first published by Planet Ivy on May 28th 2012
The Declaration of Cineworld
On Friday the Scottish National Party gathered together a coalition of fellow independence campaigners – Socialists, Greens and Celebrities – to launch its ‘Yes’ campaign for the 2014 referendum.
The setting was a multiplex cinema in Edinburgh. Alex Salmond urged campaigners to sign up for a declaration of commitment to Independence. He ambitiously called for a million signatures on what will no doubt go down in history as ‘The Declaration of Cineworld’. Perhaps the venue was chosen because of the Hollywood edge to proceedings – Alan Cumming, Brian Cox and Sean Connery all endorse the campaign – despite not being Scottish citizens anymore.
Scotland’s Future: decided over popcorn..
There is another, subtler reason for choosing such a homogeneous backdrop. In the same way that everyone north of Watford gapes stupefied as they watch London elect a pompous buffoon as mayor, many people in England dismiss the Scottish Independence campaign as being naïve flag waving by Alex Salmond, perched atop a shortbread tin bellowing “Bannockburn”.
In fact, the SNP are much more politically astute than that. Their strategy hasn’t been about identity at all. From rebranding the Scottish executive as ‘The Scottish Government’, to the timing of the referendum, the Nationalists have been playing a long game that Westminster has been stupidly ignoring for years. Commentators have cited Health as a key battleground, which suits the SNP down to the ground. Because Health is already devolved, the ConDem coalition’s NHS bill effectively gifted Scotland’s healthcare system further independence. While competition is introduced across England and Wales, Scotland’s NHS will move closer to its original ethos of universality. Given that Scotland has broadly social democratic leanings, this gifts a win for the SNP before a referendum vote is even cast.
“In the past the union would have been seen as not just the creator but also the guarantor of the values and vision of the post-war welfare state. Today, many see that it is the union, under the Westminster government, that poses the biggest threat to these values and that vision.” Said SNP deputy leader and Health minister Nicola Sturgeon at a lecture in Glasgow University in March. All part of painting Scottish independence as a vehicle to a “fairer Scotland” then, rather than an end in itself. But the problem is that the SNP itself is a very broad church, united by one goal. In rural Perthshire the party likes to be seen as the ‘Tartan Tories’ whereas in Glasgow they branded themselves as the new Red Clydesiders at a time when Labour was abandoning socialism once and for all.
In this campaign the SNP have claimed that an independent Scotland could keep the pound, the Queen as head of state and share British embassies and military bases around the world. There has even been talk of joining NATO and letting the Bank of England oversee monetary policy (Let’s face it, the Scottish banks can’t be trusted to oversee your mum’s savings let alone a country’s coffers.)
Kenny Farquarson astutely pointed out in the Scotland on Sunday that Salmond was “trying to get the SNP to embrace its inner Britishness.” The Scottish First Minister doesn’t want the debate to be about national identity, but about how much better Scotland would be without the ‘shackles of Imperialism’ or having to pay into a UK economy with noticeably different priorities than Scotland does, politically.
It’s no doubt very tempting for Scottish left-wingers to seize an opportunity to reject the divisive right-wing policies of the UK government. It’s also tempting for Scots entrepreneurs to see an Independent Scotland with lower corporation tax as an attractive prospect. Ultimately there is no guarantee that the new country would deliver either utopia. Alternatively a left-winger can listen to Billy Bragg’s version of ‘Jerusalem’ and feel that to leave England to the neoliberals is to betray their English comrades fighting to prevent the destruction of the welfare state. Similarly an entrepreneur will look nervously at the way Scottish public opinion seems broadly less business centric.
But despite balking at the Union Jack, many Scots may still feel British underneath it all. Many will have relatives and friends who live in England. When the politics are stripped back, the referendum vote is much bigger. It is about deeply personal feelings of identity. For example I was born in England. I moved to Scotland when I was 4. I support the Scottish national teams in sporting events but feel at home having a cream tea in a Dorset tea room. I feel Scottish when I listen to King Creosote or The Phantom Band, English when I listen to The Smiths or Wild Beasts. Subsequently I feel torn over a decision which makes sense on some political and practical levels, but seems also to go against other beliefs. It is likely that those with a more rooted sense of national identity will already have made their mind up.
Incidentally, I once went to that homogenous cinema complex to see a small strange Australian play William Wallace in some film.