware lives the opinions of uninformed non-participants in Scotland’s referendum score over 5 tolans. I’ve long since given up paying attention and am counting the flakes of dandruff that settle over their oft-cited irrelevances. If I enjoyed being lectured like a small child, I’d have been happy to trot along to see the priest.
There are a number of common themes. Those on the right harangue us about currency and how we’re surrendering to Brussels, or possibly Berlin as some of them are under the delusion that they’re still fighting WW2. Those on the left harangue us about currency and how we’re betraying the working classes by pandering to nationalism – which is just the same as fascism you know. There’s a generous sprinkling of nutcases who bring up ancient history and genetics. And there is the overwhelming consensus that it’s all about the sly manipulations of a wily Alicsammin. He’s always wily, just like the coyote in the roadrunner cartoons. But Alicsammin’s ACME independence rocket sled has a fatal flaw they cry, and then raise some point which people who’ve been paying attention have long since debated, discussed, and put to bed.
Above all there is a boundless capacity to see anti-English racism in innocuous remarks which don’t refer to English people, even obliquely. It’s a strange thing, taking offence. If you go around expecting offence, then you’ll certainly find it. When you are convinced that the person you are debating with is motivated by anti-English racism, you will see anti-English racism in every utterance they make.
Then there are the assumptions, more legion than the Romans who marched off into the Caledonian wilderness and never returned. “Scotland wants independence, but wants England to keep underwriting its debts,” they sniff contemptuously. The assumption being that Scotland is subsidised by the goodwill and deep pockets of English taxpayers.
But they’ve got it the wrong way around. Scotland does not rely on the UK Treasury to underwrite it. Quite the reverse, Scotland was underwriting the UK Treasury even before the oil was discovered, and has continued to plough billions into the UK economy, specifically the London economy, ever since.
The real reason that the Scottish Government wants a currency union has nothing to do with wanting the UK Treasury to continue underwriting Scottish debts, and everything to do with ensuring that Scottish independence does not provoke a crisis in the rUK’s economy once it is deprived of the billions it sooks in from Scotland. An economic crisis in the rUK would not be good for Scotland’s economy. But the bottom line is that it’s not Scotland which requires underwriting, it’s the UK Treasury.
It’s not Scotland’s economy which is unbalanced and risky, Scotland hasn’t put all its eggs in the basket of the City of London – which is considerably more volatile than Brent crude. Standard and Poor’s recent report into the credit status of an independent Scotland pointed out that it only considers reliance on a single economic sector to be overlarge when it exceeds 20% of the total economy. Oil and gas make up just 16% of Scotland’s GDP, and even without the oil Scotland’s economic output per head of population is greater than that of all UK regions except London and the South East. The Standard and Poor’s report characterised Scotland’s economy as “rich and diversified”.
But try pointing that out to yer average Unionist commentator in the pages of UK newspapers, and you’ll be answered with a snort of derision, some very predictable comments about deep fried Braveheart welfare junkies, and accusations of anti-English racism.
It’s not really their fault, having arrived late at the independence debate party bearing no gifts but a tin of bile concocted by the Sun, the Telegraph, the Mail and the Guardian. All they have to go on are their stereotypes and prejudices reflected through the distorting prism of UK media coverage of the debate. They’ve been told for decades that Scotland is poor and depends upon cash transfers to keep us in free education and prescriptions for methodone. They’re not going to be shifted from that view by people they are already convinced are anti-English racists, no matter how many economic papers or citations you give them.
This weekend Davie Cameron will make another of his flying visits to Scotland to add some fuel to the fires of Unionist prejudice, and will doubtless run away again before he can be challenged. Not that the assembled media hacks are keen to challenge him. The comments sections of the papers will rise to 10 tolans.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage with these people, I have nothing but admiration for those brave souls who engage in missionary work amongst the benighted. But we should only do so in the knowledge that it is a waste of time and energy. They don’t have a vote and they’re not going to change their minds anyway. We need to concentrate our efforts on persuading people who do have a vote, and who experience the reality of Scotland – not the caricature of our country found in the pages of the Telegraph and in David Cameron’s speeches.
The independence campaign has moved into a new phase. On the Unionist side there is a barrage of negativity, fear, hatred and odium. These are distraction tactics. The correct response is for us to focus our efforts where it makes a difference. That’s a lesson Father Tolan never appreciated.