Sunday 21 July 2019

Scare tactics in Scotland can't detract from the glory of democracy in action

Bob Geldof speaks at the Let's Stay Together event in London - his intervention was inappropriate
Bob Geldof speaks at the Let's Stay Together event in London - his intervention was inappropriate
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Dear Scotland, the very best of luck to you, no matter which way you vote today. There are pluses and minuses on both sides of the argument, of course. But I'm sorry you were on the receiving end of such an intimidatory campaign from the pro-union camp - and even sorrier that an Irishman and someone of Irish descent took part in it.

Bob Geldof and Bill Clinton are entitled to their views, but they went a step further by using their celebrity status to urge Scottish people to choose a particular course. Their intervention was inappropriate.

In a last-ditch attempt to swing the electorate, both men warned against seceding from the union. How odd to hear two men from republics adopt anti-independence positions.

Geldof's intercession happened at a recent rally in Trafalgar Square, while Clinton released a strongly-worded statement shortly before voting began. Clearly, the pro-union camp was panicked into wheeling out new artillery, with polls showing its lead had narrowed until it was virtually neck and neck with nationalists.

As endgame loomed, Scotland was increasingly leaned on by the big boys - not a pleasant sight. Shame on Geldof and Clinton for joining in their carrot-and-stick tactics.

Geldof's speech was emotive, recommending a No vote on the grounds that British nationalism was a terrific construct. Throughout his career, he has made a point of criticising nationalism; just weeks ago he called it "a very dangerous political animal". So, Scottish nationalism should carry a health warning, but British nationalism is admirable.

At the Let's Stay Together rally in London, he was surrounded by union flags and people making jingoistic statements about the United Kingdom. Those are expressions of nationalism, too. Clearly, the knightly activist's cognitive faculties are clouded by his close Establishment connections.

In addition, he forgets there is more than one type of hunger. Hunger for self-determination can also bite at people - the desire to control their own destiny, even if they know they might be financially disadvantaged by it. Not everything can be reduced to the economic argument.

The financial imperative underpinned the case made by Clinton. While Geldof called the Yes vote "an easy opt-out clause" - actually, there is nothing easy about it - Clinton addressed currency worries. He highlighted the risks attached to retaining sterling without being part of the union, while ignoring that Scotland can apply to join the euro. The ex-US president also pressed Scotland to stay in the union because of promised extra autonomy. So, bribes linked to doomsday warnings should carry the day.

What both men ignored is that today's vote is not only about nationalism. It hinges on the kind of society in which people want to live. Scotland is ruled from London, force-fed Westminster's vision of society rather than the Scottish people's. Scots mark Labour on their ballot papers and end up with Tory government - policies they never endorsed are foisted on them. That's a substandard exercise in democracy.

Despite Scotland's enviable natural oil and gas reserves, prosperity is not shared particularly widely. They do not have control over their own resources. From a democratic perspective, it is therefore bizarre to see Geldof and Clinton lend their voices to the status quo.

Perhaps their intervention will prove counter-productive: Scottish voters are all too conscious of how they have been played. I have two nephews in Glasgow, born of a Scottish mother and an Irish father - both are voting Yes. They were undecided at the start, as were many of their friends, but the campaign engaged in by the pro-union side has swayed them towards secession.

Here's what one of them, John Devlin, who runs a small business, said: "Gradually I became more annoyed at the scaremongering tactics. I'm not a fan of any politician, but David Cameron became very hard to stomach. I'll be glad when it's over - at one point it seemed to be turning into a Catholics/Celtic supporters for a Yes vote and Protestants/Rangers fans for No. I didn't like that. Families and friends have been falling out about it, although at least that shows people feel passionately about it.

"Some say we should stick with what we've got but, to my mind, that's not much. I'm going to vote Yes as an act of conviction in Scotland, and an expression of hope that things can change for the better. It's a bit of a gamble, but I believe there's more to be gained than lost."

On loss versus gain, Scottish independence is likely to weaken the North's unionism. It seems inevitable that England will become less inclined to maintain the link - the province is an expensive UK add-on. This is an uncertain period for unionists and it might be timely for the Republic to reach out with guarantees about respect for their traditions within a united Ireland.

Finally, it strikes me that sometimes in life it's necessary to take a leap of faith - then negotiate hard for the best result. Overturning the status quo is always daunting, especially after 307 years of union. But whatever happens, the world's eyes are on Scotland today, and our neighbours are looking engaged, shrewd - and, best of all, democratic.

Martina Devlin's latest novel is The House Where It Happened

Irish Independent

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