The Scottish independence referendum argument builds apace, involving, in the last few weeks, politicians, bankers and artists from outside Scotland. The future of the people of Scotland has not always, during my adult life, attracted such interest and concern from beyond our borders.
I am one of the voters who brought us to this place. Naturally left-wing or liberal, voting Labour through most of our lives, we then experimented with supporting the Scottish National Party in the first decade of the Scottish parliament, giving them first minority power, and then, struck by both their progressive competence in, and progressive inclinations towards government, giving them a majority of 32 in the elections of 2011.
In the 1970s, in the early days of my political education, Scottish nationalism was a right-of-centre phenomenon. The SNP were dubbed “Tartan Tories”, although this soubriquet may have been coined partly because the UK governments of this era were mostly Labour.
The party’s stance shifted during the 1980s. One of its leading figures was Jim Sillars, a former Labour MP who had actually co-founded the short-lived Scottish Labour Party in the mid-1970s which aimed to blend the socialist and nationalist traditions. Alex Neil, a present Scottish government minister, was another member of the SLP. One impact this short-lived party did have was to force the original Labour Party to re-brand itself, for a time, as “the Labour Party in Scotland”.
The younger generation of nationalist politicians, like Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill, definitely appeared to adopt a more left-wing perspective. This idea that Scottish nationalism and socialism were sympathetic rather than opposing principles had already come to me via such different sources as journalist Neal Ascherson, folk musician Dick Gaughan and the now defunct magazines Radical Scotland and Cencrastus.
The role of the artistic community has been a topic in the present independence debate. Have our performing companies and institutions addressed the subject adequately, or allowed themselves to be hijacked by it? Some artists are openly pro-independence campaigners while others wonder about how many are fully engaged.
I have read, and heard, many contributions from people who are, like me, drawn towards voting “yes” in the referendum but who have not been long-term SNP or independence supporters. Many see independence as an opportunity less for separation than for further embedding principles and practices of social justice. For example, the National Collective , the Reid Foundation with its Common Weal project, and the social worker and community activist Bob Holman, a life-long member of the Labour Party.
A rather different perspective is that provided by Ewan Morrison, that choosing independence might be another example of the borderline personality disorder which the Scottish psyche has suffered from, and so a better approach might be to stay with the union, or at very least, have a modest expectation about what independence will achieve. Although attracted to the socialist opportunities provided by independence , I think I might have already inadvertently come to share Morrison’s conclusion when I have said to many people on either side of the debate, “In the short term I think very little will actually change”.