Out of time

Reading the winner of The National’s essay competition I struggled to get past the bit about not liking perfectly acceptable and functional terms such as “Nationalism, ­Unionism, Separatist and Imperialism” and the use of ‘self-determination’ as if it is synonymous with ‘independence’ always irks me. But pressing on I was struck by how similar the sentiment and message of Gerry Singh’s essay is to a blog article I wrote called ‘Vote Yes to save the Union‘. The problem is that my piece was published on 4 November 2013. Almost eight years ago. A lot has changed in those eight years.

I wouldn’t write that article now. I couldn’t. Reading it now I feel only vague nostalgia for a time when it was relevant. A time when there still seemed the possibility of an amicable dissolution of the Union. There is no such possibility now. Quite possibly there never was.

I don’t doubt that Gerry is a deserving winner simply on the basis of the quality of his writing. I particularly like the way his essay is structured. Were he being judged on the basis of his grasp of the political reality in 2021, however, he would not fare well at all. His is the politics of a different time. Today, it seems naive and even a touch saccharine.

The problem is that the British ruling elite will never see Scotland differently. The perception of and attitude to Scotland has barely changed in the three centuries of Union. If anything, the divergence of political cultures facilitated by devolution as well as the rise of radical – not to say rabid – British Nationalism has taken that perception and attitude backwards towards the age of outright enmity between the two nations.

There is now no route to the restoration of Scotland’s independence which does not necessarily involve acrimonious confrontation with a political culture which regards Scotland as annexed territory of England-as-Britain. As a possession to be jealously grasped. As a problem on which a solution must be imposed.

The greatest obstacle facing Scotland’s cause at this time is not, however, the attitude of the British state but that of the SNP/Scottish Government who evidently still believe, despite all contrary evidence, that it might be possible to restore Scotland’s independence by a process which is critically dependent on the willing and honest cooperation of those for whom preservation of the Union is an existential imperative.

The harmless naivety of Gerry Singh’s essay echos the potentially catastrophic credulousness of our political leaders. For that reason, those in the Yes movement who fully recognise the reality of Scotland’s predicament will find it a discomfiting read. I know I did.

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