In the face of Brexit we must trust ourselves to meet success and failure on our own merit.
Three days after the death of Donald Dewar in October 2000 I was cutting through Glasgow’s George Square among the dozen statues of famous names immortalised in bronze. The most recently deceased and the only female — mounted on a horse and inexplicably wearing a crown rather than the traditional traffic cone — was Queen Victoria. Since she shuffled off in 1901 not a single notable has had the honour bestowed in their memory of induction into the hall of famous George Square stiffs.
It struck me that Dewar, a son of Glasgow and Scotland’s inaugural first minister, merited a place among the revered deceased. At that point I was deputy editor of the Daily Record so I made the suggestion to my editor, who agreed it was a worthy campaign. Two years later Tony Blair unveiled a bronze Father of the Nation — slightly dishevelled, appropriately — on Buchanan Street.
I recount the details by way of demonstrating my admiration for Dewar and his greatest political achievement in reconvening the Scottish parliament after a recess lasting three centuries. His speech at the parliament’s opening a year before his death was emotional: “There shall be a Scottish parliament. Through long years, those words were first a hope, then a belief, then a promise. Now they are a reality. This is a moment anchored in our history.”
Devolution brought the biggest political change of my lifetime. Sure, establishing the apparatus of devolved government was not without its difficulties and, in the early days, critics. But the philosophy that Holyrood exists merely to mitigate the excesses of Westminster is not a belief system to which I subscribe. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to be far more progressive, dynamic, ambitious.
It is largely why in 2014, by then editor, I commissioned The Vow, the promise made on the front page of the Record by the UK’s main party leaders two days before the independence referendum of extensive new powers to Scotland. I believed a more powerful Scottish parliament was what the majority of readers wanted. And now we learn it sent Ruth Davidson apoplectic. LOL.
As we continue to labour under a vindictive Westminster administration, the nascent Scottish benefits agency will be another waypoint on the journey to more compassionate devolved government. Now we are on the brink of Brexit. But where devolution arrived bearing promise and hope, Brexit is draped in a shroud of despair. We have not yet completed our shameful retreat from the EU and I cling to the diminishing hope we never do.
I cannot tolerate a Tory government prepared to treat devolution with the blatant contempt displayed in Tuesday’s cynical one-man debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was a democratic abomination. I can no longer stand by while a cabal of the privileged deprive our children the right to live in 27 European countries because they don’t like Johnnie Foreigner encroaching their elite club.
I can’t remain silent as May, Davis, Rees-Mogg, Johnson and Gove undermine the stability of a continent that has largely been at peace for 70 years. For them this is a game of ambition, for the majority of us it is unconscionable folly. I can’t wait for enough of England to wean itself off voting for the party of privilege that will never govern for anyone other than their own class.
I can’t watch a Labour Party pursue its own destructive Brexit agenda full in the knowledge that the people it professes to represent will shoulder the greatest burden. I can’t wait for that same party to recognise that Jeremy Corbyn seemed like a good idea at the time but now they must find a leader who can reunite a splintered movement capable of deposing the Tories. Nor can I await the arrival of a unicorn, that mythical federal Britain.
So independence it must be.
As Dewar said in his speech: “A Scottish parliament. Not an end, a means to greater end.” Independence is now the only option that provides any prospect of that greater end. What matters is timing and circumstance. Over the past few years heavy negative forces — like Brexit, that parade of Tory chancers and a dysfunctional opposition at Westminster — have tugged the independence stars ever nearer alignment. Last month’s growth commission report gave them another nudge.
I fully recognise an independent Scotland would face financial challenges and Andrew Wilson’s report is an attempt to address many of these realities with intrinsic honesty. I’ve considered the constitutional arguments against and, yes, the difficult decisions our independent nation would face and the sacrifices we may need to make do trouble me. But what troubles me more is the prospect of bequeathing to my daughters an isolated Britain governed indefinitely by the progeny of Rees-Mogg and their ilk.
For me, independence is about autonomy, allowing Scotland to meet success and failure on its own merit and not point an embittered finger of blame at anyone else. I have reconciled that independence would herald good and bad. I trust in us to solve the problems that will come our way. If so many other countries can, it is inconceivable that Scotland can’t. The Yes-Yes campaign which brought our parliament back from the dead 20 years ago asked Scotland to take a leap of faith and to trust in ourselves. When we are next asked the independence question, I’ll strap on my work boots and take that leap.
With many thanks to: The Times and The Sunday Times for the origional story.