12 January 2014 Edition
All to play for this year
Scottish Independence Referendum, 18 September 2014
At this stage, the ‘Don’t Knows’ have the result in their grasp. Consequently, the ‘Yes’ campaign see it as all to play for
NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS are very common across the world. Within these islands, no one does the New Year thing quite like the Scots.
In an age of branding and marketing it is one of fair Caledonia’s unique selling propositions. I’m a veteran of quite a few Scottish New Years. In my early adulthood as a non-drinker, I looked on a bit bemused in Glasgow as ‘The Bells’ rang at New Year, wondering precisely what was ‘new’ about any of it.
This New Year in Scotland, however, could really be a new beginning. In 2014, the people of Scotland have an opportunity to make the biggest geo-political change in these islands since Mick Collins sat across the table from Lord Birkenhead and David Lloyd George in London. Thankfully, in Scotland there has been no conflict and politics have, mercifully, remained demilitarised. There has been no need to take the gun out of Scottish politics because it was never there in the first place.
As I look on from my vantage point in a Border county, as a Glaswegian and an Irish citizen, I think that the Scots of this historical moment are blessed. They have the choice simply to vote to establish their own national self-determination. We republicans know that Westminster steadfastly refused to grant that same right to Ireland despite being asked persistently for it by the vast majority of elected representatives from this island.
Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond’s view was that once Scots had a taste of home rule (devolution), limited self-government within the aegis of Westminster wouldn’t be enough for them. Give people a little freedom and they often want more. Ultimately they want it all. That isn’t something that is unique to the Irish or the Scots – it is human.
2014 will be the year of the referendum debate and in late 2013 the Scottish government launched its White Paper on independence. The early rounds were clearly won by the ‘Yes’ side. Not only is the Scottish National Party on that side, there is also the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, groups such as ‘Labour Voters for Independence’ and Radical Independence, and numerous well-known figures from the world of the arts and culture.
The ‘No’ side – under the banner ‘Better Together’ – is fronted by the Labour Party’s Finance Minister from 2007 to 2010, Alistair Darling, a nice man who has undergone a complete charisma bypass and had his personality amputated at some point in the past. All the main Westminster parties oppose Scottish independence and Alistair is their darling.
Think of Gay Mitchell’s shot at the Park without the, ahem, deft media handling that assisted the Blueshirt and you get the idea. It really is that bad. The ‘Yes’ side are trouncing them in the debate. The polls still say that the ‘No’ side will win but by how much is the question.
If the ‘Yes’ vote is, say, 43% or 44% then the Scottish question isn’t settled by a long way. What the ‘No’ campaign fears most of all at present is to enter into ‘neverendum’ territory, but a resounding victory for the Better Together side would settle this issue for a generation or more. A recent opinion poll put the gap between the two sides as only 9%.
This is the first time that a poll has shown the gap to have reduced to single figures and, at this stage, the ‘Don’t Knows’ have the result in their grasp. Consequently, the ‘Yes’ campaign see it as all to play for.
Although the decision is for the Scottish people and for them alone it is correct that all the countries and communities of these islands should be interested in the debate and the outcome. What Scotland decides in 2014 will impact on all of us in this archipelago and beyond into the rest of Europe.
The ‘Fleg folk’ in the North of Ireland look on in horror as the consent principle is applied to the ancestral homeland of Ulster Scots; the rest of the people on the island of Ireland will instinctively get that it is a natural human yearning to be in charge of your own affairs and will wish the Scots well. I know I do.
• Phil Mac Giolla Bháin was a Constituency Organiser for the Scottish National Party in the East End of Glasgow during the 1987 general election.