Jean McFadden: Class, not nationality, is key

THE impending referendum forces me to reflect on who I am. What is my identity? Have I had a constant identity or has it changed over the years? Am I Scottish or British or both? Or am I something more? Does identity have to be equated with nationality?

Picture: Hemedia

It was not something I ever thought of when I was a child. If I had been asked if I was Scottish or British I would not have known what to say. (Just as I didn’t know what to say when I was taken aside by some big girls when I was about 5 and asked whether I was a Protestant or a Catholic!) My school education was excellent and I was taught Scottish, English and British history, language and literature. If pushed, I would have said I was Scottish and British – but I was never asked and I never asked myself.

As a young student at Glasgow University in the 1960s, I regularly attended the debates in the Men’s (!) Union where the big hitters were Donald Dewar and John Smith for Labour, Neil MacCormick for the SNP, Ming Campbell for the Liberals, and Len Turpie for the Tories. This opened my eyes to British and Scottish politics and I became aware of Scottish nationalism - but I was not drawn to the SNP. They seemed to concentrate on ancient wrongs like the Clearances and the Stone of Destiny’s removal to London, seven hundred years before! Neil MacCormick’s father, John, had been involved in the audacious attempt to bring it back to Scotland in 1950. He also brought the famous case of MacCormick v. the Lord Advocate which challenged the Queen’s title of Queen Elizabeth II instead of Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. Most folk are not aware of this, but postboxes in Scotland do not have ER II on them and the Queen signs herself simply Elizabeth R on official Scottish documents. Interesting issues and escapades at the time – but I didn’t in any way feel oppressed by the English. I was becoming much more aware of class differences north and south of the border, rather than differences of nationality. I knew that I had more in common with the ordinary people of England than I with the lairds and landowners of Scotland.

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International outlook

However students at Glasgow University in the 1960s had a more international outlook which rubbed off on me. In 1962, we elected Chief Albert Luthuli as Rector of Glasgow University. Chief Luthuli was President of the African National Congress and an early fighter for the anti-apartheid movement. That experience as a student influenced me almost 20 years later when, as Leader of Glasgow District Council, I succeeded in persuading the Council to confer the Freedom of the City of Glasgow on Nelson Mandela in 1981.

This was received by the UK press with great hostility at the time as Mandela was considered to be a terrorist, and the SNP kept their heads down, but I was proud that we had lifted our eyes beyond the confines of the city, and of the UK to the oppressed people of South Africa. Another layer had been added to my identity.

And, of course, when the UK joined the Common Market in 1973, I also became a citizen of Europe.

So my identity is multi-layered; Scottish, British, European and international. But if Scotland votes for independence, I will lose my British citizenship, possibly my European citizenship (though not my international layer). But I like being British and European as well as Scottish and I don’t want to give these up. In particular I share many values of the British and hundreds of years of history, including two World Wars. There are social and cultural links that I do not want to see broken.

Class issues still exist

One of the consequences of Scottish independence will be the removal of all the MPs for Scottish constituencies from the Westminster Parliament. Only one of them is a Tory. A result could be to condemn the rest of the UK to Tory governments for the foreseeable future. I would not want to inflict that on the ordinary people of England. Let’s not forget that class issues still exist. At least the Welsh and the Northern Irish would be protected by their devolved Assemblies.

So I am going to vote No to independence in the referendum, but not just because I want to keep my Britishness.

The main reason? “It’s the economy, stupid” as Bill Clinton’s campaign manager said in 1991. I am not convinced by the financial arguments of the SNP that an independent Scotland would be better off than it is just now. But there is more to my view than the economic argument. I am not convinced that an independent Scotland would be a better place to live in than it is now, as part of the United Kingdom with a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. I have been involved in Scottish politics and local government for nearly 50 years and that has taught me not to trust the SNP. They exhibit a disturbingly controlling and centralising attitude. For example, they have nationalised the Scottish Police and Fire Services and some aspects of education. Social Work services may also be in danger, too. They have more or less nationalised the council tax, a populist issue which gains them brownie points with the electorate but which undermines local government’s already limited tax-raising powers and causes cuts in local services which hit the public hard and for which the councillors take the blame, not the Scottish Government. They pursue issues which benefit the rich more than the poor – free prescriptions for all, free university tuition for all. Yet they don’t have the courage to use the tax-raising powers of the Scotland Act in case that might turn people off. But their current policies are financially unsustainable in the long term.

Locally, SNP councillors have little real interest in in local government and seem to take their instructions from their masters in Edinburgh. They have no coherent local government policies and appear to see their sole role as ambassadors for nationalism instead of as the elected representatives of local people. In Glasgow, their behaviour at council meetings is deplorable. They show contempt for the Council and for the Lord Provost in the mistaken belief that she is a representative of the Queen.

‘Saltire hijacked’

As a Scot, I am annoyed that the SNP appear to claim a monopoly on patriotism and treat those of us who argue against them almost as traitors. I am as patriotic a Scot as they are but I have a wider view of my homeland and my identity than they have.

I am annoyed that they have hijacked the Saltire. It’s my flag too. And I am annoyed that they have tried to hijack the Gaelic, the language of my late husband. To some extent, I feel oppressed by the SNP, not by the English.

And it was the SNP MPs who voted with the Tories in 1979 to bring down the Labour Government and give us Mrs Thatcher, the poll tax and the decimation of Scottish industry. I have never forgiven them for that.

But Mrs T certainly did a wonderful job in increasing Scottishness and Scottish identity. I had voted against the proposed Scottish Assembly in 1979 because of the “West Lothian Question” but her policies and her treatment of Scotland made me a convert to devolution. The campaign for a Scottish Assembly was formed by Labour Party Members with a few SNP supporters and led to the Scottish Constitutional Convention. As Vice President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I took part in the Scottish Constitutional Convention’s inaugural meeting in 1989. The SNP attended but soon walked out and never came back. So much for having the good of the Scottish people at heart.

Luckily that did not stop the SCC from producing a number of influential documents culminating in 1995 in Scotland’s Parliament: Scotland’s Right which acted as a basis for the Scotland Act 1998 and gave us the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

In my view devolution has been good for Scotland. The Scottish Parliament may have some flaws such as having adopted, to some extent, the “yah-boo” politics of Westminster, but its existence has enabled Scottish legislation to be given the parliamentary time it deserves and could not get at Westminster because of its crowded timetable. As a result, great strides have been made in reforming many parts of Scots law, such as land law and mental health law – though there has been some poor drafting and a lack of the proper scrutiny which a second, revising chamber could address. But by and large the Scottish Parliament provides Scottish solutions for Scottish problems and the Calman Commission, set up by Labour, has resulted in increased powers for the Parliament and more control over taxation.

Changes needed

The existence of the Scottish Parliament has largely protected us from the policies of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. If social security were added to the list of its powers, it could do even more to protect us. But I see no need to take over defence and the armed forces and we are better protected from terrorism by staying part of the UK.

However, the West Lothian Question has not gone away and the English are resentful that they alone in the UK have missed out on devolution. An English Parliament has always been ruled out so far but the Westminster Government has to tackle this deficit, sooner rather than later.

But what has to be addressed urgently at some point this year is what constitutional changes should be proposed if independence is not supported by the majority of voters in Scotland. The Better Together is a coalition of political parties whose policies do not normally coincide. We cannot expect Better Together to produce a proposal. So the major political parties really have to think seriously about how they view the future of Scotland in the UK after the referendum. All the parties have said they do not support the status quo. They have to let us know what changes they favour.

Are the SNP going to propose regular referenda until they get their way? Is Labour going to propose “devo plus” or “devo max” or something else? What is the position of the Tories who were so opposed to devolution not all that long ago? Do the Lib-Dems have anything other than federalism to offer? We voters need to know – and sooner rather than later.

• Jean McFadden is the former leader of Glasgow City Council