September 11, 2014 by Andrew W M Smith
There will be no great flood nor biblical disaster should the result of the imminent referendum favour Independence. Yet both Scotland and what is left of the United Kingdom will be tarnished by the process: poorer for want of diversity, and poorer for lack of solidarity. Old acquaintances forgot for want of favour.
Despite never emigrating, I was denied a vote on the future of the country in which I was born, educated and have spent the majority of my life. I worry that 18 September will pass me by without affording me the opportunity to comment, and so I thought I ought to publicly do so. Not for the purposes of debate, for my voice counts for naught, but rather simply to have done so.
There is no progress in secession, division nor rupture. These are the siren calls of opportunism.
In the words of Goethe: ‘Refashioning the fashioned, lest it stiffen into iron is the work of endless vital activity.’ The United Kingdom is a uniquely durable institution which has outlasted almost every one of its peers in Europe. It did this on the back of a shared commitment to progress amongst its sovereign peoples and an internal flexibility that saw it adapt to a changing world.
Leopold Senghor, the poet President of Senegal warned against the retreat into walled off seclusion and the surrender to division that seduced many after another referendum in 1958. He called that spectre ‘balkanization’, and saw in it the death of solidarity, the triumph of the petty and the abandonment of all hope towards a civilization enriched by its differences. In a world dominated by the pressure of globalising forces, the vulnerability of the small state is not to its own government, but to those invisible corporate hands beyond that coerce and conduct through the market.
Let’s not look to the creation of more petty bureaucracy and the duplication of resources that secession would entail. Nor indeed to the frailty of currency compromises. Rather, it is worth looking to what Renan called ‘the social capital on which the national idea is based’ – the shared stories and heritage that have animated the United Kingdom. This is not a heroic narrative of unbridled positivity – none are – yet is one in which the nations of this Union have grown together, endured together and mutually benefitted.
These are the ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, and David Hume. These are the poems of Burns and Byron and Coleridge and Scott. The daring of Livingstone and Shackleton and the inspiration of Mary Barbour, Aneurin Bevan, and Keir Hardie. An errant scattering of names that mark the fundament of a nation can only serve to illustrate and could never seek to be comprehensive. Yet amongst these few one could find a spark to heat the iron.
These are not the stories of petty fiscal squabbling, nor the empty pernicious motivations of the Darien venture. Much has been written about revenues and fuel, but pounds in pockets cannot trump the future, especially when one vision of that future immediately imperils the safety net of the most vulnerable. I am committed to the broad civic solidarity that underpins the concept of the United Kingdom. I think it is something to be proud of and know that it is something that other nations envy. I also know that it is not perfect, though again that the concept of civic engagement entails that being a rallying call rather than a condemnation. Secession will not build a fertile territory for change, especially not when that territory is already peopled by an existing political class in Scotland. Division does not favour difference.
Helplessness is a profoundly disturbing sentiment. It undermines your confidence and challenges your certainties. This is precisely how I feel in relation to the Referendum. Denied a voice, I’ve attempted to withdraw. Yet, I feel at this juncture, that I must state an opinion in the vain hope that anyone who might look to seek some input or (unrealistically) hold some stock by my opinion might find it accessible.
Refashion the fashioned. Write new stories to animate the national idea. Work across borders, denigrate barriers and surmount that which divides.
Don’t pish it all up a wall as a protest vote against a government you don’t particularly fancy.
In short – I would vote ‘no’, and would implore others to do likewise.