SNP should try to empower electorate

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I believe support for Scottish independence stems from the sense of powerlessness felt by people not only in Scotland, but across the whole of the United Kingdom.

This is in spite of the fact that we live in a supposedly democratic society. The problem is that our democratic institutions are so remote and over-centralised – more so than in any other Western democracy – that people are unable to connect with them practically or emotionally.

For democracy to be genuinely empowering it must be deeply rooted in everyday community life, providing all of us with a meaningful role in the well-being and governance of our local communities.

The absence of such a role for most ordinary Scottish and English people and the resulting sense of powerlessness is, I suspect, the main driver behind the rise of petty nationalism on both sides of the Border.

Ironically, it is the powerlessness of ordinary Scots that will ultimately undermine the independence movement.

Powerlessness has a corrosive effect. When people find that their attempts to improve their situation are futile – an experience common to most Scottish communities – they typically enter a state described in clinical psychology as “learned helplessness”.

This causes motivational and cognitive deficits, such that even in situations where people have the opportunity to make changes, they act as if they don’t.

Even if a powerful and irrefutable case were made for independence (and we are very far from that), it would still have to be translated into votes at the ballot box. I suspect that the learned helplessness of ordinary Scots would prevent this from happening.

It is ironic that the SNP government, whose raison d’etre is the empowerment of Scots, has consistently broken its promise to give Scottish communities more power via its 1,200 community councils.

In doing so, I believe the SNP has made a fatal mistake that will undermine its bid for independence.

Michael Gallagher

Coupar Angus, Perthshire

Alistair Darling undertook three improbable feats over the weekend: addressing a meeting at the Scottish Conservative Party conference, attempting a witty aside, and introducing the idea of “courage” to the Better Together campaign.

Mr Darling has at last found his natural home and audience: liberated from his uncongenial political past, he relaxed sufficiently for the Conservative Party, which appreciated his bon mot on “courage”, suddenly to recognise in this ex-Chancellor a man who throughout his Cabinet career accepted unregulated financial markets and was a rigorous advocate of Blairite neo-conservatism; one of their own.

The bold concatenation of “courage” and “Better Together” unionism, however, proved a step too far.

Better Together has thrived on presenting a dark and hopeless vision of an independent Scotland, veiled with implicit threats of economic, political or diplomatic retaliation against the Scots if Britain is dissolved.

Everything in Darling’s independent Scotland is thus unknown, uncertain and ominous; indeed no effort is to be made by British government institutions to provide any information to voters, or discuss any issues necessary for independence before Scotland has voted in the referendum. Ingeniously, Better Together insists on “vital” questions that it insists cannot be answered. This paradox is no accident.

The Darling message appears to be “vote blind and be very afraid”. This tactic may well make him feel good and engender some cheap laughs among ancien régime Conservatives, but his bleak story offers an unedifying spectacle of a unionism that exists only because it exists.

Does unionism stand for anything beyond fear itself; and how would we tell?

This begs the question: who are we and precisely how deep a mess is the “it”? Oh, and whatever happened to “better”; or do you have to live in London to benefit?

Mr Darling is clearly neither a visionary nor a philosopher, but at least he may claim to have raised spinelessness to the level of a political virtue.

John S Warren

Callander

David Cameron’s speech to the Tory Party conference in Stirling at the weekend mapped out his plans for the next few years.

2014, he said, was the 
year for “saving our United Kingdom”.

2015 would then be the year for “giving Britain 
the Conservative government she needs”.

2016 would involve 
“giving Scotland the strong Conservative alternative she deserves”.

2017 is of course the year in which he plans to hold a referendum on leaving the EU, although he chose not to mention that.

So there we have it – our Prime Minister’s vision of Scotland’s future. By late 2017 Scotland could have rejected self-government, have its welfare, economic and tax policies decided by a strong Conservative majority at Westminster, and be in the process of leaving the EU (whether it likes it or not). Haud me back.

The way out of this depressing spiral is obvious, and involves the opportunity next year to become an independent country – one in which we choose our own government, just like any normal country.

C Hegarty

North Berwick

The most recent poll confirms a familiar trend in Scotland’s universities and schools with teenagers voting three to one against a 
future hived off from the rest of Britain.

The young may be inexperienced but they are not stupid and they realise that most of the Nationalist celebs like Sean Connery will do 
anything for Scotland – 
except live here.

The fact is the SNP’s “wha’s like us” sounds absurd to a Facebook generation with global horizons who realise the tawdry film Braveheart was historical drivel.

And Alex Salmond’s mean-minded attempt to belittle the London Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee backfired with the Union flag waving all summer long in Scotland.

Now it is at last facing proper scrutiny, the separatist case looks as if it was composed on the back of a fag-packet and “The Team” appears to be strikingly unprepared.

(Dr) John Cameron

St Andrews