Preface by Pete Reid: Matthew is the owner of Song, By Toad Records and author of the Song, By Toad blog. He is also a good friend and I respect his opinion on most subjects, even music. Here, he writes a long, detailed, and sweary explanation of his voting intentions for Thursday.
[Advance warning by Matthew: this is too long, and if you can’t be fucked, don’t read it. I am not adding anything new to the debate, I’m just another idiot parping out their own opinion for no better reason than, I suppose, a bit of vanity. Don’t feel compelled to indulge me.]
I know no-one really cares what I think, but fuck it, I think this is how democracy is supposed to work these days. People voice their opinions on the internet, read what a wide variety of people have to say and then decide which bits they do and do not agree with. Besides, I quite like the idea of nailing one’s colours to the mast when it comes to this kind of thing. It’s a pretty important question, after all, given that between the record label and Mrs. Toad’s job, we are probably now committed to spending the rest of our lives in Scotland.
Of course, I am not talking about the views of anyone on the label, which are fairly mixed I think, if perhaps vaguely Yes-leaning, but they are the business of the artists themselves and if you’re interested then you’ll have to ask them. I speak just for myself.
This could get long, like all the articles on this subject, but I’ll try and break it down into chunks so you can skim or skip entirely, depending on which arguments you can and cannot be bothered seeing re-hashed on the internet for the millionth fucking time. I think one of the reasons I am writing this is that I see it as a genuinely difficult decision and, for all once you’ve decided, you really have decided and there’s no going back, anyone who thinks it’s really simple one way or the other is just not thinking straight, whether because of ideology or simple rose-tinted excitement.
But it’s not simple. I don’t think any of the Yes arguments are as straight-forwardly compelling as a lot of the people making them seem to think they are, and I certainly don’t think any of the dire No warnings are all that realistic either. It’s muddy. It’s politics, and it’s people, and people are weird, unpredictable, vain, selfish and stupid as much as we can be generous, noble or compassionate. All of us are, in one sense or another, and that’s the country we will inevitably get.
One of my favourite writers on these blurred and hypocritical distinctions has been David Weaver of Detour, actually, and he doesn’t write them on a blog, just on Facebook, but I have really appreciated his intelligent contribution to the debate, which I’ve found to be a truly admirable combination of political idealism, tempered by a very sensible appreciation of social reality.
Nationality and Patriotism
Okay, first things first, Scotland is not in any way special. I am a man without a real country of my own, so any kind of patriotism (or its very, very close cousin nationalism) gives me the fucking creeps. I have lived in and visited a large number of places in my life and was raised with people of every nationality and have never been anywhere without its areas of incredible natural beauty, stunning architecture, intellectual and cultural heroes or tales of great courage and love embraced by everyone in the nation as something to be proud of. I am not saying I don’t appreciate the awesome things about Scotland, because I do, but every country has those, and it doesn’t make us different.
In fact, to refer to the video at the top of the page, I am only voting for Scottish independence if our national anthem is “We come from Jebrovia, and we don’t give a shit”.
Okay, most people aren’t that dewey-eyed, but patriotism rears its head in other ways. It is generally the last place that racism is able to hide in otherwise normal people. Making positive judgements about someone just because of where they are from is just as wrong-headed as making negative ones, and for all the signs are good that Scotland will vote for fairer policies in a lot of key areas – education, healthcare, welfare – which I support, we may be in for a surprise about how selfish and mean-spirited we are prepared to be when we are pitted against ourselves instead of being pitted together against the ‘oppression’ of Westminster or the dominance of the South-East of England in British politics.
A Conquered Nation
There are some people who actually talk as if they are being oppressed by being a Scot living under the yoke of British rule. There is no need to really respond to so stupid an opinion all that seriously. Fuck off. And grow up. Scotland helped build the fucking Empire and sued for Union after the collapse of the Darien Venture. Plenty of Scots have held the British throne. Scots aristocracy were entirely complicit in most of the historic atrocities you can bring up and entirely responsible in others. It wasn’t about being Scottish or English, it was about the rapacious nature of the feudal system and the ruling classes treating the poor like livestock.
The English aristocrats did some utterly disgusting things, but the way a lot of Scots talk about it reminds me of the Americans and the Australians, where the English came over and slaughtered the local inhabitants and destroyed local culture, and the very second civilised rule of law descended upon a nation of mostly white people, and all the dirty work had been done, only then did they suddenly became American or Australian. Fuck off. It was brutal time and terrible things happened, there is no denying that, but pack in the sanctimonious hand-wringing.
Also, it was fucking years ago. And it had nothing to do with you.
If you seriously think you are being oppressed by living in a wealthy, white Western country at the beginning of the 21st Century, then you are not only a deluded idiot, but you are quite disgracefully insulting absolutely everyone in the world who either has lived under genuine oppression or who is still suffering it. There are many things to be unhappy about about the balance of British democratic representation, but get a sense of perspective, please.
The Cultural Divide
This one’s easy. There isn’t one. Culturally, the UK is one nation. There are huge differences, but they are within the respective populations of Scotland or Britain, not between them. Glasgow’s natural sister city in Britain is Manchester, not Dundee or Edinburgh or Inverness. Edinburgh itself has more in common with Bath or Cambridge than it does with anywhere in the UK with the possible exception of St. Andrews. And the landowners of the Borders or the Highlands have more common cause with their counterparts in the Home Counties than they do with an engineer in Aberdeen. When there are greater differences within populations than there are between them, you cannot make particularly meaningful generalisations about them and us anymore.
Where I do feel something of a divide exists, however, is in self-perceived identity. I moved to Glasgow to study in 1994, and was immediately struck by how much it immediately felt to me that Scotland was a country of its own. Now to me, as someone without any real nationality, a country is a pretty imaginary, almost meaningless thing so why should it matter? Well it’s a bit like the concept of marriage – it has no actual meaning in real life, so the only meaning it can have is that which you yourself give to it. Scotland feels Scottish, and it feels like its own country, and although that is only in the minds of its citizens that fact alone is enough to make it meaningful.
We are Scotland, if we want to be. Yes, even me.
The Public School Cartels
One of the big reasons a lot of people want to get away from Westminster is basically one of entrenched privilege. From the House of Lords to the predominance of public schoolboys in all the political parties, it is pretty clear that the UK is a land of zealously hoarded power amongst a criminally tiny group of very rich people. Just look at this recent survey about how much of a grip the privately-educated have on this country; it’s fucking disgusting, honestly.
Now one thing about independence is that we will be shot of the House of Lords. That is, in and of itself, a huge thing because it is effectively the rich and the powerful applying a very strong brake to the wheels of democracy, and should be done away with on principle. This is an absolute no-brainer in favour of independence.
In terms of private schools, however, I don’t think it’s so clear cut. I used to live in Stockbridge, in Edinburgh. Within about two miles of my house were half a dozen of the most expensive and high-status private schools in the UK. Something like one in every four pupils in Edinburgh are in private education, and while the figure for the rest of Scotland isn’t that bad, it’s still very high. Scotland is full of its own privately educated elite, whether they are the bankers and lawyers of Edinburgh, or the massive landowners of Sutherland or the Borders.
“Aye, they might be cunts, but they’ll be our cunts” is often the response to this, but I really don’t accept that. An Edinburgh toff has no more respect for a normal Scot than an Eton toff would have. Instead, his natural allies are the rich pricks from the Home Counties that we’re all trying to get away from, and I don’t see Scottish independence as a realistic mechanism for throwing off the perniciously pervasive stink of entrenched, class-based privilege.
How Democracy Actually Works
So Scotland will get the government ‘we’ want, at last. Or, at least, some of us will. It seems painfully obvious to say, but it seems like a lot of people, particularly on the Yes side, seem to have forgotten the fact that roughly half the people of Scotland will not get the government they want in future, not because of the corruption of Westminster or the bias towards the South-East of England, but because half of the rest of Scotland voted for someone else. That’s how it works. Will you be any happier with not getting the government you voted for if those who deny you live a bit closer than you would if they live a couple of hundred miles further away? Because that is what will happen.
Equally, we may have never voted for a Tory government up here, but as New Labour showed, that might not make much difference. Government is essentially settled between politicians and lobbyists these days, with a rather loose divide between the two. The UK showed loud and clear, for example, that there was absolutely no democratic support for getting involved in America’s genocide in Iraq, but Blair did it anyway, and in an independent Scotland what we vote for might very well not be what we get.
Corruption and gross levels of money-grubbing are already rife within Scottish politics and if you wish to pretend otherwise then how come there are widespread petitions to investigate Edinburgh council for corruption? How come the trams managed to cost a hundred bazillion fucking pounds, was that really just incompetence? Would it be any better if it really was just incompetence? And how the ever-loving fuck did Donald fucking Trump get to build a golf course here?
The Socialist Utopia
Are we more Socialist in Scotland? Well yes, actually, it looks like we really are, looking at historical voting patterns. Smaller countries, traditionally, find it much easier to gain support for expensive social programs such as education, disability benefit, healthcare and pensions because they have a greater sense of unity, of being one people.
The cost of covering this would be high in quite a rural country, but most analyses I have read of Scotland’s economy seem to come down on the side of a higher cost of state programs being supportable with extra income from oil. Or, if you think oil is about to run out relatively soon, like a lot of my friends who actually work in the industry, maybe from alternative sources of energy instead, with which Scotland is spectacularly well supplied. So for all I think we might find Scotland is rather less Socialist than it seems to think it is once we are faced with very real choices between infrastructure and income tax, I still think that independence may well be the best way to protect education, funding for the NHS, as well as disability and unemployment benefits.
Insularity and Xenophobia
The problem with the above argument, that small countries find it easier to vote for social programs because of a greater sense of unity, is that this greater sense of unity often leads to insularity and a rise in xenophobia. All the small Scandinavian countries we often point to as models of how Scotland could work have significant problems with a racist right wing. That’s the problem with the sense of ‘us’ which encourages us to support healthcare, is that there is always a ‘them’. If we build a wonderful social support network then the likelihood of breeding resentment towards people ‘coming over here’ to exploit it seems high. Fuck it, you can already see that with Scottish and English university students and their different fee-paying models.
The recent Euro elections showed that Scotland is perfectly capable of being just as small-minded and bigoted as anywhere else, and I think this could be a nasty surprise waiting for the country post-independence. Just look at the fucking Orange Order, for Christ’s sake, and their ugly, racist, divisive rhetoric. They are a very Scottish problem, and very obvious evidence that these nasty habits are UK-wide, not just the province of those nasty Daily Mail readers down South.
The Tories/UKIP = O NOES!
This brings me on to the UKIP/Tory shit, which really winds me up. People basically get really arsey about anyone pointing at Salmond as a reason to vote No, but then do the exact same thing with the current Westminster government. If it’s not about Salmond, then it’s not about Cameron, vile though he is.
The UK would have voted in every single Labour PM they’ve ever had, with or without Scotland’s help. It is not a hugely more right wing country than Scotland – it sways back and forth the same as everywhere else. When the chips are down, economically speaking, people tend to vote more to the right than usual, and that’s what we have here, but the UK will have Labour governments again, and a lot of the great socialist legends and great modern socialist achievements have come from England, so all this ‘let’s get away from the Neocons’ thing is a bit deluded, if you ask me.
But, you might say, even the last Labour government were basically just Tories in red ties, and yes, I might almost agree with you, had we not just had years of evidence that no matter what you thought of the last Labour government, the Tories still have the capacity to be infinitely worse.
Britain operates in a modern, liberalised global economy, and a lot of aspects of that are very, very ugly. But I am not sure why anyone thinks Scotland would be free of them. Whatever happens, an independent Scotland represents a serious investment risk. As Mrs. Toad points out, things ‘not being the same’ gives people the jitters, whether anything really happens or not.
I don’t think we can tell how unsettled Scotland will be or for how long, but it is inescapable that there will be a serious risk to jobs and investment in the immediate aftermath of a Yes vote – try reading this, for example. How long that lasts is another question, and independence is for life, not just for Christmas so I am not too concerned about the short term jitters, but I can entirely understand how people would be and I think that concern about the impact of independence deserves far more respect than it seems to get.
A young economy is a vulnerable one, and for all we in Scotland may vote for higher tax on corporate profits or more income taxation for the rich, we may not get it for this reason. If the new Scottish government wants to attract investment, particularly during the shaky early years, then they may simply not have the bargaining power to stand up for these measures – they might, not unreasonably, feel that we need the investment more than we need to dig in our heels over progressive tax policies when the company in question could just fuck off to Newcastle instead and operate within a tried and trusted, business-friendly economy down the road.
So I am not at all sure we will get this economic reform within an independent Scotland, but I still feel that ‘maybe’ is a better bet than ‘definitely not’, so for all my cynicism I find myself shading to the Yes side on this one as well.
The Yes Campaign
Honestly though, despite being a borderline Yes voter, I find the Yes Campaign fucking annoying – although admittedly I am perhaps tarring it with the brush of a lot of its supporters here. In a nutshell, if you want the very living embodiment of confirmation bias then the Yes Campaign and its supporters would be it. Absolutely everything is interpreted to fit their belief that independence would be totally fucking amazing, even when the benefits would bring downsides by their very definition, and without those drawbacks the opportunities they themselves laud would never ever be able to exist.
This quote from the Daily Mash, on a sarcastic article about how an independent Scotland would be pretty much just the same as it is now, sums it up best: “The Scottish National Party condemned the research as racist stereotyping and then welcomed it for proving that independence would be completely risk-free”. In other words, you can’t talk about tackling corporate tax dodging and then pretend that raising investment in an independent Scotland wouldn’t be problematic. The two go hand in hand.
And then there’s the endless wounded bleating and perpetual sense of false persecution. The Guardian has run more pro-independence articles than most publications in Scotland and still every last article against is greeted with howls of infantile self-righteousness and bleating about the bias of the corrupt London media. Or never mind the Guardian, every last analysis which concludes that independence would be difficult or inadvisable is treated as corrupt, dishonest or wildly biased and that’s not only stupid, it just turns me off the whole conversation.
Even recently, when they descry the “I’m voting No because I love my family” ads for being vague nonsense which implies that Yes voters don’t love their families, Yes campaigners seem to forget that just about every single Yes Campaign ad is just as vague and just as silly. I paraphrase, but ‘I’m voting yes not just for my future, but for my children, and for my grand children’ is pretty standard fare. As are all these ‘let’s get rid of the corrupt establishment’ slogans, which are equally stupid – as if everyone didn’t want to be rid of corrupt politicians.
In general, though, some of the most prominent grass-roots elements of the Yes Campaign, unofficial though they might be, have mostly steered clear of this. The idiocy and bullying which are not as unusual as they should be in my Facebook feed are generally not replicated by writers at The Common Weal or Wings Over Scotland (to name but a couple of the more obvious websites), and if anything, these common sense activists give me the most hope for the future of the country. Even if we vote No, I really hope they stay as active and involved as they are now.
The No Campaign
In actual fact, the Yes Campaign might have been best to just shut up and let the No Campaign talk themselves out of the race on their own. Because holy shit, I have never seen a political campaign more talented at persuading people of the exact opposite of that they are trying to say. Jesus Christ, what a half-arsed, badly thought out, condescending, entirely substance-free shower of barely coherent drivel the No Campaign is. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so inept and ill-considered in my fucking life.
The essence of political and social conservatism, be it patriarchal religion or the Republican or Conservative parties in the US and UK respectively, is deference to authority, whether it’s God or the President or the ‘wealth generators’ of the upper classes. And that seems to be the case here, as the core of the No Campaign seems to be little more than a harrumphing old patriarch shaking an outraged fist and bellowing “How dare you! HOW VERY DARE YOU!” And that’s it, they seem to have nothing else.
Instead of presenting sensible arguments, the No campaign has basically mirrored the ballot. Cameron took Devo-max off the table because he was sure he would win a Yes/No vote relatively easily and the comical poverty of the No Campaign has reflected that lazy arrogance. The political messages have simply been vacuous and condescending. I may find the Yes Campaign’s dewey-eyed sloganeering to be willfully one-eyed to the point of delusion, but at least it comes across as a political movement run by real people, aimed at real people. The No Campaign has just been a lazy, insulting mess, and only now that they realise that it might cost them do they start scrabbling about for a real argument.
A lot of my No-voting friends have been doing just that for months: making intelligent, reasoned arguments for sticking with the UK. But the actual No Campaign seems to be paying no attention whatsoever to any of it.
I don’t believe that the financial upheaval will be at all ruinous for Scotland, particularly not in the long run, but in the short term it could cost a lot of jobs and cause a fair bit of heartache.
You could argue that the NHS will suffer as well, as the buying power and economies of scale are significantly harmed by going from a country of sixty-odd million to a country of five million. Will that offset the Westminster cuts? Who knows, but it’s a valid concern.
My science-based pals are also concerned, because for all a lot of the funding will remain the same, there are significant sources of funding for scientific research in the UK – such as the Wellcome Trust – which we may simply lose, and that, make no mistake about it, would be a huge blow.
The essence of Socialism is solidarity and mutual support for things which benefit us all, so walking out on the North of England so we can be more socialist up in Scotland is the very essence of privilege for the few and let the rest be damned. You could very well argue that this is simply an immoral thing to do, and I have some respect for that, being from a Manchester family myself.
And never mind balancing the budget in the long run, there will be all kinds of departments and institutions we will have to create from scratch immediately if we vote yes, and that will cost a shitload of money and use up a shitload of energy – and can you imagine the fucking bickering?
But even now that they are panicking, just look at what Boris Johnson (admittedly a clownish idiot, but nevertheless one who has achieved staggering levels of political success considering his barely-existent merits) wrote in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. It is entirely devoid of content or of intelligent argument. And you know why I think that is? I think it’s because they don’t know what the arguments are.
They don’t have any fucking idea why a Scot would vote for the union beyond ‘well, because they bloody well should’ and some vague sense of hurt feelings, and the reason for this is that they never thought it would happen and they haven’t given it much thought. We have been arguing about this for a while, so they are addressing an aware, interested and well-informed population, but they show no signs of acknowledging that fact.
There are sensible arguments in favour of the union – I laid out a small handful above – but not one of the senior figures in the British political establishment seems to care enough to figure out what they actually are. And for that alone, they deserve to fucking lose this referendum, and to lose it badly.
So for all I am annoyed by the blind idealism of a lot of the Yes supporters, that idealism could be an independent Scotland’s greatest asset. What in some ways is idealism can also be looked at as a positive belief that political engagement and political action actually can produce change. And if I have one problem with modern politics it is that it is becoming increasingly divorced from the people – a cosy chat between government and business – and we simply don’t feel part of it anymore.
In Britain I think the final nail in that coffin came when Tony Blair, despite the clear opposition of the people of the UK (the entire UK, remember), still insisted on taking us to war in Iraq. We protested as vigorously as we could, but absolutely all of us knew that in the end he was going to do exactly what the fuck he wanted, and since then the stench of impotent apathy has permeated the British electorate.
Imagine how energised and active the population of an independent Scotland would be. We would believe that we could change things, that the slide into neoliberalism is not inevitable, that the development of green technology can be pushed forward if we want to push, that things can be done and that our vote counts. That, in and of itself, is close to being a good enough reason to vote Yes on its own. And imagine the impact on the rest of Britain.
Part of the reason the establishment are clearly panicking as a Yes vote becomes more plausible is not just the sense of outrage that Scotland could walk away from the condescension of their benevolent patronage, but also that it threatens their very status as ‘the establishment’. After all, how blithely certain of your god-given superiority can you be if an entire country can just say ‘fuck yous cunts, we’re off, get tae fuck’.
Northern England is never going to petition for its own independence, but Wales might. Hell, it’s an outside bet, but fuck it, even Cornwall might have a go. And the Northern English regions – just as bitterly opposed to Thatcher and Cameron as Scotland, and just as viciously attacked for their opposition – certainly won’t stay quiet. They may not want independence, but I would be amazed, in the aftermath of Scottish independence, if they didn’t want significant devolution. And with Scotland as an example, instead of grumbling about it in the pub, they might just go out and fucking well fight for it. Then where is the British establishment? Beset by pitchfork-wielding peasants demanding things, that’s where, so no wonder they’re shitting their pants.
The Label, and Scottish Music
So finally, as as small business owner, how does this affect me? I don’t know, honestly. In terms of how our releases are received I think Scotland is treated pretty much as an independent nation already. No-one refers to Scottish bands as British at the moment, at least not that I can tell.
In fact, Scotland’s sense of its own identity already gives us a lot of benefits. We have a whole press in this country, that we would never have without that sense of nationhood, which is tuned to look out for and take a strong interest in Scottish-based music. We are one of a very small number of labels in our field in Scotland with any real resources or the ability to give things a decent push, so we get more attention from the press and the public than we might otherwise, given our size. So Scottish insularity can be a real help, but it can also be a problem.
There is a strong tendency towards parochialism in Scottish music, which can be harmful. Too many people think all Scottish music is amazing and have no sensible sense of perspective on our place within the rest of the world, or on the fact that a spin on Vic Galloway and features in the Herald, the List, the Skinny and a handful of local blogs doesn’t represent success. It represents a good start, and one which Scotland readily hands out, which is great, but some people can treat it like the be-all and end-all, and that is damaging.
There is a big wide world out there, and I hope Scottish independence doesn’t lead our press or our bands to become too inward-facing, or some kind of mutual back-slapping club where everyone congratulates themselves on how awesome we are and how amazing Scotland is.
But on the plus side, I think the interest in Scottish arts could be given a signifiant boost by a Yes vote. Certainly my American friends think that will be the case – they think a real explosion of interest could take place in America if Scotland votes Yes. Equally, within Scotland, the arts could receive a huge boost as a new nation seeks to define its own character and show the world who we think we are; so as long as we don’t become too parochial or insular then I think it could be really positive thing.
Aaaand finally, here we are. Is anyone still reading? Why, for the love of god?
So yes, I am going to vote in favour of Scottish independence, I think. It isn’t going to make all of our problems go away of course. We will still be run by politicians, who are pricks the world over. And actually I think people will find the Edinburgh establishment pretty much as odious as the Westminster one, and entrenched privilege is hardly less of a problem up here, but perhaps in a smaller country they might be a little less detached. London is a global city, where the global elite come to jerk each other off in the Turkish baths deep within the bowels of their private members’ clubs, and Edinburgh may still be a financial centre, but London is in a different league altogether.
And I am certain that it won’t be long before the people of Orkney or Aberdeen or Dumfries will be complaining about the country being governed by and for the people of the Central Belt, and that they still don’t have the government they voted for, but I don’t think the Central Belt dominates Scotland in quite the disproportionate way that London and the South East dominate the current UK. And even so, with a bit of luck Glasgow and Edinburgh will keep one another on their toes and stop the whole thing becoming too centred on one particular group of people.
For all I have grave doubts about a new Scottish government’s ability to live up to our wish for a more Socialist country, one thing is for sure, even with a Labour government that’s unlikely to happen within the UK. Within Scotland it still might not happen, but then again I think that particularly with that rush of enthusiasm which would follow a Yes vote we would have a very good chance of setting some much fairer ground rules than we have at the moment.
And for all the pro-union campaigners talk about the disadvantages of being off the political top table, I think that might give us a better chance of getting away from the modern, hyper-capitalist consensus because, simply, the world really won’t care as much what Scotland is up to. And for all that might make us more vulnerable to political bullying, it might also allow us to get on with our own shit with less interference from outside.
Really, within a federalised Europe, Scottish independence shouldn’t matter too much in the long run. And whether we join the EU immediately or not, I can’t see us staying out in the long term, in which case instead of the Scottish government being an unnecessary extra level of bureaucracy, wouldn’t it actually be the British government which was superfluous? Broad brush stuff in Brussels, local stuff in Scotland. What are the benefits of being within one union which is itself within a slightly larger one? All the financial, political and defence stability will come from our place in Europe (EU or not) with membership of the UK looking just a little irrelevant.
I want the development of Scottish wind farms, or the re-planting of the Great Northern Forests, or the support for the homeless in Leith to be a major concern of the people I am voting for. I don’t want a predominance of politicians in my parliament to be worrying about offending Russian oligarchs in the West End if they put up income taxes on the rich, I want them to be worried about offending people like Mrs. Toad’s senior colleagues, because they are a good few levels down the scale of evil global wealthy elites from the kind of people who crack the whips in London. I want us to be able to go to our local MP and say ‘actually, we are the 1%, and we want you to fucking tax us – go on, we’re not monsters’ and have it actually mean something, which it currently does not.
And finally I want the government of the country to be more afraid of its people than of its bankrollers. If the Scottish people can tell a whole empire to get tae fuck because we don’t fucking like them, I reckon that any new Scottish government will be pretty wary of what the people of Scotland think for some years to come. And it may not happen and it may not last long and it may not be anything like as good as it could be, and in fact it may even be worse, but I think on balance it will be an improvement and I think it is a risk worth taking.