The story of Ohio morgue attendant and necrophile, Kenneth Douglas, rightly shocked all that read it. We’re repulsed by the idea of a degenerate drunkard fostering further indignities on women whom, in many cases, had been murdered the same day. Crimes like Douglas’ are an affront to society, they undermine civilisation, yet – and here’s the leap, so brace yourself – we’re relaxed about other kinds of opportunist desecration; the practice of pawing over the corpse of dead states in a bid to appeal to its hereditary population’s worst instincts, for example. That’s right, I’m talking about Scottish Nationalism.
There’s just a month to go until the referendum on Scottish independence and all the talk’s been of currency unions, democratic deficits and oil revenues. These are all important questions but they’re also administrative. The debate about the United Kingdom, because that’s the country under threat, and you could be forgiven for missing it, should be more fundamental. The talk should be of cultural union, integration, a shared history – but for the nationalists these are inconveniences, dismissed with a little disingenuous rhetoric.
No one in the Yes camp wants to think about these things, else their fantastic narrative, making Orwellian mincemeat of once clearly defined terms such as “progressive” and “future”, would disintegrate. Salmond’s army of saltire waving, pound note rolling, phonetic tweetin’ gumps, imagine they’re on the right side of history. They talk about their message of hope, contrasted with Better Together’s fearful pragmatism. That’s a compelling argument, provided you don’t scrutinise it.
Arguments with nationalists are dispiriting affairs. It feels like quarrelling with a cult, because it is. In virtual spaces, on social media, they gang up on you, like delinquents in an alley, peddling their positive message with underlying aggression and hate. “We don’t get the governments we vote for”, they say, but if you argue this is less considered psephology, more a provincial state of mind, for surely other parts of the UK don’t get the governments half their populous voted for either, yet are mysteriously unmoved when it comes to thoughts of breaking up Britain, and wouldn’t argue (with a straight face) that you’re only enfranchised if your party wins, they say you’ve misunderstood the point. This is handy because it disobliges them from thinking about yours.
“Scotland’s a separate country” they say, which was true once but hasn’t been, in sovereign terms, for 300 years – not in their lifetime, nor the lifetimes of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents, and the child snatching couple their great great grandparents imagined to be their great great great grandparents. If you won’t accept this category error, arguing that what they really want isn’t the future but a romantic past and country forged on 18th century political grievances, as relevant to today’s world as measures to control highwaymen, you’re a colonial apologist, an obnoxious imperialist, exhibiting the kind of English arrogance and by extension, imagined racial characteristics the SNP insist are nothing to do with the referendum question.
Quite right too, for were it so, if the Yes camp had set themselves up as a movement to liberate Scotland from London’s evil grip, they’d be fighting a divisive campaign, but as everyone who’s read the propaganda knows, Salmond and Sturgeon may have rushed to join a party that was relaxed about hating the English as saplings, but they certainly don’t feel that way now. No sir, they simply want to destroy the cultural union with England and Wales so they can, er, better enjoy the cultural union with England and Wales.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve not heard anyone talking about the cultural union; perhaps it’s so obvious, everyone forgot to mention it. This, some would say, prominent aspect of the political and economic union is verboten for the Yes campaign, as it’s a snapshot of England and Scotland as they exist today, not as they existed during those acrimonious periods in history that better fit the separatist narrative. To speak of the cultural union is to talk about the present, and facts, like two formally independent states with pooled sovereignty living in peace and relative prosperity, a shared heritage and, to the nationalist’s despair, a million Scots living in England and Wales, who don’t consider they’re strangers in a foreign land.
Because nationalists loathe people with a pluralist and inclusive mentality, for such thinking’s the enemy of the parochial mind, they’re quick to dismiss these outliers as an irrelevance. The racket that is the referendum’s residential franchise was imposed with a view to excluding these legitimate voices from any say in the independence debate.
The Yes brigade, who get very hot and bothered when you mention the Scots that live elsewhere, argue these people don’t have any understanding of today’s Scotland, that they’re divorced from the zeitgeist, so they aren’t entitled to vote. Sure, they could live in Berwick, or have left a month ago to take up a new job, or have moved to Caerphilly to live with the partner they met on a camping holiday, but what do they know? Why should they have an interest in the legal status of their homeland and themselves?
But having a residential franchise isn’t just about reinforcing an archaic idea, namely that the world stops at the border, nor excluding the rest of the UK from the conversation, it’s about ensuring that those who have real experience of the union, who’ve lived it, enjoyed it and feel part of it, aren’t allowed to poison with experience, those marching toward independence. As long as the Union’s an imposing abstraction divorced from the values and interests of the Banffshire farmer, it’s a doddle to dismiss. For those of us who’ve trod it, lived in it and been in love with it, it’s the country we live in – not separate states but one state with historic demarcations.
Nationalists believe that all of this is easily unpicked, and they can’t wait to start. But even if redundant clannishness triumphs on September 18th and the politics of the 18th century clamber on top of the 21st and violate all that’s been achieved in the intervening years, Yes voters may find it harder to extricate themselves from our United Kingdom than they think.
A sixth of their countrymen will be marooned in what’s left of the UK and just under half of those that remain in Scotland, including, if polls are to believed, a majority of the middle class, will have been divorced from it against their will – people who know that Britain isn’t just a word but an inclusive mentality; an idea that’s always belonged to the future not the sectarian, nationalist past. Imagine waking up in a new country that had voted to look inward and jettison all that. For some, it just might be unbearable.