Scottish and undecided

Tomorrow, I’m going to an anti-fascist demo. But more of that later.

This morning, in response to the news about David Cameron’s decision to award the BSkyB decision-maker role to Jeremy Hunt (and Hunt then actively misleading Parliament) Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, tweeted:

I’m in agreement with Ben Bradshaw that this is a low point, but the last Minister who repeatedly misled the House of Commons and neither resigned nor was sacked was Tony Blair: he fed the Labour MPs the “dodgy dossier” that somewhat quelled the backbencher rebellion against the Iraq war. As multiple people (myself included) promptly pointed out to him.

Bradshaw reacted identically in each instance:

I found Bradshaw a quick example – the Prime Ministers Questions for 19th March 2003, where Tony Blair is going on about those fictional WMD as a justification for war.

To which Bradshaw responded:

This is (to say the least) not convincing. Ben Bradshaw may be personally convinced that Tony Blair was an innocent dupe who had no more no idea that the evidence he was presenting to the House of Commons as a justification for the war on Iraq was false, than Rupert Murdoch had any idea that his British newspapers were using private investigators to hack into mobile phones.

But I am entitled as a voter to feel that even if Tony Blair really was just an innocent dupe, he was Prime Minister of the UK, speaking to the House of Commons: whether or not he knew that what he was saying was lies, he was certainly responsible.

On another day it could be interesting to speculate why Ben Bradshaw was spending so much time today defending Tony Blair. But today in Scotland was the day the pro-independence parties launched their “Yes, Scotland” campaign. This may be felt by many to be a tad too early, but since the “No, Scotland” campaign seems to have swung into action already, I don’t see that they had much choice.

I count myself among the undecided, for reasons extensively discussed already on this blog, but Ben Bradshaw was making a good argument for independence.

As Kenny Farquharson noted, possibly the largest group of Scots belongs to “I’m not a Nat, but – “ – we aren’t particularly for Scottish independence, but we really can’t stomach Tory government. For this group, the most effective thing David Cameron could do to preserve the Union would be to call a General Election early – and lose.

But Ben Bradshaw reminds me that UK Labour is still unabashedly the party of Tony Blair.

Now, obviously, Tony Blair isn’t as bad as Margaret Thatcher, and if Blair has done more evil than David Cameron it’s only because Blair’s stint as Prime Minister gave him global opportunities to screw things up rather than just screwing the UK. I’m damned sure Cameron would have gone to war with Iraq, happily panting at George W. Bush’s heels. But still: Tony Blair is the Prime Minister who presented the House of Commons with a dodgy dossier and got the UK into a war the country was against – a war that’s killed one and a half million people so far and is still killing people today.

It may be expedient for Bradshaw’s career as an English Labour politician to souk up to Blair – but it only reminds me that merely getting rid of the Tories would install UK Labour, a party I have been given no reason to be enthusiastic about. “Not as bad as the Tories” is a low standard indeed.

But then there’s the question of what I’d be voting “Yes” to if I did. Like most of us, I like the idea of getting rid of Trident – Alex Salmond should be making some non-negotiable commitments on that, because it looks like if Scotland refuses to host the nukes after 2016, the rUK Ministry of Defense will not have much choice but to have to them decommissioned: there won’t be time to build a new nuclear base between a “Yes” vote and independence.

I like this list from BurdzEyeView: Ten (other) good reasons to vote yes to independence – but I’d want to be convinced that this is where we’d be heading in an independent Scotland. I don’t want speeches, I don’t want Salmond dodging around to try and be all things to all voters: I want solid policy commitments from the SNP about where they’re going with an independent Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon’s opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill on 22nd December was far more convincing in that argument.

I like Patrick Harvie (I particularly like Yes, but on my own terms) and I like what he had to say:

Does anyone really consider the UK capable of this transformation? I can’t see it happening.

Some people have decided already how they’ll vote in 2014. But if we’re to persuade those who haven’t decided yet, we must offer a clear and compelling vision of how our society can change for the better; of how an independent Scotland will be different.

But there’s a further problem: which is white nationalism. Tomorrow in Edinburgh the “Scottish Defense League” have won the right to
march. I will be at the counter-demo. I hope lots of us will be. I want the SDL to be publicly shown up as a tiny minority, a little pustule on the face of Scottish politics.

But today at the YesScotland launch, we did not see a diverse picture of modern Scotland. As Caron Lindsay noted:

I’m never going to support this lot, but I wanted them to come up with something I could feel jealous of. Instead loads of blokes spoke in a dingy cinema. For a campaign supposedly offering something liberating, fresh and new, this was just more of the same male, pale and stale politics we’re used to. I know they don’t want to scare the horses, trying to say that life in an independent Scotland would be much the same with the same money and the same Queen, but they had an opportunity to do something different and flunked it.

During a discussion on Twitter about this someone linked me to the interview with Jackie Kay where she discusses the complexity and strength of being Scottish:

Unsurprisingly, it was to African-American writers – Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou – that Kay turned as a young woman, and the poet Audre Lorde, who told her she didn’t have to deny her Scottishness in order to be black. “‘It’s a strength! You can be both!'” Kay says in a hearty approximation of Lorde’s accent. “That was an amazing thing to hear. So I stopped feeling like a sore thumb and realised that complexity could bring something, that there are advantages as well as disadvantages.”

She put the lesson into practice, and in her most recent poems combines the Scots vernacular she grew up with and the Igbo speech of her Nigerian forbears. One poem, “Bronze Head from Ife”, addresses a 14th-century African sculpture directly in Scots (“Gies yer haund! / Miracle that ye are, yer braw face / lifts my heart; naebody can doot yer art”) with an effect that is startling because so utterly unfamiliar.

Kay says she was “bogged down” in identity politics for a long time, and worries that the labels and categories it created – “lesbian writer”, “black writer”, “Scottish writer” – can become a drag. “You want to be open about being gay – why would you not be open about being gay? But you don’t want to be defined by it,” is how she expresses the conundrum.

It was decades ago that the SNP snipped the tie between racism and nationalism. Good for Scotland, good for them, good for all of us.

The SNP’s position, so far from the BNP or the UKIP or any of the violent nationalist movements in England, is that being Scottish is a nationality, a choice, not an ethnicity.

Tomorrow, on the counter-demo, Catholics and Sunnis, Shi’ites and Presbyterians, Hibbies and Jamtarts, people of any religion and none, lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight, transgender and cisgender, all of us Scots together, will march from the Grassmarket to Waterloo Place, through the centre of Edinburgh – far outnumbering the few dozen SDLers who may be gathering for their hatefest at Abbyhill.

That’s what I want for Scotland. Whether we vote Yes or No in 2014 is less important to me than whether we can stand up as Scottish together and say to these white nationalists with their notion of “defending Scotland” against diversity, that we are Scotland, and we are our nation’s own defense against them.


Filed under Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

3 responses to “Scottish and undecided

  1. So the man who gave this speech in 1999 and saved millions – yes MILLIONS – in Kosovo, Sierra eone, even Northern Ireland – AND Iraq & Afghanistan has done “evil”? What junk!

    If Tony Blair were still PM today would he be silent on Syria? I think not.

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