With the Scottish independence referendum only days away, journalist and university lecturer Neil Macfarlane explains why he would vote yes. And why he thinks you would too
I’m a Scot who lives in the North-East. There are loads of us – chuck a paper aeroplane out your front window and you’ll probably hit one. I’ve lived happily here for years, but it won’t surprise those who know me that I would like Scotland to vote yes to independence next week.
I hope this happens because I don’t think the three main Westminster parties represent my politics any more. I like the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons, of universal education, and I worry about the future of the NHS and the welfare state.
I think it’s sensible to increase immigration to help reverse decades of emigration by Scots like me and my family. I feel uncomfortable about parties of all stripes blaming foreigners and the poor for all problems.
I think the UK government and media is too focused on London. I think many people in the North-East feel the same about these issues.
I don’t know for sure if an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer but I do think it would be governed by people with its interests at heart. I like England and English people very much and I don’t think Braveheart is a good film.
Thatcher remains the longest serving Prime Minister of my lifetime, yet she was repeatedly rejected by the people of Scotland at the polls. When our teachers taught us about democracy, and how generations had fought and died to preserve it, something didn’t fit.
By the way, feel free to swap “Scotland” in the paragraph above for “Middlesbrough“, “Sedgefield“, Sunderland” or “Bishop Auckland“.
Pretty much all of this applies to the North-East, too. Sometimes people dismiss the independence movement by asking if there should also be separation for the North-East, for Manchester, or Liverpool.
Personally, I don’t see why not – if that’s what the people want. But the argument misunderstands what Scotland is. It is not a region of a country. It is its own country and always has been.
The United Kingdom only came into being 300 years ago as an agreement between two nations to form an alliance. Scotland was not conquered. Its remarkable achievements in science, philosophy, engineering, literature and statecraft had been established for centuries before 1707, and that spirit later combined with the same from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make the union thrive.
This time last year most Scots liked the idea of the UK being a partnership of equals, and a sizable majority were happy enough to keep it that way. That has now changed.
The No campaign has been horrendously misjudged. Scots always believed they could be independent, but most doubted if they should. The Conservative-Labour-Lib Dem Better Together campaign then set about claiming that Scotland would collapse into disarray if left to its own devices. The campaign was dubbed “Project Fear” – by the No camp themselves.
Scots were told: You can’t keep the pound, you can’t stay in the EU, your aspirations are pipe dreams and we’ll rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to keep you out when it all goes wrong.
Their latest effort was billboards claiming: “Vote no if you love your children.” The polls are at 50:50, are they saying half the people in Scotland hate their kids? It’s so long since the Scots heard the positive case for the union, they’re beginning to suspect there isn’t one.
In the face of this onslaught, the Yes campaign has flourished. Grassroots activists have packed out town halls across the country making their case, bloggers have amassed followings to make newspaper editors cry with envy.
People who have never voted are being helped to register, and volunteers are putting on buses to give them a lift on polling day. Discussion on social media is dominated by funny, spiky, imaginative Yes voters.
There are touring arts festivals. Millions have been inspired by the idea that Scotland could become a fairer, more successful country, and by the promise of progressive policies that would never be offered by three Westminster parties all fighting over the same ground.
This isn’t petty nationalism. It is an inclusive movement. Every resident will be given a Scottish passport on day one of independence. One of the most high profile campaign groups is English Scots for Yes, who give away teabags branded: “Have a cuppa, vote yes.” There are groups for African Scots, Italian Scots,Polish Scots. I am proud of the fact I don’t get a vote but those who live in Scotland do, regardless of where they were born.
It’s even spreading beyond the border. A recent poll showed an even higher proportion of people in the North-East back Scottish independence. I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have asked: “Can we come too?“
The response to all of this has been a wishy-washy offer of more powers for the Scottish parliament, without saying exactly what those powers might be. This was George Osborne’s first intervention since he announced Scotland couldn’t keep the pound – a move which actually caused an increase in support for independence. At this point, the Chancellor could knock on every door in Scotland offering a free carwash, foot rub and £1000 cash and the polls would still rise for Yes.
While the SNP published a manifesto for Scotland’s future a year ago, Labour and the Tories are now trying to scramble a response with only days to go. Why not before now? Perhaps because they weren’t listening, because it’s too far away, because there are too few voters… because it was never a priority for them.
It’s a feeling the Scots, and we in the North-East, know all too well.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Sept 2014
Alex Salmond has raised the prospect of Newcastle teaming up with Glasgow and Edinburgh to form an “economic powerhouse” pushing for influence.
The Scottish First Minister told an audience in New York that while he has “no territorial ambitions” on Northumberland or the North East, he does see the sense in teaming up with the region on issues such as High Speed Rail.
Mr Salmond said that plans to build the new railway line from London up to the North showed the bias in the UK, and questioned why the line could not be built from North to South instead, joining up major Northern and Scottish cities along the way.
That transport focus prompted one North East MP to last night call on the First Minister to “put his money where his mouth is” on dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle and through Scotland.
Speaking at an event organised by US paper the Wall Street Journal, Mr Salmond said: “I have no territorial demands but we have encouraged a borderlands initiative, about economic cooperation between the North of England and Scotland.
“The North East and the North West get the hind end of just about everything, the worst deal.
“We have a parliament in Scotland we have our own economic initiatives, that’s not the case for the North of England.
“What sort of initiatives could we have? Well, transport for a start. Fast rail is coming, the greatest misnomer of all time, fast rail in the UK means something that will take 40 years to build.
“But the important point is that it is being built from south to north. It would be a rather interesting concept to see it built from north to south, the advantages there of the combinations of the great city conurbations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and for example Newcastle, which would present an interesting economic powerhouse.
“So cooperation doesn’t depend on territorial ambitions.”
Hexham MP Guy Opperman, a campaigner in the Better Together group, said: “All of us would welcome any action by the Scottish Government to improve transport links from Edinburgh to the North East, whether that is dualling the A1 north of the border or a commitment to High Speed rail from Edinburgh to Newcastle.
“But I would urge Mr Salmond to put his money where his mouth is.”
In Newcastle, council leader Nick Forbes has already met with Alex Salmond in Newcastle to discuss High Speed Rail, alongside visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow councils.
He said: “I strongly believe that the North East needs to be around the table discussing how we get the best deal for the region after the referendum.
“The Borderlands initiative shows we’re working closely with Scotland on a range of issues, and it is interesting to hear how much Scotland values its links with cities like Newcastle. It’s not all just about London.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 12 April 2014