Six months, then, until the referendum on Scottish separatism.
Until now, I’ve said little or nothing about this in any public forum. I’ve felt uneasy about my part-time position as a broadcaster on BBC Radio Scotland, where, three late-nights a week, I’m a DJ, committed to playing new and old Scottish rock, pop and folk, set in a broader context of the best in worldwide music. Would stating my opinion alienate some of our small band of listeners? Would it call into question the much-discussed ‘objectivity of the BBC’?
But there has been, and never will be, any political discussion on Morton Through Midnight. Not on air, and not on its dedicated social media feeds or the website. This? This is personal. And too important to ignore.
I don’t work as a journalist for the BBC.
Also, several of my colleagues in music presentation have made their opinions extremely public. So I thought I would too.
Just to be completely open: I’m a scuffling freelance hack, not on any personal contract with the BBC, paid by the independent production company which makes MTM. The rest of the time I write, books and PR, including professional social media and blogging on the energy sector for the organisation Promote Shetland. I edit the magazine Shetland Life, a monthly for the community in which I live, the Shetland Islands. The radio show is mostly broadcast from a small studio in my home there. I write about whisky and have a live musical show called The Malt and Barley Revue.
I’m a not-uncritical member of the Labour Party. My wife is deputy chair of the local branch. I love Scotland, celebrate Scottish culture, have spent my entire life here (apart from the first year, after being born in Carlisle. That’s in England, by the way). Just as you don’t have to wear a kilt to prove you’re Scottish (in Phil Cunningham’s immortal phrase, ‘I don’t have to dress up as a Scotsman’). You don’t have to be a nationalist to be proudly Scottish. Even if you were born in Carlisle.
I think, and have always thought, that at its core nationalism, and not just Scottish nationalism, is a dangerous romantic delusion. On its own, it’s devoid of moral value. You have to harness nationalism to other concepts - oppression by a foreign state or interests, human rights - to bring a reactive morality into it. Otherwise, history teaches that nationalism is either a distraction, an entertainment, as at sporting events, or a very dangerous force that can pull communities into anger, blame, bigotry, violence, warfare and death.
In today’s United Kingdom nationalism is essentially divisive and distracting, sucking up energy and resources as the ordinary people of Britain face economic and social crisis, and the poor from Unst to Uttoxeter go hungry. A Britain presided over by a Tory government based on the ruthless pursuit of privilege, propped up by a completely and sadly discredited Liberal Democrat party.
I believe the poor in Carlisle, Newcastle, Norwich and elsewhere deserve better than being eternally condemned to Tory rule. And that is the utterly selfish promise to the people of England made by a separate Scotland.
Nationalism generally, the SNP in particular, has used whatever political cause it can adopt, adapted to its own ends. The SNP, its present profile formed out of disillusion with the Tories and with its heartlands in former Tory strongholds, has re-invented itself as the supposed haven for the ‘centre left’ in Scotland. A separate Scotland would divest itself of Toryism, they say, reflecting the country’s essential ‘socialist identity’. And, divided from England, Scotland would be, on a Scandinavian model, a social democracy where equality, oil-funded economic growth and glorious tartan fraternity would rule.
But nationalism, as I’ve said, is essentially value-free. It’s based on emotive concepts such as ‘the right of a nation to establish its own destiny’. Braveheart words with the bruising echo of boots on faces. Nationalism is about flags and tunes, swelling hearts and marching feet. All the rest is stolen. Ideas ripped off for the sake of achieving an end whose entire moral worth, in Scotland, seems to be based on the reactive notion that ‘We’re better than the English.’
Some on the non-nationalist left have abandoned solidarity with their southland brothers and sisters, believing the nationalist untruth that socialism would rule in ‘New Caledonia’. They see a chance to wield power, at least on a personal level. This is, like so much else in politics, a blinkered reading of history.
With the death of the SNP in any separate Scotland, I believe we would inevitably see the revival of Scottish Toryism . And with the promise of eternal Conservatism in England, along with the SNP’s back-of-an-envelope currency model giving essential last-word control over Scotland’s economy to the Bank of England, Scotland would still be in thrall to the Old Etonians (and their state-educated fellow-travellers) of London.
And there will be no way back.
No way back for those whose public service pensions will be - at the very least - cut, perhaps lost. No way back for those of us whose families are scattered across England. No way back for those who see their comfortable delusion of ‘socialist Scotland’ founder amid business downturn, oil uncertainty, currency upheaval and inept, self-serving, sentiment-blinded leadership. Oh, and greedy, ruthless investors from around the world keen to divide up what spoils they can tear out of the ruined remnant of a nation.
Britain is a small country. Brutal dismemberment seems horribly wrong. Invoking the strident and historically dangerous emotions of nationalism in any context save the gross exploitation and oppression of a people is foolish in the extreme. And Scotland is not oppressed and exploited by the English. It is exploited and oppressed by the forces of greed and selfishness, the forces of multinational business, the forces of gangsterism, bigotry and sectarian strife. The same basic array of evil faced throughout the UK and beyond.
So I will vote no. No to division, no to separation, no to blind, stupid or deluded, bullying and bitter emotionalism. Put simply, I want greater equality and the alleviation of poverty throughout the UK. And for greater control of our affairs in Shetland, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England.
I believe the majority of proud Scots want to remain part of the United Kingdom. We must make that plain when we vote in September. We do not want to be railroaded by a minority into the murky uncertainties and empty promises paraded by the SNP. It’s not enough to sit on the fence. It’s not enough to keep quiet.
So it’s a thoroughly Scottish ‘no’ from me. No to separatism. No to division. And an end to this monumental and corrupting distraction from the central moral and political issues we face.