PETER RUSSELL puts on his tin hat


Our very good friend Kate has now retired from her job, which was with a small NGO that did irreparable good by promoting the rights of workers (especially women workers) in emergent nations. She and her family have lived in Scotland since the 1970s. These are her views on Scotland’s future, based on that experience.

I’ve worked or lived in upwards of 25 newly independent countries. As we approach the vote next year I’ve been reflecting. 

I’ve been caught up in the euphoria – ‘the rainbow nation’ comes to mind. All are welcome to be citizens of – Kenya, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Uganda, Zimbabwe . I could list many more. The new country will be everything everyone hoped for.

Then comes the hard part, negotiating the terms of the settlement. Global powers hold all the cards and extract a very, very high price. What you want is not what you get. NATO membership screwed Central Europe with disastrous consequences for their social welfare budgets. IMF loan conditions cut welfare, imposed privatization and market forces which massively disadvantaged the poor in Africa, Hungary and elsewhere. Europe has been squeezing the Greeks and installed an unelected president in Italy. Nearer to home, the credit rating agencies appeared to be running Britain for a while. 

So what are Scotland’s tactics for the crucial negotiations? I’ve heard the ‘wish list’ but nothing about how we will prevent powerful others dictating the settlement. 

When the going gets tough… and it will … then the enemy without easily translates to an enemy within. Individual Russians, European immigrants, white farmers, Serbs or Asian traders come to signify all that is wrecking the dream.

Friends tell me that this won’t happen because Scots are different… this special pleading worries me even more. No nation is composed of ‘special people’. I’m not saying don’t go for independence – only do it in full knowledge and preparedness for the consequences and accept the inevitable 10 years or more of frustration and austerity which lie ahead of any new, small nation.

After 37 years.. I’ll not be here to suffer it… or take the blame for what’s gone wrong …I’m British and will decamp over the border to enjoy my twilight years”

These wise and well-chosen words were given extra urgency by the BBC Question Time broadcast on 28th November 2013 from Falkirk. It was marked by some extraordinary claims from DFM Nicola Sturgeon regarding the newly published White Paper “Scotland’s Future” (coincidentally an anagram of “Fraudulent Costs”) and some even more extraordinary histrionics from the “non-political” “celebrity”, Eddi Reader.

But what was most noteworthy was the attitude of those members of audience who spoke about immigration and the EU. Previous to the programme, one contributor on Twitter had predicted:

Mhairi Hunter ‏@MhairiHunter1There probably will be a lot of #indyref argy bargy on #bbcqt2nite but tell you what we won’t get. Racism, xenophobia…”

In fact that is exactly what we got. One audience member claimed all the houses on his local council list were reserved for immigrants; another described Gretna and the Scottish Borders as the “first line of defence against foreigners”; and a third demanded a Scottish in-out referendum on EU membership, like UKIP or the Tory right. All of this suggested that central Scotland is not much different to middle England.

This is what some of us have believed all along, but is apparently news to many who may not know their neighbours as well as they though they did, and should act as a timely reminder that some Scots can be as xenophobic as some English people. And it is of course reminiscent of the orthodox assumption in the 1980s that Scotland was “different”, and that there was no racism in Scotland.

This of course turned out to be totally wrong, and we cannot ignore the fact that Scottish exceptionalism in xenophobia and racism is a myth. Kate’s fears – and those of many more of us – are likely to turn out to be well-founded, and a post-independence Scotland could be a very uncomfortable place to be English when the fanciful prospectus of “Scotland’s Future” fails and the finger of blame is pointed. Those who seek independence should acknowledge this danger, and weigh the risk in making their decision; to refuse to do so is to do a disservice to the future of Scotland and to that of our fellow citizens.

Peter Russell is a retired speechwriter and researcher at Glasgow City Council. This post was originally published on his blog, Planet Pedro! Follow Peter on Twitter at @Planet_Pedro.