Scotland’s White Paper will offer more than making do

It really does feel like the night before Christmas. I’m not sure if I’ll sleep tonight. And if that makes folk titter, tough.

There’s no doubt that like the bounty Santa brings, there will be some boring detail in the independence White Paper tomorrow. Because it aims to set out a route map to full, sovereign nationhood, there are bound to be sections which are the equivalent of socks and satsumas. Dull and unimaginative but needed.

If we’re really lucky, there will be a few surprises. Things we forgot to put on the list but stuff we’re delighted to find made their way in there anyway.

The problem with anticipation is the nagging fear that the reality won’t live up to the expectation. There’s so much riding on this plan, what if it’s one great big disappointment? Yet, only the Scrooges at Better Together surely will find nothing in it to please them.

It’s important to acknowledge the sweat and tears, the late nights, the energy, enthusiasm and the commitment, of all who have had a hand in shaping this tome’s content, tone and style. I don’t have to read it to know that their efforts deserve acclaim. Backroom boys and girls, many of whom have worked behind the scenes for years, step forward – for once – into the limelight and take a bow.

It would be wonderful if the White Paper starts with a declaration, an opening statement of intent which spikes the senses and sends shivers down the spine. Which speaks to us as we are now and calls on us to commit to a different future.

It would have to go some to match the Radical Declaration of Independence (read it over at Bella Caledonia). I hope some bright spark thought to record David Hayman reciting it, for that would be worth hearing, again and again. It’s a pitch perfect summation of many of our dreams and hopes for what independence might – could – deliver for Scotland.

And while I agree with John Finnie MSP, that its arc is inclusive rather than exclusive, aiming to speak to all and not just some, I would have liked to see a focus on future generations. If I could put one thing above all others on my Santa list for the White Paper, it is that it sets out what independence might achieve for children. The ones born now and those still to come.

Let me explain. Like many independence supporters, I am both Braveheart and Borgen, as David Torrance would have it. At the age of seven, I was in Margaret Ewing (then Bain)’s kitchen the morning after her 22 vote victory in East Dunbartonshire. I remember midge-infested Glentrool rallies, being crooned to in Gaelic by Donnie Stewart. I used to sneak down to listen to the political arguments which waged long into the night in my parents’ house, fuelled by passion and whisky in equal measure. My formative years were spent being infused with existential nationalism. I grew up with independence woven into my DNA.

The early 1980s were doldrum years for the SNP, when the party was mired in a mess of its own making. So, I flirted, subscribing to the New Statesman, Red Wedge and class consciousness. If it was a Saturday, we marched, often barely aware of what protest and why.

But then came the poll tax and suddenly, the SNP rediscovered its rationale. Can pay, won’t pay. More protests, rallies and marches, this time with a Scottish purpose to the fore. Every cut – to manufacturing, to students, to communities – seemed to slash at Scotland’s soul. History might not bear it out, but it’s how we felt at the time, that Scotland was singled out for special treatment.

In 1991, my first son was born and it really did all make sense. The existential pushed aside by the utilitarian. The goal of a better and different Scotland not for me, but for him. Did I want him to grow up in a Scotland like this? Where education and employment opportunities were subject to the whims of the Westminster roulette wheel?

We lived then in a village with 70% unemployment, victim to a creamery closure which removed at a stroke the dignity of work for whole households. Yet, that village in adversity, found its sense of community and its communitarian roots. Everyone looked out for each other. Everyone made different possible by focusing on more than making do. That experience offered a glimmer of a brighter future. Of what might be possible.

And that experience sparked in me an undimmed desire to do better by my own bairns and all of Scotland’s bairns. The boy I had is now a man and still we are yet to arrive. The wee one is nearly no longer a boy. And still we journey.

But tomorrow sees the publication of a plan, in which reside all our hopes, fears and desires. And for those who doubt – still – if Scotland has indeed got what it takes, think on this. In a land of plenty – relative plenty, if you like – how can it be that our children have so little?

Don’t take my word for it, listen to the OECD. In 2009, it published an overview of children’s well-being in 30 countries. None excelled, but some did far better than others. In six key areas – material and educational well being, health and safety, housing and environment, risky behaviours and quality of school life – only Sweden and Iceland scored higher than average on five, while Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland did so on four. The UK? Higher than average in one, quality of school of life; lower than average in another, risky behaviours; and pretty dismal in all others. Only fifteenth out of 30 on housing, 20th on health and safety and 22nd on educational well-being.

We live in a wealthy, highly developed state, rich in resources, yet we are out classed by much smaller nations with less wealth and fewer resources on how we nurture the next generation. How can it possibly be worse than this? Is this what we want for our children?

No matter if you gave up on hope a long time ago, read the White Paper and think not what independence might achieve for you, but what it might offer for your children and your grandchildren.

You might be happy with making do, but with the chance to change almost within reach, why would you wish it for them?

7 thoughts on “Scotland’s White Paper will offer more than making do

  1. Pingback: From Jan 6th, I Will No Longer Be Advocating Independence | Martin Burns

  2. ‘It’s important to acknowledge the sweat and tears, the late nights, the energy, enthusiasm and the commitment, of all who have had a hand in shaping this tome’s content, tone and style’

    Who as that, then?

  3. Kate, I heard you on Radio Scotland tonight and I do admire your enthusiasm. Steady on though! you sound at times as if you’re rivalling Dr Pangloss!

  4. Pingback: Scotland's White Paper will offer more than mak...

  5. Unlike you, I didn’t suckle on existential nationalism. My Glasgow-born parents brought us up in Yorkshire and Shropshire having moved south almost straight off their honeymoon, never watched the Hogmanay show, and remain to this day broadly proud to be Scots in a Union context.

    However, I left home in 1988 and headed straight for Edinburgh Uni to study music, having come to cultural nationalism via Ralph Vaughan Williams, and knowing there was always something in Scottish music that felt more right to me than anything else. And there I fell among nationalists from my first week in halls. But even among those existential nationalists, it was never denigrating England as a nation or their people. Oh sure, English media (the EBC, Jimmy Hill and the rest of it), and English government, but never animosity to the people, more than a touch of sympathy for those not fortunate enough to be Scottish.

    And then I read Alistair Gray’s “Why Scots Should Rule Scotland” and the logic made undisputed sense to me. Here was a political, not an ethnic nationalism. Those living and voting in the country got to decide its future. It was the perfect answer to Nicky Fairbairn’s charge in the 1992 Election: “Why should the bastard children of American Servicemen have more say in the running of Scotland than Scotland’s International Family” ie that the International Family don’t live here, regardless of their genetics, so don’t get a say. If you want a say, have a stake in the country by living here.

    And through the 90s and 2000s, bar the brief New Labour Spring when we believed that a real alternative to Thatcherism was possible once a right wing England had been fooled into voting Labour by placatory rhetoric, just like you, the idea grew in me that a progressive Scotland, true to its instincts, could not be possible while tied to the ballast of an Overton window tuned to the needs of marginal constituencies needed for a Westminster win.

    I still have a deep vein of existential nationalism running through me. But I know that the progressive country I want to see cannot be delivered by Westminster politics – it’s accelerating in the opposite direction. And such damage has been done that while I believe that an independent Scotland can and will become a country I would delight to live in, my pragmatism has won out. My children are 10 years younger than yours, and I cannot wait the 10-20 years it would take to achieve the transformation. For them it would be too late, and they would have a decade of society pulling in the opposite direction to my values.

    So it’s with a heavy heart that we’ve taken the decision to move to where those progressive values are already in place. In January, we move to Sweden. And to remain true to the existential anti-Fairbairn argument from above, on the day we move, I will shut up about Scotland’s future, and won’t vote in the referendum, as I know I’m giving up my right to do so.

    If the referendum is lost by 1 vote, blame me.

    • Lovely, lovely response. And thanks for sharing. It’s great to hear other folk’s stories.

      Good luck with the move. And if we do lose by a vote, we won’t hold it against you. Much.🙂

    • Your post really quite affected me, Martin. I’m in almost the exactly the opposite position but before I elucidate, please don’t consider my words as passing any kind of judgement on you – I don’t have young children to consider and I suspect, in your shoes, I might think along similar lines.

      I’ve lived in places like Dubai where construction workers (mainly Bangladeshi’s and Pakistanis’) are hidden away in labour camps, their passports withheld and their visas maintained only at the whim of their employers (the latter actually applies to all expats but clearly the Western expats have options that the Eastern expats don’t). I don’t care what anyone says: this is slavery and all I can say is that I hope Scotland don’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar because, no matter what anyone tells you, the infrastructure there is being built on the back of slavery and that will not change no matter how loud the outcry.

      I’ve also worked all over Africa. That particular period is hard for me to talk about. I wish I could tell you I was working for an NGO and doing my bit to help but I wasn’t. It had a powerful effect on me nonetheless culminating in a confrontation that I can look back on with pride now but with a shudder, nonetheless, given I had the power in my hands to make a truly horrible decision. Most of all, I saw how cheap life was there but worse, what kind of difference even tiny amounts of money could make to peoples health and wellbeing; tiny amounts were considered by many as dollars to be saved.

      The movies you may think of that cover this kind of subject matter are generally sanitised. They show outwardly evil men making evil decisions – simplified caricatures. The movie, “A Dark Truth” shows you exactly that: a dark truth, and that dark truth is that it is the kind of men and women you meet everyday who seem and consider themselves to be ‘good people’ who make evil decisions. People like you and me. You have to be able to look at yourself from the 3rd person to realise you’re even there in the situation.

      I’ve lived and worked in police states, minus all the restrictions placed on the local populace thanks to my privileged ‘expatriate’ status. Working in a country where the President thinks there’s going to be a coup against him every few weeks gets a bit tedious after a while (1st world problems, I know).

      I’ve lived in the US – I still spend a fair proportion of the year there – in the Lonestar state. There’s lot’s to like about the state of Texas, most of all the people, but it’s not a place you ever want to find yourself if you fall on hard times, especially if you don’t have insurance or savings.

      Now I live and work in Denmark although I get home to Scotland a couple of times a month. I guess I don’t need to tell you too much about it. It is what everyone says it is. I’ve been here for over 6 years and love it.

      So, why the long story? One thing my travels have taught me is that the world is generally heading in the opposite direction to that of Scandinavia. The world in general is becoming more exploitative, not less.

      Even in Scandinavia there’s a (very) gradual build-up of pressure to remove some of the fetters. Certainly not something I’m worried about in the short-term – the aplomb with which some UK press greeted Norway’s supposed shift to the ‘right’ gave no appreciation to the fact that Scandinavia’s right wing parties, immigration aside, are far to the left of centre – Denmark’s ‘Tories’ are called “Left”) but isolated oases tend to attract the attention of caravan raiders eventually.

      My years spent here have only convinced me that I owe it to the people I care about at home to try and take some of what I’ve learned away from here and try to support their implementation back home in Scotland. So I’m moving in the opposite direction: I’ll be giving up my job not long before the indyref and moving back to Glasgow in time to make sure I can exercise my vote.

      And the more allies the Scandinavian democracies have the better. The Northern Arc is something I strongly believe in. We have so much in common with the Scandinavians in terms of our outlooks it should feel spooky, but then when you read your history you realise there are very good reasons for it. They were just airbrushed out of history and the Scots curriculum.

      I truly respect your decision but hopefully we’ll see you back here when your kids have grown up and we’ll be able to teach other a few things.

      Sorry, Kate; didn’t mean to write a blog within your blog :S

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