Posts Tagged ‘ scottish independence ’

Scotland No More

I was only four years old in 1987, when the Proclaimers’ Letter From America stormed the UK charts, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I’ve never known its significance. In my adult life, the Proclaimers have always been the twee, geeky pair who wrote 500 Miles, the anthemic love song used to signal the end of a drunken night at the student union. I’d always assumed that Letter From America was just another love song, perhaps written for a girlfriend who moved abroad.

So I was quite surprised when it was quoted in parliament. As it turns out, Letter From America is an extremely clever, angry song.

The key is in the “No more” refrain. The first time we hear it, it goes like this:

Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more
Lewis no more
Skye no more

Lochaber No More is the name of a pipe tune, which Allan Ramsay set words to in 1724, turning it into the lament of a conscripted Highlander:

Farewell to Lochaber, farewell to my Jean
Where heartsome wi’ her I ha’e many days been
For Lochaber no more, we’ll maybe return
We’ll maybe return to Lochaber no more.

In 1883, John Watson Nicol created a painting of the same same, reframing it as a statement about the Highland Clearances, emigration to America, and a nation’s tremendous loss.


In the peak years of emigration, 1904-1913 and 1921-1930, one fifth of Scotland’s working age population left, mostly for North America. This second wave came on top of the huge losses of the First World War. We still have the diary in my family of one family member who emigrated and eventually died, drunk, in a snow drift in Boston. The Proclaimers are acutely aware of this history:

Broke off from my work the other day
I spent the evening thinking about
All the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land?

It is the second refrain that shows the true genius of the song. Until that point, it could all be taken as referencing a past that is long gone, but the second refrain replaces the list of places cleared in the 19th century with places traumatically deindustrialised in the 20th:

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more
Methil no more
Irvine no more.

In tears yet? You should be.


Would independence have protected Grangemouth?

Today has been a comprehensive defeat for the employees of Grangemouth, a site through which about 10% of Scotland’s GDP (1% of the UK) passes, and which itself contributes 1.2% of Scottish GDP*. Unite the union have agreed to wage cuts, pension cuts, and a three year no-strike guarantee. That will place downward pressure on wages across Scotland.

This is the same union that won a strike over pensions just two years ago. What changed?


That the union were “Led into an ambush” seems about right. No one can blame the workers and their shop stewards for not wanting to lose their jobs, or to fight a protracted strike over Christmas, with no certainty if they would ever return to work. They were forced to ask themselves whether Ineos was serious about liquidation – that is, sacking the workers and selling off the assets.

Ineos would have happily fought a long strike or liquidated the plant, using its deep pockets to outlast the workers if necessary. A company like Ineos probably can’t be beaten without international trade unions. Their interest was not so much in cutting wages right now, but in breaking the confidence of the workers and their union.

A combination of economic necessity and public pressure put nationalisation on the table in Scotland but not at Westminster. The Scottish government played down the idea of nationalisation, but never absolutely ruled it out. The Westminster government described the situation as “regrettable” and took little action. The Scottish government is not allowed to borrow money – it has to balance its books each year.

That makes it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to nationalise the plant, which is expected to be loss-making over the short term and highly profitable after 2022. Ineos’ cooperation would have been necessary to continue running the plant, and the Scottish government would have been forced to buy the physical plant out of liquidation and rehire the staff. An independent country would be able to compulsory-purchase the whole plant, for “appropriate compensation”.

With the full powers of independence, nationalisation would have been at least a plausible outcome, which would have tremendously strengthened that hand of the trade union. Perhaps under independence, we wouldn’t be staring defeat in the face today.

* I have been unable to identify the primary sources for these figures, but they seem to be generally accepted in the press.

My Complaint to BBC Question Time

You can make your own complaint here:

Question Time tonight is in Edinburgh, and has an audience of 16- and 17-year-olds, on the grounds that they will be voting in the Scottish Independence referendum. Independence is clearly a key issue that will be discussed – this edition of the programme has been billed as such.

The panel apparently consists of six guests, four who are against independence, one who is in favour, and one neutral. This is an unacceptable level of bias for a BBC programme.

This is also the week before a by-election, in Aberdeen Donside. As such it is especially important that the major parties in Scotland be represented.

In particular, the Scottish Green Party have only had one appearance on Question Time since the inception of the Scottish Parliament. Contrary to a statement by your spokesperson, they are an entirely separate organisation to the Green Party of England and Wales.

There is clearly room for the Scottish Green Party, given that this is a panel of six. It is hard to understand why they would be excluded, while Nigel Farage makes his third appearance of the year.

Neither Mr Farage nor Mr Galloway’s parties have any representation in Scotland. At the last test they managed 0.91% of the vote and 0.35% of the national vote, respectively, as compared with the Scottish Green Party’s 4.38%.

In future, please ensure a balance between pro and anti independence panellists, and accurately represent the Scottish political landscape when broadcasting from here.

Our Vast Renewable Energy Potential Can Reindustrialise Scotland

Originally published on National Collective.

It was probably inevitable that I would grow up to be a musician, and to support independence. When I was a wean my Dad made a special effort to keep the hills and heather alive with songs and stories, his work at Mortlake brewery having brought us to London. Even today, tears are never far from his eyes when he sings Dougie McLean’s Caledonia: “And if I should become a stranger, know that it would make me more than sad…”

Music is a major part of how Scotland talks to itself about itself, and not just the folk classics. Having seen the ecstatic response of an Arches crowd to Rustie’s After Light, I can tell you that even instrumental electronic music can express an emotion both universal and deeply local, the peculiarly melancholic hedonism of the post-industrial era.

Still, culture alone is not a justification for statehood. Scotland’s music, literature and philosophy have thrived within the United Kingdom, perhaps even been driven by the need to carve out space for a nation without a state. It is a different set of experiences that have convinced me that we need independence, and soon.

In 2006 or so I found myself living in the Hamiltonhill council estate in North Glasgow. For a commuter-belt Perthshire boy this was quite the culture shock. You can read all the statistics on unemployment and “indices of multiple deprivation” you like, but none of that prepares you for seeing a man in the local pub sobbing, surrounded by discarded scratchcards. Christmas was coming, and the kids wanted new trainers he could never afford, so he spent his giro on hope.

This country used to make things. Most people had secure jobs, doing meaningful work. There were no call centres, no temp agencies, no three-month contracts selling insurance. We all know the story – Big Bad Thatcher came to power, the trains were sold off, the pitheids sealed up, and the towers of Ravenscraig came tumbling down. We became a country that makes its money from the unholy trinity of finance, insurance and real-estate. A country run solely by and for bankers – with an economy that does not need healthy, educated workers.

The United Kingdom is beholden to the financial piracy of City traders. In contrast, an Independent Scotland could use its vast renewable energy potential to reindustrialise the country. I’ll be voting Yes because I want to live in a Scotland where people build things again, a Scotland of inventors, creators and labourers. A Scotland with compassionate, social democratic values. A Scotland where no one feels that a scratchcard offers their only hope of dignity.

On National Collective

I’m delighted to join National Collective. Scotland’s art and culture are some of our greatest assets, and it will be vital to the Yes campaign that we reach out to people’s hearts as much as their heads. This is Scotland’s greatest opportunity in three hundred years, and National Collective offers a great way for artists to get involved in the campaign.

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