I know my columns, borne of hard experience, can at times seem rather cynical towards our political process (and especially our parties that so often feign a belief in the public interest over their own) – but I remain an optimist and internationalist at heart. I spend as much time in the rest of the UK and the rest of Europe as I do in Scotland and I am nothing but positive about the human race and our ability to overcome the challenges we face.
This month marks my 60th year on this wonderful planet and I never stop believing I have been ever so fortunate to be born of two loving parents in such a great cultural and historic city as Edinburgh, to have been raised at the edge of its Queen’s Park with all its attendant lochs, hills, woods and playing fields that gave me such joy through the poaching of perch and the climbing of rocky crags to fantastical adventures playing in the whin bushes.
What advantages I have had. I am thankful for a caring extended family rooted in Scotland’s working class, with its typical work ethic imbued by an aspiration to better oneself through sheer hard work. I benefitted from a wonderful Scottish education, through primary to university, but not yet ravaged by progressive “reforms” – and, having been born in 1958, to have lived my childhood into adulthood through such instructive times as the colourful sixties, the catastrophic seventies and the corrective eighties.
I know that the majority of the world’s children, born in the same year as me or since, have not been so fortunate as I, and yet to borrow from The Who, I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. I have taken those opportunities given to me and made the best advantage of them, despite my human failings occasionally getting the better of me.
I can, therefore, look at 2018 and consider where we stand, first as our nation of Scotland and secondly as our country, the commonwealth that is the United Kingdom; taking into account the changes in our world over my lifetime I can see how much we have advanced, how we have improved and how we can achieve so much more.
I must, though, put this in context, for I was first raised under the spectre and threat of armageddon and the Cold War: I remember the air raid sirens that were tests for a civil response to a Soviet nuclear strike and the never-ending TV plays about the coming annihilation of Western civilisation.
I recall later how the warnings of Luddite doomsayers and environmentalists told us how we must reverse population growth before we all fought over ever-scarcer resources and experienced huge famines and an unfathomable number of deaths.
Much as I feared these warnings I did not turn to the concepts of World Government, international socialism, or multinational corporatism – rather, I abhorred them. Thanks to Orwell’s 1984 that I read at an early age, and works by Joseph, Hayek and Friedman I rejected the idea of continental power blocs and collectivist or state controls and favoured the indivisibility of individual freedom as expounded by our own Scottish enlightenment.
I have never regretted that choice for I believe it has both a moral and utilitarian case that cannot be overcome by those that believe they know better than everyone else and must impose their will and rob us of our property – be it intellectual or material. Instead I believed man’s own inventiveness, being allowed to blossom freely, would save us from such threats.
Without cynicism I can consider what has worked and what has not and I can see that the single greatest threat to mankind has not been ourselves by polluting what we have – although this danger will always need care and attention; it has not been man’s religious bigotry and prejudice – although, through jihadism this remains this remains a peril we must be fully prepared to defeat; no, it has been the hundred million (plus) deaths caused by collectivist rule that so often started as modest democratic socialist governments and then descended into full-blooded socialist revolutions and bloody chaos.
The deaths through needless wars, the intentional starvation of whole peoples and the executions of those who resisted – that lie at the door of collectivism in its many forms – including communism, fascism and national socialism – cannot be denied. By comparison we can see that over the last 60 years – as Western open societies based upon individual rights with governments tempered by democracy have been replicated – we can see more people have been fed, more have found improved living standards, more have survived childbirth and lived longer than before, more have been able to raise their families in peace, security and with real prospects to pass to their success – and more have been able to live their lives to their full potential, using their human creativity to develop even more opportunities for those that follow them.
Yet when we in Scotland have turned to collectivism – as we so often do through more regulations, more progressive notions that rob us of our lifestyle choices; or more taxes to finance schemes that only legal force can make possible – we have found our country falls behind the positive trends of the rest of the world.
Our economy grows slower, causing hardship, poverty and unrest; our children’s literacy and numeracy falls behind where it was even in my own youth in countries with less wealth and weaker institutions; and our healthcare, housing, transport – among other services we take for granted – compare poorly with emerging nations.
Brexit is not an existential threat to Scotland or the UK – it is the collectivist economics and social controls that would come from a Corbyn-led government that would deliver Venezuela in a Union flag – or Sturgeon’s independence that would bring Venezuela in a Saltire.
Fortunately, despite the doomsayers and scaremongers the evidence tells us the world is getting better for more people. All Scotland needs to do is stay on the side of individual liberty and 2018 can be a Guid New year.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org