Friday, May 20, 2011

Scotland’s Future: where is the popular debate?

It has been more than 300 years since Scotland lost its autonomy through a small band of self-seeking “rogues” – where no other Scot had a say in the matter. The progeny of these rogues are those who are demanding the SNP hold their referendum now! I believe the argument about whether or not Scotland has a referendum on independence in 2011 is actually irrelevant at this time; as irrelevant as the pockled 1979 referendum on the Scotland Act 1978 which can be dismissed as the farce it was.
Politicians talk as if they have their fingers on the pulse of Scottish opinion; if they do it would be a first. Polls over time on the subject ebb and flow highlighting opinion in flux, therefore, I believe that no generation should decide the fate of their nation on what may be fashionable or simply convenient at the time – that is not to say that they should not ever make such a decision.
In 1707, no-one of power in Scotland cared what the majority of Scots opinions were on the matter and in 2011 the situation remains pretty much the same, public opinion is to be manipulated to whatever end each political party wants – recent European referendums are testimony to that. In Scotland there is a growing belief among some that a referendum will settle the matter of union or independence; that Scots will have made their thoughts and feeling known; that a manufactured short-term debate will convince the unsure one way or the other. As things stand it cannot, for the true feelings and thoughts of Scots cannot be known by such a short debate ending with yea or nay answers to questions which will contain only choices created by small groups of people, and which will be coloured by their personal agendas – these are no choices at all.
Never at any time have we, the Scottish people, been truly asked what it is we want for Scotland, what future we see for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. These are questions we must ask of ourselves and discuss. The broad open questions on the future of Scotland have never really been discussed in a long-term popular debate. Where were the cultural stories in previous referendums in Scotland, Great Britain and in Europe? They were not there, for there is no place for such things in ephemeral political debate, yet they are crucial to the popular decision-making process especially when national and cultural identities are at stake.
There are times when we need to remind ourselves who we are and where we come from especially when making decisions that will affect the future of ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours, and of all who will come after us. Reviewing and re-interpreting our personal and community narratives is vital as it helps us to grow as individuals and as members of our communities.
It is important to understand that our cultural stories, and personal narratives, though they may shape how we think and behave, are not static. We live in a world that is constantly changing and, therefore, we need to revisit them and make honest and critical reviews in order to create important change within ourselves so that we do not surrender to expediency at times of crucial personal or community decision-making.
As individuals we may know what we want for ourselves, but do we truly know what our family, friends or neighbours want and need; if we came to understand what they wanted, and the reasons why, would it affect or change our own view? Until proper debate is held we may never know, but a well-informed populace is anathema to vested, short-term, interest, and that is the major point of this argument. If cultural stories and narratives are missing in major public decision-making, how can the decision come to be correct for the long-term benefit of any community or society?
As far as independence for Scotland is concerned, it appears that there is no absolute desire one way or the other; no huge popular demonstrations of demand for autonomy such as we have seen in other countries. I say referendums should be put aside for now and that we begin a real debate on the future of Scotland; one where all the people of Scotland own the debate and where they set the agenda and, consequently, the questions for any referendum. The debate should be in our homes, schools, offices/workplaces, on the streets and in community halls across the country. This process could take a while, but it has been over 300 years since Scotland was sold off, so we can wait a little longer.
When it is over then we, the Scottish electorate, will be much better placed to decide our own future; to set the agenda for change and not simply to react to choices provided by someone else. The future of our Nation is far too important for it to be finally and irrevocably set by self-serving powers sitting in offices in Edinburgh and London, or by the influence of foreign media moguls.
I am in favour of an independent Scotland, but for the sake of future generations of Scots whatever is decided must be the true settled will of the people, and not simply what was expedient at the time.

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