Ruth Wishart: Nailing my colours to Scotland’s mast

Princes Street, Edinburgh, in the spring of 1979. Picture: Bill Stout
Princes Street, Edinburgh, in the spring of 1979. Picture: Bill Stout
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Today’s march and rally for independence is also about our great sense of community, writes Ruth Wishart

It’s a short walk from the Meadows to Princes Street gardens in Edinburgh today, but for some of us it will have been preceded by a rather long journey.

It’s always been my contention that journalists, particularly those given the privilege of commenting on current events, should stay well clear of politics in any formal context.

We are there to listen, question, report, and analyse. Observers of the process; not participants.

And I’ve pretty well been true to that self-denying ordinance outside of a brief detour into the short lived Scottish Labour Party which flowered briefly before being strangled by extremist infiltration.

In any event, for most of my trade, party politics are lacking in allure.

We assorted Bolsheviks and part-time anarchists are not temperamentally inclined to toe particular policy lines, and certainly incapable of keeping our contrary opinions to ourselves.

And it’s in the nature of the job to make friends and contacts across the political divides in Scotland.

I was proud to recount my friendship with Donald Dewar at his funeral, and enjoy cordial relations with folks like Annabel Goldie and Menzies Campbell.

Political Scotland is a village and the villagers collide socially at regular intervals.

Yet today, I find myself on a platform supporting the rally for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum, and speaking up in favour of Scottish independence.

In a sense, the decision to do so was predicated partly on the tortured history of referendums in Scotland.

As we all know, the 1979 one was rigged in such a way that all non-voters were effectively deemed ‘no’ voters, while the actual majority yes vote was
not considered sufficiently loud.

Strangely, few of the proponents of first-past-the-post saw any anomaly.

The horse trading over the shape and content of the 2014 model has been well rehearsed on these pages.

If I’m being totally honest, my own instinct has been that devolution is a process, and, as the polls consistently tell us, a small ‘c’ conservative country like Scotland generates considerable support for some form of maximum devolution.

The No camp would have us believe that its hostility to anything other than a single question is nothing more than a high-minded commitment to achieving clarity.

That, of course, is no more than self-serving rubbish. They’ve done their sums and calculated that two-thirds of the population either want full independence or devo max, and, just like 1979, they want no truck with a formula which might come up with the “wrong” answer.

Nevertheless, I will vote Yes, and I will do so from conviction. From the belief that Scotland, like many similar small nations, has the natural resources to survive and thrive.

From the belief that taking control of our own finances and budgeting is not only the essential building block of a modern nation, but that it will finally kill off the persistent charges of whingeing jocks and subsidy junkies which cause unnecessary tensions between ourselves and our friends in the south.

And, as the No camp never tires of re-iterating, the English are our closest friends. And that friendship has rather more hope of blossoming into a mature relationship when we break bread as neighbours rather than intermittently warring relations.

Independence will also lay to rest the West Lothian question. English voters who rail at Scottish MP’s voting through Westminster measures which don’t apply to their own constituents have every right to be outraged.

However, the over-riding reason why I will come out loud and proud today is because I truly believe this to be a historic opportunity to shape the kind of nation we want our children and grandchildren to inherit and grow up in.

It is, of course, utterly facile to pretend that Scots and English are homogenous peoples to which collective national characteristics can be casually attached. We are both mongrel nations and all the healthier for it.

A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.

Nevertheless, devolution has increasingly underlined the different directions of travel which our two nations choose to take.

The de facto privatisation of the English health system, the wilful fragmentation of their education sector, and, most damaging of all, the imposition of appalling tax and benefit “reforms” which will hit the most vulnerable while protecting the wealthy are all anathema to a large majority of Scots of all political persuasions.

Yet, without independence, we have little or no means of alleviating the pain and havoc these reforms will bring in their wake.

Then there is the continuing running sore of housing the UK’s nuclear weaponry and the means of its delivery.

For me, the immorality of that system is matched only by its contemporary irrelevance to what threatens moderns states.

And, while we have a coalition government in the south shredding its supposedly green credentials daily, we have a commitment in Scotland to become leader in the alternative routes to a non nuclear future based on ever more sophisticated renewables.

The devil, say, the sceptics, will be well embedded in the detail.

Scotland a more prosperous nation on its own? Show workings please. All of them. Right now.

The problem, say the fearful, is the uncertainty of it all. What if we are buffeted afresh by the unforeseen winds of economic change?

How will we cope?

To which I can only respond that whatever lies round the next corner I will feel happier, healthier, safer, more proud and more involved if the decisions which calibrate Scotland’s vision and inform Scotland’s values are made in Edinburgh.

People will not be voting yes in 2014 for any particular party or government. This is a referendum, not a parliamentary election.

People voting yes will be quite simply plighting their troth to their country’s future as a state as well as a nation. And I will be one of them.