Independence is not about Identity

by Elias Blum

The esteemed constitutional expert Prof. Vernon Bogdanor has said that if Scotland becomes independent it will be ‘declaring that British and Scottish identities are incompatible’.

I cannot agree with Bogdanor’s assessment. After independence, Scotland will continue to form the northern third of the landmass of Great Britain. It will continue to have close cultural, social, economic and family ties with the rest of the British Isles, and will continue to co-operate freely with the other jurisdictions of the British Isles through the British-Irish Council (the secretariat of which is already based in Edinburgh).

No doubt there would, as a matter of pragmatic convenience, be shared services in some areas – paid for jointly by the governments north and south of the border under mutually agreed contractual arrangements. The reciprocal arrangements with regard to freedom of travel and dual citizenship which have existed between the UK and Ireland would also be applied, on the same terms, to an independent Scotland.

Moreover, Scotland will continue to be a member of that most British of institutions, the Commonwealth, and will play its part in the development of a family of nations dedicated to the principles of the Commonwealth Charter. Perhaps most importantly, it will continue to maintain (with its own, low-key, distinctly Scottish twist) the traditions of Parliamentary democracy that are shared from Nova Scotia to New South Wales.

On a symbolic level, Scotland and England, together with sixteen other independent nations around the world, will continue to share the same monarch as Head of State (although, with a modern written Constitution in place, the Queen of Scots would have a very narrowly defined ‘ceremonial-only’ role, and much of the pomp and flummery could be done away with).

This is what the Scottish Government and the Yes campaign mean when they speak of replacing the political union with a ‘social union’.

Besides, national identity does not depend solely on state institutions. Nationhood is bigger and more slippery than that. If a majority of Scots have been able to be  ‘both Scottish and British’ for three centuries within a British State, no doubt the same Scots can continue being both Scottish and British within a Scottish State. If in the past a distinct legal system, educational system, national church, and elements of distinct national musical, literary and creative culture, could keep Scottish identity alive and vibrant within the UK, then in the future this social union can keep British identity alive and vibrant, for those who wish to maintain it, within a Scottish State.

The case for independence, then, does not rest upon anti-English, or even anti-British, sentiment. Those who comfortably identify as ‘both Scottish and British’ need not separate or surrender these overlapping identities in voting YES  to bring government home to Scotland.

Instead, the case for independence rests on the prospect of better government. Independence means simply that we will no longer be governed from Westminster, in the interests of the City of London and the South East of England. It means that we will not get Tory governments we did not vote for, or red-rosette crypto-tory governments having to pander to southern voters. Independence means we will have our own democratic Scottish State, which better represents the people, is more responsive to public demands, and more interested in the common good of the people of Scotland. This, in turn, means that we have an opportunity to pursue the economic, social and environmental policies that will help us to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

This sort of renewal can only be achieved in a Scottish State. Westminster and Whitehall, as we have all seen, are too big, too inflexible, too proud, and too old, to change their ways. Only by having a Scottish State can we bring responsibility, democracy and accountability to the way Scotland is governed; if nothing else, independence will end the stagnation of Scottish politics, forcing the Labour Party in Scotland to take responsibility, to recover its principles, and to present itself as an active opposition and future party of government (and that in itself is good reason for any ‘Scottish-and-British’ left-of-centre voter to vote Yes in 2014).

A Yes vote in the independence referendum is not a vote for Alex Salmond, for the SNP, or for nationalism. It is not a vote to change your national identity. It’s a vote for a new state: a better state; a more democratic state; a state that looks like us and cares about us.

What’s not to like?