Alex Salmond’s pitch to the Scottish people, mixing sleight of hand with a prospectus that’s simplistic, not to mention historically and culturally disingenuous, is predicated on the assumption that the average voter has the same intelligence as a seven year old.
Here, for balance, is a guide to the debate aimed at real seven year olds who are advised to absorb this information and pass it on to their less informed parents and older relatives.
This guide takes the form of a Q and A:
What is Scottish independence?
Scottish Independence refers to a debate that’s happening right now in Scotland, the northern most part of the United Kingdom. Some people in Scotland think this region is a country that’s ruled by the English, a large group of moustache twirling, monocle wearing people who live below them. In September they plan to vote on whether Scotland should legally become a separate state. If they vote yes then the country we were all born into will be destroyed.
Why do they think Scotland’s a separate country?
They’re confused between the past and the present. Three hundred years ago Scotland was a self-governing kingdom. Scotland wanted to build an Empire in South America, so they sent their soldiers there to build a colony called Caledonia. This was called the Darien Scheme. But the Spanish people who lived there didn’t want to share their stolen land with Scotland, so they fought them and the Scots were forced to go home. The trip cost a lot of money and made Scotland very poor, so they decided to join up with their rich neighbours in England. The result was a legal act of union that formed today’s United Kingdom.
But not everyone liked the idea of marrying into money. Over many generations Scots that didn’t like being with the English began to say that they’d been deceived into giving up their independence. These people said the English weren’t friends but oppressors, who treated Scotland like a colony of the British Empire. Because that idea made Scots feel better about themselves it was preferred to the truth. In fact Scotland was a partner not a colony and benefited enormously, both culturally and economically, from being part of one of the richest trading empires in the history of the world. But the people who hated the English, (and yes it’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with a conjunction, your English teacher is wrong) because their Mums and Dads had brought them up to believe this twaddle, ignored this. They started to say England and Scotland should go their separate ways.
Isn’t it silly to say something’s true now because it was in the past?
Yes. But sometimes people are very sentimental about the past, despite not knowing anything about it, so sometimes want things to go back the way they imagine things were, without really knowing how they were.
Who says Scotland and England should break up?
The Scottish National Party or SNP. They’re lead by a man called Alex Salmond.
If the union between Scotland and England has been successful, why does Alex want to break up?
Sometimes in partnerships, when one person has less power than the other, they can feel inferior. People who feel this way can feel anger and resentment toward the other person, the same way we sometimes think it’s unfair that our bigger brothers and sisters get to do what they want when we can’t. Alex feels that way about England.
How do you know he doesn’t like England?
Alex’s friends became more popular when a racist called Mel Gibson made a propaganda film called Braveheart. A propaganda film is a film that tells a lie to try and make people think a certain way. Mr Gibson’s film showed the English being very bad toward the Scots. Mr Gibson is from Australia. Sometimes people from Australia also hate the English, the way some people hate their parents. Mr Gibson hates the English and made a film he knew Scottish people who also hated the English would like. When Alex saw the film he was very pleased. He said thank you to Mr Gibson by putting a picture of him into Scotland’s National Museum. Putting a picture of Mr Gibson in a museum sent a message that Alex not only believed what the film said, because he put it in a place for things that are historically important, but that he liked it very much.
Was the film popular?
It was. Mr Gibson made it for people who believe, as Alex believes, that the English are cruel and rule Scotland without their permission. This is a very popular lie that has become part of Scottish culture. It’s one of their favourite fairy tales.
Alex sounds like a very angry man, is there a name for someone like that?
People who hate other people because of where they’re from are sometimes called bigots. A bigot ignores what’s good about a person, and the benefits of having them around, and looks at them with fear and anger because they are different. Sometimes they feel threatened by them because they are different. This is why mice hate cats.
Is hating the English the only reason Alex wants to break up?
No. Alex is also a self-important man who wants more power for himself and to become a Scottish national hero and a person of historical interest. He wants to be Mr Braveheart, the character he liked in Mel Gibson’s film.
What does self-important mean?
It means you think you’re a very important person, though you may not have done anything to become important. People who think this way are usually making up for the fact that other people don’t think they’re as important as they think they are.
I don’t understand
Alex wants to be Prime Minister of Scotland but he can’t be because of the United Kingdom. Before there was a Scottish parliament Alex was a member of the House of Commons, but no one took much notice of him there. He wasn’t very impressive and no one in Scotland thought he should be Prime Minister.
Then one day Scotland got its own parliament that elected people in a way that allowed Alex’s party to win more seats without being any more popular or interesting. Slowly, in this new, easier parliament, Alex started to win more seats because the other parties weren’t very good (all the good politicians were in England), and became First Minister, but he still didn’t have much power.
He’s like a footballer playing in the first division who wants to be a premier league player but isn’t good enough. But if you break away from the Football Association and become the only league, then you get to be the new best league. That’s why Alex doesn’t want to play with England anymore.
Do Scottish people know this is the real reason?
Some do. They’re called unionists. But nationalists like Alex believe him when he says Scotland will be better off on their own with him in charge.
But maybe Alex likes the English but wants to do things on his own?
That’s what he says but he’s a liar.
How do you know?
Because of the things Alex has said in the past. Alex isn’t against unions you see, he only dislikes the successful one with England – one of the most successful ever. A while ago, before he discovered it was dangerous, he wanted Scotland to join the Euro – that’s the money they use in Europe. Joining the Euro means letting people in Brussels, the capital of Europe, make most of the decisions about your money. Alex didn’t mind Germany and France being in charge of Scotland but he doesn’t like being partners with England, the people he says are Scotland’s closest friends. This makes him very stupid.
What else has he said?
That he doesn’t really want anything to change. He’d like things to be like they are now, only with him in charge of everything. Scotland will still have England’s queen and he’d like to keep the United Kingdom’s money. He also wants people to move from one kingdom to the other without controls, like they do now. The only difference is that the parliament Alex works in will make all of Scotland’s decisions, instead of most of them.
Can’t it make all of them without leaving the UK?
It can. It would require a change in the law, nicknamed “Devo Max”. Devo means devolution. That means giving power from a big parliament to a smaller one. It’s like me giving you a floor of the house to do whatever you want with but I still own the house in case something bad happens, so I can fix it.
Why doesn’t Alex just call Max then?
No, Max isn’t a person. Never mind that. Alex wants to have the house, even though he can’t pay for it all by himself and the union put all the good stuff in it like the welfare state and the National Health Service and the book shelves, because he doesn’t like the English and the English pay the mortgage.
You keep talking about the England and Scotland as different places but I thought we were one big country?
Good, glad you’re paying attention. That’s right, we are. Alex likes to pretend we’re not because if he can make people think we’re already separate then they won’t notice he’s doing anything wrong. English and Scottish people have lived together for three hundred years in one big state. We each have our differences but we’re more alike than different. Some Scottish people live in England and some English people live in Scotland. We share lots of things. Scotland and England have their own character but they are not different countries in the same way that France and Brazil are different countries.
My Scottish Dad says that the pound belongs to Scotland too and that those Westminster bastards are threatening to take it from us if we leave, is this true?
No (and watch your language). This is the lie that Alex has told imaginary Scottish people like you. To get his way, Alex must pretend that everything will be the same after a yes vote, except Scotland will be a separate state, but it won’t. The pound is the United Kingdom’s currency, not Scotland’s. It only belongs to Scotland while it stays part of the United Kingdom, in the same way that you can’t play in the garden behind the house you used to live in because you’ve moved out. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom then all the things that come with being part of the United Kingdom – the money, our special membership of the European Union, the thirty million taxpayers south of the border, will be left behind too.
But my Dad says that if England refuses to share the pound that’s okay because we won’t pay our part of the national debt.
That’s fine but according to all the experts that would make Scotland what we call an “economic pariah”, which means that no one else in the world would ever lend it any money because it didn’t pay its debts. It wouldn’t even get a Vanquis credit card, and they’ll give one to anybody.
What’s special about Europe and why do people keep talking about it?
At the moment Scotland is part of a massive power sharing club called the European Union, because the UK is a member and Scotland is part of the UK. Aside from the irony that Alex doesn’t want to be part of a self-governing union but does want to remain part of a larger one that isn’t very democratic, Scotland will probably have to re-apply to be a member of the club as a new country. Alex likes to pretend Scotland wouldn’t be a new country, legally speaking, but it would because it isn’t now. That’s the point.
Nicola, Alex’s deputy said on the radio once, “Europe’s about taking down borders and barriers between countries”. She said this to argue with the man who told her that Europe might not let Scotland in as a new country. By using this argument she showed that, like Alex, she’s not really thought any of this through because if you want to take down borders and barriers, separating from a place you have no barriers with is probably not the best way. Alex and Nicola are both funny people who are thinking so hard about being apart from England that they don’t care if they contradict themselves.
What does contradict mean?
It means when you say the opposite of what you say you mean to show what you’re saying is true.
That doesn’t make sense.
Why would someone do that?
Perhaps because they can’t say what they really think because they know it will make them look silly to intelligent people.
Dad says that Scottish people in England and Wales can’t vote is that true?
That’s right. They just have to hope that the Scottish people that never left home don’t vandalise the country because Alex succeeds in appealing to their prejudices.
That doesn’t sound fair.
It’s not really but Alex doesn’t want Scottish people living and working in the rest of the UK to have a say because those people won’t be fooled by the lie that we’re all living in different countries, as they know better.
My Dad sa-
You talk about your Dad a lot; doesn’t your Mum have any questions? Perhaps your Dad doesn’t like her to have her own opinions. Perhaps she’s looking for a new man. Why don’t you give your Mum my e-mail address and I’ll take her out?
My Dad says Scottish 16 year olds will be able to vote is that true?
Yes. Alex thinks that older children are more excited by things that are new, like the idea of a new country, and have not lived long enough to have a broad and complicated understanding of history and politics, so are more likely to vote yes.
This sounds terrible. I wish it wasn’t happening.
So do I. Now go and tell your parents to vote no before a bunch of spacks decapitate Great Britain.
Scots go to the polls in September, in a vote coincidentally scheduled in the 700th anniversary year of The Battle of Bannockburn; a coincidence highly unlikely to influence the result as no one’s stupid enough to vote on the politics of the 14th century in the 21st. Surely?