On September 18, voters in Scotland will decide in a simple “yes/no” referendum whether to become an independent country or to remain within the United Kingdom, which came into existence in 1707. This week, London’s Tory press hit the panic button when two polls showed the unionists’ lead had been cut to five or six points and stalled, while the pro-independence vote was gathering momentum.
Millions of people of Scottish ancestry around the world can’t vote, and that is sensible from a practical and financial point of view. But if they could, diaspora Scots (including me) would vote to become independent. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott doesn’t have a vote either, but there’s no doubt as to which way he would vote if he could. In London in mid-August, Abbott impudently said the supporters of an independent Scotland were “not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom”. It was a sweeping condemnation of the Scots whose commitment to freedom, justice, human rights and civil rights is part of their national character.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond dismissed Abbott’s remarks, saying:
“Tony Abbott has a reputation for gaffes, but his bewildering remarks have all the hallmarks of one of the Westminster government’s international briefings against Scotland.
“Many Australians, including the great number with close Scottish connections, will look on in bafflement at these remarks — Australia is a country that has gained its independence from Westminster and has never looked back.”
Up to a point, wee Eck, up to a point.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Abbott is looking back; he’s always looked back. It’s congenital with him. Without consulting his own party or cabinet he reintroduced knights and dames to Australia. He’s ruled out having a referendum to choose an Australian as head of state. He wants Mrs Windsor to keep the job and then hand it over to one of her dysfunctional heirs. He wants to keep the Union Jack on the Australian flag, although a “yes” vote on September 18 would mean “the butcher’s apron” will be redesigned to remove the Cross of St Andrew. Will the Australian flag have to be amended too?
“Minds saturated by years of imperialist arrogance and colonial bigotry are used to throwing around the concept of independence, but they are very wary of it in practice …”
Soon Abbott and his fawners-in-chief Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison will make Morris dancing a compulsory subject in the school curriculum, Bronwyn Bishop will be advocating young “gels” wear Pearly Queen outfits to speech nights, and Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime hits will be played at all state and federal conferences of the Liberal Party. Funnily enough, the very reverse is happening in the “Mother Country”. No one says he or she is British anymore; they say they are English or Scottish or Welsh or Irish. English is cool, British is uncool.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow there were few acknowledgements of the “glorious” union. All-conquering England headed the medals table with 174 while Scotland limped behind in fourth place with 53. Scotland also had to endure snide comments from the (mainly English) broadcasters. Oh, and Australia came second with 137 medals, while “our” Queen (and the Kate and Will entourage) barracked for England.
The “no” campaign (aka “Better Together”) has been such a rousing failure it still might give victory to the Scottish nationalists. Its message to Scottish voters is one of unremitting doom and gloom. Nicknamed “Project Fear”, the English-financed campaign has predicted the collapse of the Scottish economy and currency; Scotland’s expulsion from Europe, NATO and every other world body except the United Nations; skyrocketing taxes and prices; and political and cultural obscurity.
The BBC, the Murdoch press and television, the Tories and the British Labour Party have joined a popular front to oppose Scottish independence. There is a reason for this: minds saturated by years of imperialist arrogance and colonial bigotry are used to throwing around the concept of independence, but they are very wary of it in practice, especially when it is in their own backyard (e.g. Irish independence). London finally accepted India’s independence in 1947 but only after many decades of delay and then only with profound regret and a touch of relief. That marked the end of the empire.
The UK Prime Minister and Etonian alumnus David Cameron (surely a closet Scot with a name like that?) provided light relief when he blurted out during a referendum interview: “We want you to stay.” It was immediately compared to something a Tory upper class Englishman might say to his unhappy bride as she headed towards the door with a suitcase in one hand and passport in the other.
I find the polls and the English media coverage deeply unsettling because they appear to contradict all my natural Scottish pessimism. For example, the latest YouGov poll shows the gap between the two sides is narrowing and now stands at “yes” 47% and “no” 53%. The “yes” vote has increased 8% in the past month, during which time Cameron has declared war operations in Iraq /Syria and Ukraine without consulting the Scots or his fellow countrymen and women.
Scots may well take the view that it’s time to make their own history and leave the English to their own devices.