What’s the best approach to take when visiting a country like Scotland which is in the grip of a huge debate about independence? I’ve asked a few non-Scottish people what they think about the upcoming independence referendum and their replies were non-committal; saying “it’s up to you”.
What they really seem to be saying is: “I don’t know if you’re a fanatic nationalist and so I’m not going to risk arousing your rage by saying the wrong thing.” This is the best approach for travelers: observe, listen, learn and don’t get involved.
I learned this when living in post-war Bosnia, where all three sides (Serb, Croat and Muslim) had well worked out opinions, backed up with fact, figures and personal experience – and it was impossible to argue with their deeply held convictions. All I could do was listen and learn their version of history.
If a foreign traveler was visiting my family today in Scotland, he or she could have learned some interesting stuff about the debate for Scottish independence.
My brother called to say there’s an interesting article in the Observer newspaper by Alex Linklater. We crowded round the PC and my mother ended up reading it aloud. I can’t remember when an article was read out aloud like this in the family.
It’s a useful article for anyone who wants to find out more about this issue, as it’s a review of two new books about Scotland’s future. The pro-independence book is by leading Scottish novelist Alastair Gray and the pro-UK book is by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister. Both are true Scotsmen.
The journalist dismisses Alastair Gray’s book as incoherent and says the book ‘that should have been a major cultural plus for the “yes” campaign does it no service at all. It is, frankly, mortifying to compare such incoherent blether with the mighty marshalling of arguments in Gordon Brown’s My Scotland, Our Britain.’
I agree with Gordon Brown who says nationalism is a 19th century instrument for a 21st century problem – I’ve seen too much destruction in the former Yugoslavia to think otherwise. The following quote from the Gordon Brown book blasts the pro-independence argument out of the water, as far as I am concerned:
‘Why would the SNP want a sterling currency union while relinquishing any Scottish influence on UK economic decision-making? How can you rely on North Sea oil, when it produced 4.5m barrels a day in 1999, but only 1.4m in 2013? Loss of trading within an integrated UK-wide economy, he argues, would mean that exports from an independent Scotland to the continuing UK would be 83% lower after 30 years (and exports from the rest of the UK to Scotland 77% lower) than if Scotland were to remain a part of the UK.’
No discussion about Scottish independence is complete without some hate-mail from the nationalists. Whenever a good article appears like this it is inundated with negative comments from the armies of well-organised trolls who patrol the internet and snipe at opponents.
Alex Linklater’s article had 100 comments under it when I last checked, and almost all of them dismiss his anti-independence viewpoint. Considering that a majority of Scots are against independence, not to mention the English who are overwhelmingly against it (and the Observer newspaper is an English paper) this would suggest that the pro-independence have the majority when it comes to trolling.
Here is one of the comments directed at Linklater: “Face it Alex, Gordon Brown could’ve shat in your hat and you could only say ‘thanks Gordon it fits so much better now’. Give over man you’re embarrassing yourself.”