Saturday 8 October 2016

Gone, gone the damage done

There is a reason I’ve been writing so much since the EU referendum and with perhaps a higher intensity than before. I returned from holiday in early July only to find one of my friends and colleagues in absolute bits. I remember that whole period of uncertainty leading up to the EU referendum as a time of stress. I disliked the campaign that both sides were running. Remain ran Project Fear Two, which is why they lost and deserved to lose. But I thought some of the claims made by Leave were clearly ludicrous. I don’t expect the NHS to get much more money because we are leaving the EU. But then I don’t think the NHS should get more money. The problem with health in the UK is not lack of money. If you give the NHS more money it will go on inflated salaries for doctors, who now think they should be paid as if they were merchant bankers. It will go on administration and it will go on waste. We have a health service with a methodology from the 1940s and an ideology that has been discredited the world over. Is it really a surprise that it doesn’t work? Socialism doesn’t work and nor does socialised medicine.

I came out on the Leave side of the argument. This has partly to do with my contrariness. I have always been a Tory because in part it was so much more fun being a Tory in the 1980s when absolutely everyone I met just loathed Margaret Thatcher. Well this time around the whole establishment plus nearly all the academics, plus nearly all the students thought that voting to leave the EU was not only thick, but vulgar. This is especially the case in Scotland. So naturally I looked at the arguments and found myself coming down more and more in favour of Leave. Perhaps I will be proved wrong. No-one can predict the future. But I have not been proved wrong yet. My side keeps winning the referendums. Long may this continue. 

But have you noticed something. Britain is healing from the wound that was inflicted by the EU referendum. Most people have moved on. There is some debate about what sort of Brexit we should go for. But for the most part disappointed Remainers have come to terms with losing and are working with Leavers to help create a better Britain. Compare and contrast with Scotland.

My friend had along with the rest of us suffered a great deal of stress due to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. In the course of the next couple of years she became ever more worried about the downturn in Aberdeen. Her husband works in the oil industry. On top of this she was concerned about the economic consequences if the UK left the EU. What would happen to her investments? What would happen to house prices? The result of the EU referendum was a shock. I certainly didn’t expect Leave to win. I don’t think anyone much expected that. The polls got it wrong, the betting got it wrong, the markets got it wrong. But you know what she was fine. She was absolutely fine until the Scottish nationalists started making threats.

Suddenly Nicola Sturgeon was continually on television adding to the uncertainty. She was stirring up trouble, plotting away. It was too much. All of the memories of the independence referendum came back and my friend found it tough to take. She had something of a nervous collapse and had to have a couple of weeks off work. It wasn’t Brexit that caused this, it was Scottish nationalism.  

I was reasonably relaxed about the result of the EU referendum. Whatever happened I would not lose my country. But if the SNP ever won an independence referendum I would be homeless. The UK is my home and the UK would cease to exist if Scotland became independent.

It is for this reason that I write as I do. This is personal. I have seen the damage that Scottish nationalism does to Scottish lives. The SNP have kept us all in a state of permanent tension. Who can really relax when our country is continually threatened with destruction? Some deal with this stress by writing and by fighting back against the threat. Others find they don’t have this outlet and crack.

I don’t think there is quite this sense of trauma among the Scottish nationalists, though who can tell. I am fortunate in that I don't actually know any Scottish nationalists.  Until around twenty years ago, almost no-one in Scotland expected that there would ever be an independent Scotland. The only party that supported this was tiny and hardly got any votes. It is hardly then traumatic to remain in the country you were born in and to retain the citizenship you’ve always had.

I accept that there was great disappointment on the part of the Yes side. They came closer than they thought they would and for a moment believed that they had a chance, but when they lost they returned to the world they had always known.

But look what the campaign did. This is why it has been so damaging for both sides. Many Scottish nationalists have ceased to have any feeling whatsoever for the UK. Many of them are openly hostile to Britain and want nothing whatsoever to do with being British. They see themselves now as exclusively Scottish. It is for this reason that they get so worked up about flags on packets of strawberries. But we do continue to live in the UK. We are British citizens whether we like it or not. To not feel something that you are is strange. It is like saying I am cold, but I don’t feel it. I don’t think this is so much trauma as dissociation from reality. A German person who hates Germany because he feels exclusively Bavarian is rare indeed. A Catalan who hates Spain is more common. But the truth is that the Bavarian is a German and the Catalan is Spanish. Look at your passport if you are in doubt about this matter. So there is an element of self-denial even hatred of self in the response of Scottish nationalists. I don’t know how they feel about this. Perhaps some of them do indeed find it traumatic. Then again they all maintain how they found 2014 so joyful. So if it is a trauma it is a hidden and rather repressed trauma. That might explain quite a lot.

From the Pro UK point of view things have turned out to be rather different. When I began campaigning I emphasised that I was both Scottish and British and that there was no contradiction in being both. I still think this. I was born in Scotland (not that this matters), I went to school here. I spoke the local dialect fluently. My favourite author has always been Walter Scott. I would wear Tartan from time to time and in a vague way thought that the Jacobite cause was just and that the Hanoverians were usurpers. What this means is that I took the Tory side of history. I felt mild patriotism about Scotland and still milder patriotism about Britain. I dislike flag waving. I dislike flags.

But look at the result of the campaign. This is what the SNP have destroyed. They have taken away our peace of mind. They have also diminished our sense of Scottishness. I don’t know if this is how all Pro UK Scots feel. I think some have been stronger than me and have fully retained their sense of Scottishness. But for me it has diminished and become a diminished thing. The SNP were successful. They won the battle over flags. Now the Saltire is their flag, the Union Jack is mine. Whenever I see a Saltire I think Scottish nationalist. If someone has one in their button hole or on their Twitter profile I immediately assume that they are a Scottish nationalist.

I would never now show any Scottish symbol. They are all lost to me. I would not wear a tartan skirt. I would not go to a ceilidh. I would not go to a Burns supper. I have lost my flag and I have lost a part of my identity. Of course I do not deny that I am Scottish. But I think of Scotland now as the equivalent of Aberdeenshire. I likewise do not deny that I am Aberdonian. But I don’t wear any symbols of Aberdeenshire. I fly no Aberdeenshire flags or wear a Dons strip while walking up Union Street. I rarely now speak Doric. I hardly know anyone who does. It is something from my childhood that is gradually being forgotten. I remember that time when there was no division in Scotland. When we were all just Scots and our identities had not been politicised. The independence referendum changed everything. Before the rise of Scottish nationalism I didn’t question Scotland’s being a country, but I followed through the logic of the argument. If Scotland was indeed a country in the normal sense of the word then it ought to be independent, so I was forced to conclude that Scotland was only called a country. Thank you SNP. Not only did you threaten the UK, you caused me to lose my sense of living in a country called Scotland. 

So I too in a way am in the position of denying myself and denying what I am. Of course I’m happy to say that I am Scottish. After all this is where I was born, this is where I am from, this is the language I can speak and the accent that I have. But it is not something I anymore will ever emphasise. I would put North Britain on my letters if I ever posted any letters anymore. 

We have gone through too much in the last few years in Scotland. Not everyone feels it at all. The Scottish nationalists think of these years as a triumph of democracy and popular engagement with politics. The joy of it that Scotland has not been so divided since the Covenanters. But the Scottish nationalists are no closer to winning. In fact they may be further away. What happens when this mass movement actually realises this fact. How do you reconcile yourself to being British forever when you hate Britain?

The trauma on the part of the Pro UK person is I think greater. We thought for a moment that we would lose our country. We were at no point in the UK’s history closer to doing so than on that September night in 2014. I would rather lose a war than lose my country. And then we had no victory. All sorts of reasons can be given for this. Perhaps the upsurge in SNP popularity was simply because people thought something was possible now that previously they had thought to be impossible. The campaign for independence created a desire for independence that had never been there before. This was David Cameron's mistake. He should never have allowed the vote. But then we should never have created the Scottish Parliament. We should never have made concessions to Scottish nationalism by granting it ever more power. We are where we are. Neither side is happy. But neither side can win. Whatever happens Scotland is divided. Perhaps now we are divided for ever. I used to say that the only solution to the problems of the Soviet Union is to leave. Perhaps the same can be said for Scotland or perhaps we have already reached peak nationalism and now it is already in decline. We shall see. But I think it has become a frozen conflict. No solution is possible, but no peace either. It begins to be pointless even to write about such things. 

But the SNP should be made aware of the damage that they are doing. Neil Young once wrote “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done”. Well when I visited my friend who was struggling mentally because of what Nicola Sturgeon kept threatening I could say I’ve seen the SNP and the damage done. How many people in Scotland have been left traumatised by this never-ending struggle that we are doomed to fight continuously without a chance of reconciliation? How many of us have lost something precious “Gone, gone, the damage done.”