The independence referendum has been a learning experience for Scotland. Irrespective of how the vote goes in September – and I remain convinced that it will be a Yes – this country has improved and matured because of a campaign which has engaged this country’s populace with politics in a way that has never been seen before. The grassroots Yes campaign has produced a singularly remarkable achievement – it’s taught a nation of hard-bitten cynics how to hope again.
Scotland has learned some other lessons too, lessons which are not so pleasant. Even though the media in this country started out in this campaign from a very low baseline of credibility and public trust, it has managed to plummet even further. No one can seriously argue any more that Scotland has a representative media. Our newspapers and broadcasters do not reflect the breadth of this country’s views and experiences, with a handful of honorable exceptions they do not speak for us. They speak for a minority which is privileged and connected, they speak down to us, not from amongst us. When only one Sunday newspaper supports a constitutional position preferred by more than 40% of the population, you have a problem.
A free, balanced, and representative media is not an optional extra in a democracy. It’s not a nice wee addition to provide a bit of entertaining diversion. Without a free, balanced, and above all representative media, there is no real democracy. Citzens in a democratic country need access to all relevant information in order to make an informed decision at the ballot box. But Scotland’s media is like a sex information leaflet from a fundamentalist chastity group – just say no is the only message. It doesn’t want to inform you that there are other options for avoiding unwanted pregnancy or unwanted Conservative governments. And it certainly doesn’t want to tell you that informed sexual independence can be fulfilling and leads to emotional maturity. It speaks only of risks, not fulfilment. And it certainly won’t help you reach any climaxes. Instead we’re told the safe option is to remain in the trough of despondency, despair, and hopelessness. Scotland can’t possibly choose her own partners or set the terms of her relationships. 307 years and never been kissed.
The other big lesson we have learned is what our place is in this most perfect of unions. For three hundred years Scotland had laboured under the misapprehension that we were equal partners in this most perfect Union, that Scotland was a valued and respected participant. We were told that we could be British without compromising our Scottishness. But we’ve learned that in the eyes of our political masters we are nothing. We are owed nothing. We contribute nothing. And we should be grateful for nothing. We have nothing and we are worth nothing, and if we are so foolish as to imagine that we might be intelligent enough and capable enough and mature enough to reach our own climax then we will be less than nothing.
We are a basket case apparently. The currency union is waved around to distract us from the reasons they cite for its refusal. It’s too risky. Scotland is too uncertain. Scotland’s economy is fragile and weak and too trivial to have any account. The Proud Scots of Parliament revel in the misery of our weakness and dependency like masochists being beaten by a dominatrix in a Union flag corset, triumphantly moaning with pleasure with every lash of the whip. It’s the only way to get off in the Union.
And the media doesn’t ask the questions this poses. Masochism is all very well in the confines of a night club or the privacy of a bedroom, but it’s no way to run a country. Scotland has been in this union for over 300 years yet now we discover from the mouths of our rulers that it has left us too weak and frail to look after ourselves. Are they not the ones who are responsible for this lamentable state of affairs?
The state of Scotland as told to us by our Westminster Parliament after 300 years of what is claimed as a successful union is perplexing, a mystery which begs to be demystified. After all, taking a country in a geopolitically tranquil part of the world, with high standards of education, which is blessed with an embarrassing wealth of natural resources and a surplus of energy like few other countries possess, which is famed for the inventiveness and abilities of its people, and turning it into an economic basket case which has no other hope but to throw itself upon the tender mercies of a generous Westminster, a land where Home Rule can’t even extend as far as allowing us control of the TV remote – that takes a very special kind of incompetence. A malign incompetence that verges on the criminal.
What are these Proud Scots proposing to do about it? When and how will those responsible be held to account? But the media is off on a Plan B Hunt to please the dominatrix with the whip, and all the Parliamentary Proud Scots propose is to moan more with pleasure. Oooooh…. plan B….
None stop to ask why there should be any need for a plan B or why the rest of the UK is justified in its refusal to accept plan A. Why is it that this northern partner, this North Britain, this belt which holds up the trousers of Union, is such a poor risk for the rest of the UK? But answering that question means exposing the illogicality of the premise. It means exposing the lie that Scotland is poor. We are not poor. We are being impoverished. It’s not the same thing.
We are being asked to vote No based upon an argument which is at its very core self-contradictory. The supposed poverty and incapability of Scotland is given as the reason to remain under the control of those who hoover up capital to create poverty for the rest of us, and who shackle us in a political system which offers no remedy.
Once being Scottish meant being born cynical, and growing increasingly more cynical as we got older. The Proud Scots, the cannae Scots. Not any more. We’ve learned how to hope and we like it. We stopped looking at the powerful and looked at ourselves instead. And what we see is potential. We get a good feeling. It’s new. It’s the breath of life rustling through the dry leaves of books we never read before. New ideas buzz and blast, lightbulbs of inspiration pop on and flash like beacons in the long dark night. It’s good to be here and now. We’ve learned how to light up the darkness of the souls of cynics, and that’s knowledge that can never be taken from us.