Scottish independence: Writing Scottish referendum history

Ian Rankin
Image caption Ian Rankin has been voted Scotland's favourite writer of all time - but how can the thoughts of the nation's scribes apply to the referendum campaign?

The votes are in, the verdict is known. No, not the referendum. I refer to the ballot which chose Ian Rankin as Scotland's favourite writer of all time.

Now I yield to no-one in my admiration for the sage of Fife. Indeed, I possess all of his novels.

His narrative technique is adept, his wit droll, his characterisation deep and thoughtful. He is one fine scribe.

Perhaps, however, one or two others might merit a mention. Robert Burns? RLS? Lewis Grassic.

Gibbon? George Douglas Brown? Neil Gunn? Iain Banks? AL Kennedy? Liz Lochhead?

Let us also never forget Sir Walter Scott. The author of Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian repays inspection, even if some wrongly regard him as "difficult" or arcane. For my purposes today, consider a stanza from his poetry.

"Breathes there the man with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land."

Reflect upon how these lines do and do not apply to the referendum campaign.

They do in that a sense of Scottish identity and patriotism lies in the historic roots of the movement for self-government.

That sense created the SNP, obliged Labour and the Liberal Democrats to respond with devolution - and all but obliterated the Scottish Conservatives as they chose a different path.

But, equally, Scott's words do not apply to the immediate campaign in that a sense of Scottish identity is common to those who would vote "Yes" and those who would vote "No".

It is a given in contemporary Scotland. It is not confined to Nationalists. The default identity is Scottish, albeit often blended with a sense of being British too.

Further, the SNP and the wider Yes Scotland movement disavow identity as a factor, understandably determined to avoid being wrongly depicted as ethnic nationalists.

They prefer to proclaim the economic advantages which they diagnose in independence.

However, unless we are to have a world government, states must be created and sustained.

Those states are forged from a blend of geography, history, language, conflict, accident and political manipulation.

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Media captionWith 100 days to go until the referendum, Brian spent the day in Dundee meeting voters

If they are to persist, they generally also require a sense of commonality between the citizens.

It will not be universal, it will come under constant strain - but, ideally, there will be a sense that the people comprising a state are working together in a common interest.

With 100 days of campaigning to go, the choice facing the people of Scotland - all the varied and different people of Scotland - is whether that perceived common interest is best pursued within the existing Union or within an independent Scotland.

Most obviously, that is an economic argument, often with a decidedly micro tinge.

People are, quite reasonably, concerned to protect their household incomes.

Pensioners fret about pensions; employees worry about jobs; traders ponder trade; the public sector contemplates public spending; the young gaze to the future.

That is where the contest lies in these one hundred concluding days - as it has from the outset.

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Image caption The opposing campaigns for independence and the Union will be putting their arguments to voters
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While stressing positive support for the Union, Better Together will be out to emphasise the threats and challenges which they associate with independence while Yes Scotland will be out to stress the potential gains. Doubt and reassurance.

Consider too the underlying nature of the independence offer. Nationalist movements elsewhere are frequently founded on flight, perhaps shrugging off an external autocrat, perhaps resisting an internal despot.

The offer in Scotland is of a different nature. Scotland is already a mature, relatively prosperous western democracy.

The contention by supporters of independence is broadly three fold: that there is a pre-existing natural community for a nation state in Scotland, founded upon commonality; that such a state could thrive economically while co-operating with neighbours, primarily England, through trade, currency and shared monarchy; and that such a state could enhance social justice and equity.

The response from the advocates of Union is that Scotland can have substantial autonomy while remaining within the wider polity and tax base of the UK; that it would be folly to unpick existing institutions such as the Bank of England, only to recreate them; and that Scotland can use her existing powers to pursue social justice while participating in UK decision-making.

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Image caption How close is the idea of Scottish identity put forward by writers like Sir Walter Scott to the independence debate?

The many issues which have arisen during the long campaign thus far are broadly subsets of those two competing contentions: that Scotland's interests are better served by the Union or independence.

With regard to the European Union, there is a dispute about the process by which Scotland might join.

But there is also a wider argument about whether Scotland's interests are better protected as a small member state or as part of a bigger nation, with proclaimed clout.

Do you relish the Big Stick of the UK or do you question whether it has always been deployed in Scotland's interests?

With regard to Nato, there is also the issue of process. But there are also bigger questions.

Does this form of military co-operation with allies serve Scotland's interests?

Or, within the independence offer, does it bring into question another factor, that of removing nuclear weapons from Scotland?

Would defence jobs be imperilled or protected, perhaps with diversification?

On the currency, would the remainder of the UK refuse to sign up to an agreement to operate a sterling zone? Or is it, as Scottish Ministers insist, "bluff and bluster" in that the interests of both rUk and Scotland would be served by a deal?

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Image caption Issues like oil will play a central role in the final period of campaigning

On oil, whose estimates do you believe? Then the various offers of more Holyrood powers from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Are they credible or not?

Then broadcasting, energy, pensions, welfare, childcare and much more. Then sectoral interests. Will women remain seemingly more sceptical about independence? Can the young be persuaded?

Above all, though, the economy. The personal economy, the broad economy.

Most fundamentally, where do the prospects for growth lie?

Stand by for 100 days of economic emphasis, each side underlining their competing claims. Then the people of Scotland, the varied, disparate people of Scotland, will choose.

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