Follow the Soapbox
The Scotsman
17 September 2014

This is the latest in a weekly series of indyref essays in which influential figures explore ideas related to the Scottish independence referendum.

I was born into an ordinary Glasgow family. Working class, when work was available, and when it was it wasn’t exactly highly paid, same as everybody else, and socialist-leaning with a sense of what was right and fair.

We were politically and socially aware, and were once described as “Fighting like pigs over the last truffle”. We were a bit bemused by this, as far as we were concerned we debated and argued with everyone and about everything, with the exception of truffles. We felt disappointed when door-to-door salesmen and religious canvassers tended not to call again after being invited in and asked to contribute to whatever subject we were fighting like pigs over. Gradually we discovered that not every family was like ours, but we held no grudges, each to his own; we just shrugged in bemusement and wondered at how odd people could be. That word would come back time and again throughout my life: bemusement.

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I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in Independence. There was nothing dangerous, rebellious or disloyal about it, it was based on the logic that Scotland would do better with a government elected by and answerable to its own people, instead of being dictated to by successive governments in London that we did not vote for. The same would apply for any country dominated by another. Even so, I remember being interviewed by the authorities in my late teens and early 20s and warned about my “dangerous friends”. All I’d done was hand out leaflets for an SNP friend who was running for a council seat – which he didn’t win – and from that I had been traced.

Instilling fear, leaning on people, exploiting their weaknesses to prove they were worthless, that was how it was done, how we were kept in our place over generations, and in the run-up to the referendum we have seen the same tactics, albeit slightly updated. Watching the No campaign and those who perform under its banner, I am bemused all over again and I wonder if they actually know anything about the Scots character, or even care. Bad Cop Osborne arrived with his refusal to “allow” us to share the pound, as though it is his government’s or his country’s pound any more than it is ours.

Next came Cameron playing Good Cop, telling us how dearly he loved us, seemingly unaware that the Tories have long been anathema to the “loved”. Like other Scots, I have watched and listened as we have been threatened with the loss of the Lottery, the BBC and EastEnders if we dare to step out of line.

Video: Scotland’s young voters have their say on the Scottish independence referendum

Ed Miliband has threatened us with border guards, when England can’t police its existing borders, instead of owning up to his real fear: a lifetime in opposition because his party will never get back into Westminster power without the Scottish block vote, and the electors they have taken for granted and ignored for eons. Miliband and Cameron wrapping themselves in the Saltire and flying it in Downing Streets must be the most amusing stunt yet though, next they will be eating fish suppers with their champagne to show solidarity with what they believe is the average Scot. And it has been sad to see the much-respected Alistair Darling gradually sinking into clinical depression as he told us how hopeless and incapable we are and how it is only the English connection that can stop us slipping into an abyss for ever more. Us and our oil and gas and whisky etc.

What the No campaigners have failed to understand is that Scotland and the Scots have changed since devolution. We are no longer big fearties to be discounted and ignored, threatened, patronised and cajoled by turn.

Witnessing Holyrood, with its good as well as its bad angles, has given us a confidence and pride in ourselves and what we can achieve by our own efforts. We are grown-ups now, but still we are treated like naughty children. If we do as we’re told we will be given a few sweeties, but if we stamp our little feet and refuse, we will be sent to bed early without a story for being bad – apart from the ones about the wolf huffing and puffing till our house falls down, and worse still, the other one about the sky falling down.

The panic timetable arrived this week, with promises to “give” us greater powers, but only if we obey orders and vote No first. And we know as well as Cameron, Miliband and Clegg that their promises will be vetoed by their MPs in Westminster, but they still think we are incapable of spotting this and wonder if we are being “given” all these wonderful things, what could we achieve by having it all in our own country? And “given”, as though we are down-and-outs begging for handouts. Let us state clearly that we are not asking to be given anything, we are saying what we intend providing for ourselves.

Scottish independence and border control

The unedifying performance of Jim Murphy and the very gloomy Alistair forecasting “carnage at the polls”, portraying their fellow Scots as mindless, violent thugs, must be the lowest they could possibly sink to. Decent men both, I hope they come to regret those remarks. These days Scots look and listen to all this with the bemusement that has run through my entire life, and amusement too, and think “Who do they think they are talking to, and about?”

And what could we do but laugh at the sight of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband putting off their terribly important duties to travel north to convince us not to rip apart what they call “our family”. Next they will be donning kilts and singing Scotland The Brave from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.

Yet this united trio did not appear together on their away day excursions to deal with the rebellious Scots, because, according to Alistair Darling, they would cover much more of this “big country” if they worked separately. That’s the same country we have always been told is too small to govern itself. As if these performances were not enough, we had John Prescott’s input. The sage of the foot-in-mouth brigade suggested we stay in the union to have a combined England-Scotland football team in order to beat the Germans. That will solve all our ills.

Now I am not an SNP member, neither do I agree with Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon et al on many things, in fact I disagree with them on countless things. But this isn’t about them, it isn’t about the SNP, it’s about what kind of Scotland we want for our children and our grandchildren. When they grow up they should have the right to vote for their own government in their own country instead of being ruled from and by London.

The argument is based on logic and sense, and how anyone can disagree with that principle is a mystery. The suggestion that we can’t or shouldn’t govern ourselves and must rely on Westminster doing it for us is as insulting as the patronising promises of sweeties in the future, but limited sweeties, that have come from the No campaign, sweeties they and we know they cannot deliver.

And we won’t dwell on the celebs on either side of the debate, they have no more clout or insight than I and all the other ordinary Scots have, and to suggest that we can be swayed by the mutterings of some all-acting, all-ball-kicking “star” is as insulting and patronising as those attempted arguments of the No campaign.

There is a feeling in the country at the moment, a good feeling, ordinary people are talking and arguing, if not quite like pigs over truffles then at least like people who have discovered pride. Change is in the air and I believe we will follow it through.

• Meg Henderson is a journalist and novelist



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