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The Big Vote – What kind of Scotland do we want to live in? Seminar Report

After a welcome from the chair, EACG member David Maguire, our speaker, poet and novelist James Robertson, spoke about the broad issues to be considered before the referendum, e.g. our economy, history, culture and identity.

He asked, ‘What kind of Scotland do we want?  And what is the best constitutional route to it?’

He talked about the United Nations’ ‘Right of self-determination’, the campaign to re-establish a parliament in Scotland and pointed out that independence is more difficult to ‘pin down’ these day than in 19th and 20th centuries; there are limitations and ambiguities, e.g. the European Union, sterling, the monarchy, NATO.

Already much divergence in the UK, e.g. NHS very different in Scotland.

Our differences and what we have in common are not as black and white as the two ‘camps’ make out.

Economy:

  • Last 30/40 years Scotland’s had capacity for independence on economic grounds
  • Oil – discovery changed nature of economic debate but oil is only one part of that debate
  • Not just about the economy, has to be about more, e.g. oil will not be there forever.  What has been done with the oil windfall?  Look at Norway – oil fund established to ensure economy more secure in the future.
  • Whether the result is Yes or No – the economic debate will continue

History:

  • Scotland was independent until 1707
  • The Union of the Parliaments was not a democratic decision
  • Driving force was partly economics
  • Now, we are in a post-imperial phase of British history – no longer imperial/world power
  • Do we want to remain part of what was an imperial power?

Culture and Identity:

Essay in Herald by Alan Riach who said, “Regardless of economy, we are different culturally from our friends in the South.  If not, we wouldn’t be having this debate.”    If it’s about culture, who are we now? And who do we want to be in the future?  Consider egalitarianism, gender, sexual orientation, etc – equality.

Do we need to be independent to have that egalitarian society or could we have it as part of UK?

Heaps of info, gaffes, etc.  We might think we don’t know answers.  What’s your gut-feeling? Who to trust?  None of them!  Trust your own judgement but should not necessarily be a rational decision.  It can’t be an informed rational decision as no-one actually knows all the answers.  Cyprus, Syria – think 10 years ago.  Not everything can be predicted.  On the day after the vote, how will you feel!  Hope it not a 50/50 split or close to it.

After discussions in small groups, we came together again for a short plenary session.  The points that came up included:

  • Scottish cringe.  Crisis in confidence. Improvement since devolution.  More confidence e.g. equality, sexuality.  But is the Scottish cringe Scottish?   There is a feeling that it has diminished.
  • Concern that if vote ‘No’, a few years down the line we’ll look back and wonder why we were feart.
  • Culture and identity – artificial borders.  Need ‘better democracy’ – more localised
  • ‘Yes’ would mean increased democracy and accountability
  • People struggling for clarity.  Politicians can ‘get in way’ of democratic processes.  Civil society strong in devolution process.  Not so much now.  Civil society may be less prominent now because of Scottish Parliament’s existence.  Also, weakened churches, trade unions, but many pressure groups on-line, e.g. World Development Movement.
  • Hard to get impartial, trustworthy information.  Need more forums like this one.  Should politicians be here to put them on the spot?  But it’s not their vote, but our vote.  Don’t need to engage with politicians.  Forget them.
  • Want/need more events like this.  People from wide range of backgrounds debating and discussing these important issues.  Example of Malta – independence doesn’t happen overnight; Malta gained political independence in 1964 after negotiations with the UK but retained Elizabeth II as monarch until becoming a republic in 1974.  It gradually withdrew from a sterling currency and had a defence agreement with the UK until 1979.
  • People are debating the referendum between themselves – friends, family, etc.
  • When you get into the polling booth it won’t be just about practicalities, not just culture and identity, but everything about our future.
  • Independence movement is not the same as nationalism (some media seem to be deliberately misleading)  It’s about a vision of a new Scotland – leave behind the politics of fear – embrace a politics of hope
  • Rethink our views of politicians.  Make positive case for politics.  Debate can continue after vote, no matter the outcome.  Social justice, egalitarianism.  We’re proud of Robert Burns but we don’t always put Burns’ values into practice.
  • Popular suggestion of ‘volunteer facilitators’ to enable more events like this, in the way that there were volunteers at Olympics and will be for Commonwealth Games.
  • One young person wanted to know, ‘What will relationships be like after the vote?’
  • The debate around environmental justice is crucial
  • Example of Gandhi’s independent India – not just about getting rid of the oppressor but gaining freedom to make own/better contribution to the world
  • We need more debates like this! Almost 80 people here, and the quality of the debate is better than at Holyrood!

You can download the report here – The Big Vote

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