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Scottish independence — as seen from Orkney.


‘Man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens. I, for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only.’ —Hyde, of Edinburgh

‘bt w’re aa kenyans at da end o’t.’ —Derick fae Yell

Image: Scottish Republican Socialist web page.A PAIR OF elaborate monuments frames St Rognvald’s Chapel at the east end of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. Magnus was canonised in 1133, and his cathedral was begun in 1137, at the initiative of Rognvald (‘Ronald’), Magnus’s nephew. It’s thought that English masters (architects) and masons who had worked at Durham Cathedral and Dunfermline Abbey were employed in construction of the first phases of St Magnus Cathedral.

St Magnus - choir. ‘The choir, which is the earliest part, is the finest Romanesque work north of Durham, which inspired it’.1 To the north side of the apsidal altar is a monument to William Balfour Baikie, and to the south, another commemorating John Rae. Between them, on the central altar, an open copy of Scripture, in Norwegian, the pages turned each day, and next it, a rather fine model ‘Viking’ long ship. There is a (male) poets and scholars’ corner here too, with one space vacant, top right. The fusion of diverse cultures and connections within this east end is formidable, moving yet bizarre, intensely masculinist; Mary is not present, perhaps purged during Reformation.

In the West African language of Igbo, ‘beke’ means ‘white man’, and ‘ala Beke’ means ‘Baikie’s country’, Britain, the United Kingdom, perhaps it may have mapped on to Orkney too. William Balfour Baikie, MDRN, FRGS, FBS, FSA (Scotland), born Kirkwall 1825, died Sierra Leone 1864, was a remarkable example of one of those many Scots and Orcadians who were at the heart of the British imperial project—in Baikie’s case making, I want to say, an enlightened contribution. Committed to the abolition of slavery, Baikie courageously explored the Niger river for navigation and established a settlement that developed into the city of Lokoja, where he took an onerous role as governor, doctor, teacher and missionary; he also made significant contributions to the study of the region’s languages. The fulsome tribute on his monument, very much of its time, reads, ‘He devoted life, means, and talents, to make the heathen, savage and slave, free and Christian man. For Africa, he opened new paths to light, wealth and liberty – for Europe, new fields of science, enterprize and beneficence. He won for Britain new honour and influence, and for himself the respect, affection, and confidence of the chiefs and people.’ William Baikie would doubtless be shocked by some of the consequences for Nigeria of these ‘new paths to light, wealth and liberty’.

John RaeOpposite Baikie’s memorial is that of John Rae, if anything an even more intrepid explorer and scientist/scholar than the founder of Lokoja. Born in the Hall of Clestrain, 1813, Dr Rae is regarded as an unsung hero by many Orcadians. He was the most effective and courageous explorer of the Canadian North West because he alone adopted techniques of the Cree and Inuit peoples that enabled him to travel further and more safely than conventional expeditions of the time. In 1854, Rae learnt, from Inuit hunters, the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage: Franklin’s men had resorted to cannibalism in their last days, before finally dying of starvation and exposure. Lady Franklin and the establishment refused to accept Rae’s report, and he was vilified in the press, by, among others, Charles Dickens, in Lady Franklin’s employ.2 Rae’s effigy shows him at rest, rifle to hand, and a book just laid aside. For years I assumed that this would be the obligatory Bible text, but Rae seems to have had no strong religious convictions, just observing the forms as required; the volume is a Collected Shakespeare, his copy presently in the National Library, Edinburgh, which I hope to page through, before too long – which plays thumbed most heavily, any passages marked for reference?

ORKNEY HAS PRODUCED a startling number of eminent lawyers, doctors and professors, men (almost invariably) practising all kinds of disciplines. Scottish social elites, from the army, church and universities were dramatically over-represented in British society and institutions during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There were more universities in Scotland than England until the 1880s; Scots participated in greater numbers, per head of population, in the conquest, rule and exploitation of the empire. Scottish Presbyterian influence is said to have contributed to the founding and structure of the ANC. It is difficult to credit, from today, that before 1914, Scotland was actually more productive, per head, than the overall UK figure, with an unemployment rate lower than that of London.3 The First War benefitted the Scottish economy through expansion of shipbuilding on the Clyde, which in the longer term became a problem due to resulting overcapacity (closure of the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde was announced today, 16 August). The Scottish economy then entered a long, steady decline; almost a quarter of the Scottish population emigrated between 1911 and 1980. As Murray Pittock writes, the numbers tell of ‘the contraction of Scotland’s position from economic powerhouse of imperial [and military] industry to marginal – and increasingly regional – economy … The development of political nationalism against such a background is not surprising.’

Orkney, sometimes ‘the Orkneys’, is a distinctive place, different from Caithness, ten miles across the Pentland Firth, which is different again from everything south, along the hazardous A9. And then there are the Shetland Islands, some fifty miles to the north, ‘Very different,’ everyone remarks. Orkney is a scatter of seventy or so islands and skerries, twenty inhabited; the population had not been growing significantly up to 2001, but has increased by about 3 per cent since then. Numbers are currently 21,570; peak population is recorded as 32,225 in 1861, thereafter declining to a low of 17,077 in 1971. One fifth of the current population moved here in the last ten years, bringing a lower proportion of retired people, and a higher proportion of children with them, than in long-term resident families. To sustain the islands, even more younger people of working age are required, and more graduates need to be persuaded to return to Orkney after completing university courses elsewhere.4 I’m a Brummie ‘white settler’, since eleven years, one number in these changing statistics, able to move here comfortably because of property-price differentials, an agent in the process of what is sometimes called the ‘silent clearances’ of island communities. For a sharply contrasting perspective on Orkney compared to my antiquarian introduction, and which is alert to these population changes and the effects they have on the local community, an obvious resource is the ‘YES Orkney’ site, in particular the contributions of Fiona MacInnes, to the YES campaign and to Bella Caledonia.5

Fiona MacInnes, daughter of Ian MacInnes and Jean Barclay, her father was a socialist activist and fine painter, influential art teacher and finally Headmaster at Stromness Academy, friend of George Mackay Brown, and many others.6 Fiona is also an artist, poet and novelist; Iss [‘Us’] creates the history of a small Orcadian fishing community from the 1950s through to the late twentieth century that maps very closely on to the development of Stromness. The novel is complex and well worth reading, but not always reassuring for recent incomers to Orkney. A character, in the hotel bar, asks, ‘Where are the folk that used to live in the hooses in the herbur? Tell yi whaur they ur. Thur packed intae that council scheme like thur Red Indians in a reserve. An thur’s more dope up in that scheme than’s in Wongo Bongo land.’7

Fiona MacInnes’s essay at Bella Caledonia, ‘Orkney and the New Class Culture’,8 is a social history of Orkney in brief, Stromness in particular, during her lifetime, a useful companion read to her novel, Iss. She has a particular perspective, but a lot of her detail and analysis of the ways that Stromness and Orkney are changing ring true, even to a recent incomer, and who has contributed to the development described, simply by moving here. The online conversation that follows MacInnes’s essay is revealing; the exchanges are thoughtful, and nuance MacInnes’s argument in persuasive details. The dialogue between English people (wives and mothers) thinking of moving to Orkney, and Orcadians here now or who have moved away, is fascinating, ‘potential incomers’’ contribution for example – ‘I just want a patch of ground for veggies and some fresh air for the boys.’


Hamnavoe / LogoVoe. Branded Orkney: The ‘Vikings’ can be glossed in a different way, as in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.9

MacInnes’s ‘Orkney and the New Class Culture’ forensically describes the repressive structures of Orcadian society in the 1950s and ‘60s, ‘feudal patronage and allegiance to the mores of the Protestant Kirk, the Masonic lodge, and the acceptance that you would be Christian, subservient and thankful’. But her description of the childhood world of Stromness and its ‘tripartite gang culture’ is moving, as in the experience of walking the length of ‘the Street’, hearing ‘the noise of electric saws, smell crabs being boiled, fresh bread baking, oatcakes or fudge wafting, see beef carcases dripping blood on the floor through the back door of the butcher or the hose swill the blood across the street into the town drains’. This evokes an Orkney that was the continuous inspiration for George Mackay Brown, in his poetry, fiction and journalism. Then Fiona MacInnes describes the developments in Orkney since the mid 1980s – the ‘de-realizing’ of neighbourhoods through increasing social stratification, inward migration, gentrifying, bringing a ‘new middle class [which] is a self-sufficient social enclave of its own’. There is genuine bitterness in the way these changes are described and analysed, the dislocation of everyone from the means of production, and the meaning of work itself, outsourced to ever poorer communities more open to exploitation. Orkney is now firmly branded and packaged, corporate operations and ethics securely in place. It is hard not to recognise the truth of some of MacInnes’s description, but then easy to say that the same process has de-realized nearly anywhere that you care to name, and Orkney was never going to be able to exempt itself from global developments, so analysis and response have to take a wider view. Historically, Orcadians participated in precisely the explorations of ‘remote’ societies that established the grounds for future appropriation – Baikie in Lokoja, Rae throughout the far North West; and then, the whaling industry, the economic benefits brought by two world wars, for good and ill, and the black, black oil (80 per cent of which should stay where it is, to avoid that tipping point rise in global heat) – Orkney is a critical hub.

Partly because of arguments like those made by Fiona MacInnes, I choose to do an interesting but sometimes demanding job here, ‘in the community’, as a way of earning my place, at least in my own eyes. Thanks to this work, I meet a wide range of people from many different parts of the islands. For this essay, the informal research, beyond reading, has been to quite neutrally ask about independence and the vote, and then just listen.

The bright, twenty-something Orcadians I occasionally work with, no Uni-graduates, all seem…uninvolved and unmotivated, on a different planet.

A LADY TAXI driver said the whole thing made her really angry, it was such a big thing, and there could be such consequences; she personalised it vehemently around the lead politicians. She hadn’t confronted thinking about which way to vote yet, she was so flustered by the business, she said. A very elderly lady, and from what I know, a (rare) Conservative Party voter, was also perturbed, ‘It’s a kinda going backward,’ she said, then tellingly, ‘All of that fightin’ …’, with a slightly despairing gesture, not able to complete her sentence. The bright, twenty-something Orcadians I occasionally work with, no Uni-graduates, all seem ‘totally disregardless’, in one way or another; completely unmoved by the question and the argument, the opportunity of the vote, uninvolved and unmotivated, on a different planet. These were only half a dozen voices from young Orcadians, but they were consistent. This sort of thing just wasn’t where they lived their lives, it seemed. It’s as if they are beneath and beyond the whole question simultaneously, down in the street, living within young life, and then out there in ‘the cloud’, almost anywhere (though physically transacted in a very large shed somewhere in Utah). After a week of formal study and debate in their schools, Orcadian sixth-formers voted 75 per cent against independence (for me, this is one fact to remember, when I’m havering). A former fisherman from Westray, as soundly ‘Orcadian’ a soul as you could imagine, laconic to match, ‘It ain’t bust, so why fix it?’ Elderly farmers speak similarly, and say unrecordable things about the politicians away in Edinburgh.

Then there was the Orcadian-Neolithic response to Alex Salmond. Just one of the privileges of living here, for me a really big one, is to move within the largest surviving Neolithic landscape in Europe…

Then there was the Orcadian-Neolithic response to Alex Salmond. Just one of the privileges of living here, for me a really big one, is to move within the largest surviving Neolithic landscape in Europe — Maeshowe, Scara Brae, uncountable mounds and stones across the archipelago of 70-plus islands, and now, the Ness of Brodgar excavation, a ‘tell’ of abandoned stone structures and deposits, over three metres deep, constructed across several thousand years, more than a hundred foundations remaining beneath the ground, about a dozen revealed so far. A senior archaeologist friend remarks that this site seems to locate what is now Orkney at the centre of innovative cultural development. Not just a remote echo of the activity more than eight hundred miles south, around Avebury, Stonhenge, Durrington Walls, and to the west in the Boyne culture of monumental passage graves, over four thousand years ago.10

The Rangers who take visitors around these central sites are wonderful performers, some of them chosen you suspect for their lovely Orcadian intonation and ‘well witty’ [astute] delivery, as much as for their command of the materials, which is formidable. Last week, I followed a virtuoso performance given by one of the Rangers, around the latest excavations at the Ness of Brodgar. The sense of proud ownership of this culture, the elisions made between the masonry, the precision, the ‘duggit’ [persistent] nature of the achievement under ancient conditions, and being ‘Orcadian’ today, was palpable, moving, and often very funny – ‘It’s noo a temple, it’s where the wyfies came for the jam-making competitions.’ Then, remembering this essay, I was struck by some of the argument when the Ranger spoke about, ‘The Orcadians who lived here …’. There were almost ‘scare quotes’ around the name, this guide is far too well informed to make easy assumptions, but there was also a real pride in a sense of continuity and ownership, that was in truth moving, but it was a ‘blood and soil’ moment none the less, across four millennia. I remembered another excellent performance, from a few months earlier, taking friends on the obligatory tour of Maeshowe, which never fails to impress – visitors and me too, every time. The usual witty, highly informative talk, and then an invective, off-script and all the better for it, in Orcadian-inflected English. Something to the effect of, ‘We’re independent-minded folk here, because we’ve been islanders for this long’ (gesturing around the interior of the chambered tomb at Maeshowe, c. 2700 BCE), and then, as if not able to stop herself, and with a fierce sharp face, ‘If that Alec Salmond ever comes tae visit here, Ah’ll gie him sich a clatterin’!’


22 JANUARY 2012: An Ipsos Mori interviewer came for the Scottish Household and Community Survey, quite a lengthy process, and involving. Early on, the ‘Ethnicity’ page, with twenty-six options to chose from (‘Gender’ had only four, which seemed a bit limited by comparison). I cheerfully opt for ‘British’ (and ‘male’), and Mike, the interviewer, an English person by accent at least, glances up from his laptop. ‘This is an interesting one just now. As you can imagine, a lot of Orcadians immediately ask, “Where’s the Orcadian box”? And when they choose not to tick “Other”, a lot of them go for “British” rather than “Scottish”’. How much will that have changed, two and a half years later, after all the discussion and debate?11

Yet to talk of the Scots – or the Scottish nation – is often misleading. Local loyalty and regional diversity have more frequently characterized Scotland than any perceived sense of ‘national’ solidarity. Scottish identity has seldom been focused primarily, let alone exclusively, on the ‘nation’. The modern discourse of nationhood offers what is often an inadequate and inappropriate vocabulary in which to couch Scotland’s history. The authors in this series will show that there are other and more revealing ways of capturing the distinctiveness of the Scottish experience.

—Roger Mason, University of St Andrews (2009)12

The New Edinburgh History of Scotland, ten volumes, still in progress, is a remarkable project, and a significant contribution to understanding the country. Study of Scottish history (and literature) had not featured in the educational system from the mid-nineteenth century up to the 1990s, in any major way, a part of the elision of Scottish experience within the larger British state and its narrative. The possibility of changing this began during the 1960s, with publication of studies such as T.C. Smout’s A History of the Scottish People 1560–1830 (1969), and the subsequent work of historians such as Tom Devine, Colin Kidd, Linda Colley and many others. Roger Mason’s statement, above, as General Editor of the New Edinburgh History, establishes that it is now possible to draw together this work of historians of Scotland from the last half century, to construct that new account of the ‘distinctiveness of the Scottish experience’.13

Nationhood, I discovered, is necessarily indefinable, because every attempt at definition is a regressive reduction of all the people who regard themselves as rightfully dwelling in this place. 

Margaret Elphinstone14

FerryTHERE IS NO ‘Scotland’. Or ‘England’, for that matter — I want to argue. If it’s so obvious that there is no ‘Iraq’, no ‘Sudan’, ‘Somalia’, for historical, contingent reasons, we can think the same thought-experiment nearer to home. As an incomer, having looked on at Scot-land since a childhood holiday in the late 1950s, stuck to the window of our car as we wound up the West Coast single-track roads with grass growing in the middle, all the way to Assynt and Suilven, a heartscape ever since, the wonderful varieties of the place are what strike me, so many regions, areas that are distinct, tending to define themselves over against other places. Territorial, seemingly tribal divisions are rife within Orkney, usually good humoured, hilarious, but sometimes more pointed: on a toilet wall, ‘West is Best’, that is, West Coast of Mainland over East Coast (Stromness/Kirkwall), then a lot of provoked obscenities. Within Kirkwall, Uppies and Dounies from the Ba’ game; in Stromness, North End and South End (Midtoon seems to have been lost), still somehow a real distinction in the small community. Jackie Kay, a Scots–Nigerian babe, adopted by Glasgow Communist Party parents, was taken, with her Nigerian baby brother, on holiday to (Gaelic speaking) Mull, age 4. She vividly remembers the thrill of the ferry voyage still. Arriving on the island, the two, distinctive children drew a lot of attention, and someone asked her mother, ‘Do they haff the English at aall?’ Mother replied sharply, ‘Bloody cheek! Some of yous don’t have the English at all!’ 15

I don’t want to use nation nouns or write of national aggregates — the ‘Scots’, the ‘English people’, the ‘British’ nation, at more local scale, the ‘sturdy islanders’ of Orkney. Nation-names are always alert to invoke some binary other, which was the means by which the synthetic group was constructed in the first place. National identity, ‘like ethnic or communal identity, is contingent and relational’, defined by ‘the social or territorial boundaries drawn to distinguish the collective self and its implicit negation, the other’.16 Those arguing for independence, which is a much broader spectrum than just the SNP, including the Scottish Green Party, a range of left-libertarian-arts creative groups, all often in contention with the lead taken by the SNP, insist that their vision is a ‘civic nationalism’, built on a distinctive agenda for the new nation, more nurturing, less aggressive materially and militarily than the prevailing UK hegemony — Who could not want this? This civic nationalism is distinguished by pro-independence argument as absolutely nothing to do with ethnic or communal nationalism, embraces all those who happen to live within the territorial limits prescribed by the nation-name ‘Scotland’. Many YES voters, with however many reservations, will cast their vote for no nationalism at all, but beyond that, for a secure health service, better childcare, effective education and a more egalitarian economic development — see the excellent work of Common Weal (The Jimmy Reid Foundation), especially their report, The Common Weal. A model for economic and social development in Scotland.17

With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens. I, for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

AN END TO Trident, a sundering from the baleful, anachronistic Tory-dominated Westminster, the construction of a more generous, inclusive, progressive politics, following the Nordic example that was a dominant presence in the Northern Isles and the North Atlantic cultures of a millennium before (though not then as socially progressive, vide The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles). Better childcare provision, safeguard NHS Scotland, improve educational attainment and professional training, no more tragically wasteful and misdirected military adventurism, move away from market-dominated imperatives, for society and economy alike. But the troubling word is still there, even in a ‘civic nationalism’, necessarily then defined over and against an other ‘national’, somewhere south, which caused the problem in the first place, the Elephant in the Room and in the Bed. My fret is that, for some of the people who make these arguments, all of the disquieting potentials within any nation-based project will be there too, the same-old appeals that can be made, from the same-old elites and power structures, that will not fade unless radically confronted, to ‘hearts’ rather than ‘minds’, for mobilizations of one sort or another, too often malign and disastrous. That Queen will still preside, for goodness’ sake.

The Issues, Briefly.18

The democratic deficit. Scottish voters did not opt for six of the eleven UK administrations in power at Westminster since 1970; independence guarantees government at Holyrood that more truly reflects the aspirations of those living in Scotland. Westminster, the House of Lords, an unwritten constitution – for many, the unelected monarchy – are all felt to be remote and ‘unfit for purpose’ in the twenty-first century. There is a perceived failure of English political elites to give serious sustained attention to Scotland and Scottish issues, over a very long period. Why did David Cameron rule out the ‘third option’ on any referendum ballot, ‘devo max’, further delegation of powers to the Scottish parliament? (Conspiracy theories: the Tories have good reason for welcoming an independent Scotland, which would drive English politics to the right, due to the weakened representation for the Labour Party, currently with 41 MPs elected from Scotland.)

There is a perceived failure of English political elites to give serious sustained attention to Scotland and Scottish issues, over a very long period.

From the English point of view, there is also a democratic deficit, or at least, a troubling anomaly — the ‘West Lothian Question’, which is the ability of Scottish MPs elected to Westminster to vote on issues that affect only England — establishment of foundation hospitals and university tuition fees were two notorious examples – and where there is obviously no reciprocal arrangement. A question that began as an irritant confined within the ‘Westminster bubble’ of political life, and persistently raised by Tam Dalyell (member for West Lothian), has become an issue for more and more English voters, exacerbated by the growing sense that Scotland was making different choices through its own legislature that looked increasingly enviable, from south of the border — free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly, no tuition fees for Scottish students going to university (though English students opting for a Scottish ‘Uni’ do have to pay fees). This has been reinforced by a feeling that the higher level of per capita social spending in Scotland is somehow ‘subsidised’ by English tax payers, an opinion contradicted by Scottish politicians, who argue that taxation is higher in Scotland and the contribution of North Sea oil revenue more than compensates for any differences in spend. A recent survey suggests a hardening of these attitudes south of the border, and with consequences for Scottish-rUK (‘rUK’, provisional acronym, ‘remainder/rest of/ rump’ UK) relations, post referendum, whatever the result.19

The economy. Pro-independence campaigners argue that the Scottish economy has underperformed in recent years when set alongside comparable small (independent) states in Europe. North Sea oil revenues were squandered by Westminster, which failed, for instance, to create a sovereign wealth fund, as was done in Norway. Margaret Thatcher’s administrations during the 1980s used the peak-oil tax revenues for welfare maintenance to all those thrown out of work in the traditional industries and public sector as these were ‘re-structured’, creating a culture of dependence owing to the lack of new opportunity. The Conservative government elected in 1987 was given no Scottish mandate at all. There is presently a single Conservative MSP at Holyrood. Successive Westminster social policies over the decades have increasingly alienated sections of Scottish public opinion, as notoriously, the ‘poll tax’ of 1989, road-tested in Scotland one year before England, and which provided a huge fillip for the nascent SNP, through its vocal ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ campaign. The ‘bedroom tax’ is seen as the latest in a long line of repressive and unjust taxations imposed from Westminster. Better Together argues that it would be unwise effectively to opt out of one of the largest economies in the world; and that Scotland already enjoys higher per capita public spending than the rest of the UK, Scotland, £12,265, rUK, £8,952; tax revenue, excluding North Sea oil, Scotland, £10,998, rUK, £9,109; North Sea revenue, shared on geographical basis, Scotland, £1,267, rUK, -£157. 20

A major monetary issue emerged over the precise nature of an independent Scottish currency, which all UK political parties insist could not fall back on the Bank of England as lender of last resort in the event of another banking crisis. RBS and Halifax Bank of Scotland were bailed out by the UK Exchequer with £37 billion in the crisis of autumn 2008. Better Together argues that the rUK could not, and would not take on that degree of moral hazard, while on the other hand, an independent Scotland could not have control of its own monetary (interest rates, money supply) and fiscal (tax and spending) agendas, if reliant on the Bank of England as a shared, central institution. There would be consequences for an independent Scotland’s international credit rating (and that of rUK), borrowing rates and consequently taxation. Or an independent Scotland could continue using the pound without the permission of rUK, like … Panama, which relies on the US dollar in this way. There is wide disagreement over the future of state and private pensions, in an independent Scotland. Pro-union critics argue that risk is spread more widely for state-pension resources than would be the case in Scotland alone, and private- and public-service pension provision might be compromised, because not fully funded from within the smaller independent economy. This is denied by the SNP.

Health, education, wellbeing. The Federation of Small Businesses (2007) reported that Scotland suffered the lowest life expectancy of all OECD countries, together with severe health inequalities. Child Poverty Action found that one fifth of Scottish children are raised in poverty, compared to one tenth in Denmark and Norway. Westminster austerity measures after the banking crisis of autumn 2008 exacerbate these problems. Pro-Union voices point out that most social services are already directed from Holyrood, via devolved responsibility, so, for instance, more generous childcare provision could already have been provided. The Scottish NHS has significantly different spending priorities compared with those in the other regions, and treatment elsewhere in the UK for residents of an independent Scotland might not be so openly available, as at present. The Nuffield Foundation conducted an interesting survey into the differences in ‘social attitudes’ as between Scotland and England, ‘Is Scotland More Left-wing than England?’, and concluded, that Scotland ‘is more social democratic than England—but the difference is only modest’, and that Scottish attitudes had become less ‘social democratic’ since devolution; any gap in attitudes between Scotland and England had not widened , ‘opinion in Scotland had moved in parallel with that in England, leaving the difference in outlook between them largely unchanged’. 21

‘Better Together’ argues that Scottish universities benefit significantly from higher research funding as a part of the UK AHRC structure, which would not be the case for an independent state: Hugh Pennington, eminent bacteriologist, makes this case cogently. The availability of BBC output would also be compromised by a pro-independence choice, it is argued, with viewers north of the border paying a higher licence fee for fewer programmes and more advertising, as currently in the Republic of Ireland’s access to BBC broadcasting; the service south would also be compromised (This was the ‘Wot, No Dr Who?’ stooshie).

Defence and foreign policy. Many of the voices arguing for independence, such as the Scottish Socialist Party, forcefully criticise the UK participation in the Iraq invasion, and the seemingly uncritical support given to successive US administrations’ defense policies. The Trident base at Faslane, holding Europe’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and located within forty miles of Glasgow, would be removed by 2020, according to SNP policy. Scotland would adopt a role as peace-making mediator in future conflicts, and advance the cause of a nuclear-free world, while remaining a member of (nuclear-enabled) NATO. Better Together argues that as part of the UK, Scotland participates as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and has access to 270 embassies and consulates around the world; the SNP proposes between 70 and 90 embassies and trade missions. As part of the UK, Scotland also has membership of major bodies such as WTO, G8, NATO and the EU – membership of the last two might be compromised or delayed, for a newly independent state, and the status of rUK might also be diminished (debarred from the G8, for example). The combined UK currently deploys one of the largest aid programmes in the world, as a proportion of GDP, partly directed from a centre in East Kilbride.

The SNP intends to create an independent Scottish Defence Force (SDF), 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve members; Scots spending on defence would reduce from £3 billion to £2.5 billion, at 1.7 per cent of GDP approximately the rate of spend in the Scandinavian nations. Others arguing for independence, the Scottish Greens for example, would allocate much less to armed forces. The current UK defence bill is £34 billion, second largest in the world (3.88 per cent of global defence spending), after that of the US (40.2 per cent) and closely followed by China, Russia and Japan.22 Serving UK forces numbers are 100,000 troops, to reduce to 80,000 by 2018, 36,500 RAF personnel, 36,000 in the Royal Navy.

Immigration. Scottish demographic trends indicate (as for Orkney) a shrinking and ageing population in future decades, relative to the rest of the UK, so a more active policy on immigration is required north of the border, and in the North Isles. Pro-unionists suggest this may create difficulties over migration flows to the rUK via an independent Scotland. Parties and attitudes such as those of UKIP seem to have little resonance in Scotland, so far at least, and an independent Scotland would be able to distance itself from the anti-immigrant rhetoric and prejudice on the rise in parts of England. David Cameron asserted in his Edinburgh speech, 2012, that ‘almost half of Scots now have English relatives’.

YES: major parties and groups in favour: Business for Scotland, National Collective, Radical Independence Campaign, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Scottish Green Party, Scottish Independence Convention, Scottish National Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Women for Independence, YES Scotland.

The YES campaign receives enthusiastic support from large sectors of the creative community – musicians, writers, artists of all kinds, so their campaigning events tend to be a lot more fun. There’s also an unknown number of prominent figures who remain studiedly neutral or silent on the issue (not Sean Connery); some also write of feeling unable to declare for BETTER TOGETHER, for many reasons, and so make no public statements. The YES campaign also seems much more active via social media channels, though exchanges can become aggressive or vitriolic at times; ‘CyberNats’ trolling prominent NO-voters, such as J. K. Rowling, were denounced by all campaign managers; their virtual adversaries are termed ‘UniTrolls’. ‘Lady Alba – Gaga for Indy’ has been a big hit, as Bella Caledonia reports.

NO: major parties and groups opposed: Better Together, Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Devo Plus, Conservative Friends of the Union, United with Labour. (Dullsville!)

THE TRADITIONAL PRINT-BASED media is thought to be generally more critical of the YES campaign; the Scottish Sun has a red-card / green-card assessment of arguments, and usually gives the red-card to SNP policy statements. Radio Scotland and BBC Scotland have been criticised for appearing to be more critical of the YES campaign, but they deny this and say they attempt to maintain strict neutrality in reporting and commentary. There are consistent suggestions from polling that female voters are more cautious about opting for independence than male voters, and more sceptical about the YES campaign’s central positions on economics, welfare, education and defence spending. YES offers more inspiring prospects that do engage many people, ethnicities apart, but the uncertainties are many; NO has generally been thought (unimaginatively) to have run a negative campaign, which has emphasised dangers and impracticalities of independence, as defined by YES. NO has seemingly offered too little in the way of a new politics, which is the potential offered by YES.

We are trapped in a bind: adversarial, binary discussions are all there is left out there. Political discussions are fights-to-win, not forums for working out … All discussion is adversarial, adamance now passes for integrity and timorous people avoid political discussions because they’re afraid of a Paxman-esque mauling … Philosophically, there are massively complex questions to be addressed: how to weigh autonomy against economic stability? Can ‘identity’ be a value, and if so, can it meaningfully be measured against ‘fidelity’ as a value? We could be at the helm of a public, philosophical exploration of, for example, the scope of our social and moral obligations, of the limits of international interdependence, of twenty-first century conceptions of statehood. It could be the start of a new enlightenment.                    

—Denise Mina23

He said / She said ? Heart or Head ? 47 / 53 ?

A possibly critical number of voters, perhaps 15 per cent, may only decide when they are within the sanctuary of the booth, the tethered pencil poised over two paper choices.

You can read what you take to be well informed and politically astute opinion arguing, finally, that everyone’s decision will be a matter of the heart, Yeas and Nays are already committed, unlikely to be turned now (20.8.2014, postal vote despatched next week). A possibly critical number of voters, perhaps 15 per cent, may only decide when they are within the sanctuary of the booth, the tethered pencil poised over two paper choices (How quaint our voting rituals, ruinously so.) A Whitehall Treasury official, interviewed by Robert Peston, after running through calculations and possible projections for an independent Scotland and an rUK, concluded that, after about twenty years, there probably wouldn’t be much difference in the wealth and status of the respective nations compared to the present position, which ever way the vote went. So much for all the agonizing about monetary/fiscal end times.

Perhaps it doesn’t really matter which way we jump. An independent Scotland (5,327,700 as of mid August 2014, the highest ever total, 0.07% of world population) could operate perfectly well, a state in character and politics shaping itself somewhere between the Nordic nations (Denmark, 5.6m, Norway, 5.05m, Sweden, 9.6m, Finland, 5.4m, Iceland, 320,000, Faroe Islands, 50,000) and the Republic of Ireland (4.6m). All UK, (64.1m). The Scandinavian model for social management is often invoked as the way forward, for an independent Scotland. Set aside the statistics and stop worrying about the pension, put down Gordon Brown’s memoir-manifesto, stop checking all the RadicalScot websites and twitter feeds, look into the heart.

Strange advice, maybe, given that the heart isn’t necessarily such an impressively limpid zone, at the best of times: But … I feel that I don’t want to opt for a form of independence, which however idealistic, will imply a new difference, borders and binaries of some sort, from the self-confidently genial, ‘How’s yoos?’—certainly the majority—but through to those tiresome forms of aggressive self-assertion, latent alas everywhere. The nation-state is a recent development, with a chequered history in terms of what it has provided for those within its limits. The arguments that impress me are those that say the future lies with different kinds of aggregate identity and agency — supra-national collaborations, EU, UN (I hear the hollow laughter, but even so), UNRA, WHO, CERN … International Space Agency. These too are all state-bearing delivery systems, more or less, so beyond these, the autonomous movements across national boundaries and outwith conventional political institutions, following Naomi Klein’s anti-corporatist No Logo ethic.24 Then, with sub-national formations – cities, regions, ententes that can force innovation more rapidly, and not in less-than-zero-sum campaigns of competitive aggression (aka WW1, WW2, Cold War, the post 9/11 calamities).

Perhaps we are having the wrong debate. Perhaps the whole notion of independence, at least in the context of the UK, belongs to the previous century. Scotland small? Hugh MacDiarmid convincingly said no, but nevertheless there is a bigger picture. That big picture could be a federalist Britain, acknowledging regional identities and ensuring functioning representation – bearing in mind that much of the north of England would be effectively disenfranchised by Scottish independence. This, I believe, could create something positive out of Britain’s fragmented and discordant past, and might even offer new possibilities for our social and cultural future.

—Jenni Calder25

THERE — USED TO be Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but the posse is thought to be expanding. Smell the coffee, hear the hoofbeats. Please forgive the following list, but I do think it needs to be part of our equation: pandemic, climate change, mass population movement, international and regional conflict, the ‘failing’ of states, precisely the form in which we have put all our confidence. None of these will line up in an orderly queue at the Scots border just beyond Moffat, couthie wee town that she is. Which is to say, that the major issues (threats) upcoming are all profoundly transnational, and need to be addressed as such. For which, and more beside, see Margaret Elphinstone’s essay, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Cambridge University).26

I wrote the last paragraphs during 8/9 August, between work visits on Flotta. There is no Wi-Fi connection where I stay, despite being within half a mile of the oil terminal responsible for 10 per cent of UK oil production. So I tuned in to radio news from time to time, following the ‘stories’—not really the right word—we all heard and watched. On 10 August, events outwith the Northern Isles and Scotland were reaching new levels of, let’s say, disorder. Zoroastrian Sufi Shia Yazidi pursued onto barren mountain sides in fifty degrees heat, pitiless, unthinkable actions against them; ebola spreading by embrace and handshake through Liberia and East Africa; imperial division of the ‘Middle East’ made 100 years ago now rotting and dissolving, granulating into ugly wounds — Syria, Iraq, and from a later moment though intimately connected, Israel, Gaza/the West Bank. Abandoned children press against the Mexico/US fenceline. Migrants intent on reaching what they take to be the sanctuary of the UK haunt lorry-park zones around Calais, Dieppe, the container stacks at Zeebrugge.

The contours of the debate change from day to day—I read new contributions yesterday, and nearly changed my mind. On 19 September, the conversation will not stop, it has only just begun. A reformation is needed, and urgently; the Scottish referendum argument has opened up so many possibilities for a properly democratic, federalist, responsive future – for everyone. Borders once invented and imposed so confidently are now contested, erased, become meaningless, through the aggressions and oppositions that they created in the first place. Populations move across the Sykes/Picot line in the sand, because it has become just precisely that. The Scottish/English border is not going to revert to ‘debatable lands’ any time soon, but given these new shape-shifting times, which can only accelerate for the foreseeable future, I do wonder what it would mean to draw a new and somehow firmer line, through lovely Liddesdale and the Cheviots, to definitively distinguish Black Kipp from Wofee Head.27 Do we need more borders, more inner discriminations in our hearts and minds, however subtle, more lines cutting through landscape, memory, economy—or fewer, on both sides of all borders, and especially in hearts and minds?

I.m. A.M., Orcadian creelman, 19 August 2014


Nigel Wheale is the author of Raw Skies: New and Selected Poems (Shearsman 2005) and The Six Strides of Freyfaxi (Oystercatcher 2010). His academic texts include The Postmodern Arts (Routledge 1995) and Writing & Society: Literacy, Print and Politics in Britain 1590-1660 (Routledge 1999).


BBC Scottish Independence: Referendum Library.

Guardian Scottish Independence Blog and Article Archive (1400+).

KILTR, ‘one clan many cultures’.

National Collective, ‘join, create, collaborate’.

Tartan Army Message Board.


  1. Stewart Cruden, ‘The Founding and Building of the Twelfth-Century Cathedral of St Magnus’, 78–87, 79, in Barbara A. Crawford (ed.), St Magnus Cathedral and Orkney’s Twelfth-Century Renaissance (Aberdeen UP, 1988).
  2. Ken McGoogan, Fatal Passage. The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin (Bantam, 2001). Ken McGoogan (ed.) The Arctic Journals of John Rae (TouchWood Editions, 2012). And see also Rae’s entry in the “Orkneyjar” website.
  3. Murray Pittock, The Road to Independence? Scotland in the Balance, Foreword by Alex Salmond (Reaktion 2008, revised 2013), 20.
  4. National Records of Scotland – Orkney Islands area factsheet; Orkney Population Change Study: Executive Summary.
  5. ‘Why I Am Voting Yes’, Fiona MacInnes, Yes Orkney.
  6. See The George Mackay Brown website.
  7. Ivan McKee’s presentation of the economic arguments for independence on the Yes Orkney site is also helpful. Fiona MacInnes’s ‘Why I Am Voting Yes’ and the responses that follow are clear statements of the ‘democratic deficit’ position and resentment against Westminster’s track record on Scottish welfare and development since the 1980s.
  8. ‘Orkney and the New Class Culture’, by Fiona MacInnes, Bella Caledonia.
  9. Michael Swanton (ed. and tr) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (Dent, 1996), year 787: ‘there came for the first time three ships; the reeve wanted to compel them to go to the king’s town, because he did not know what they were; and they killed him. Those were the first ships of the Danish men that sought out the land of the English race.’
  10. See ‘Ness of Brodgar’ in Orkneyjar.
  11. A useful overview, with what seem to me the right emphases about opinion in the Northern Isles, is Severin Carrell, ‘Orkney and Shetland islanders already winning Scotland’s independence debate’ in the Guardian, 20 August 2014.
  12. Roger Mason, Preface, as General Editor, to James E. Fraser’s Volume 1, From Caledonia to Pictland. Scotland to 795. The New Edinburgh History of Scotland (Edinburgh UP, 2009), (xi). Ten volumes, in progress.
  13. Gordon Brown, ‘Telling Scotland’s Story’, My Scotland, Our Britain. A Future Worth Sharing (Simon & Schuster, 2014) 61 ff.
  14. Margaret Elphinstone, in Scott Hames (ed.) Unstated. Writers on Scottish Independence, 72 (Word Power Books, 2012).
  15. See Aminatta Forma’s review of Red Dust Road in the Guardian, 26 June 2010. Only about 20 per cent of people on Mull – Muile – are now Gaelic speaking, according to this report (pdf) in Gaidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) Local Studies.
  16. Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain (Berkeley, 1989), 270–1, quoted in Linda Colley, ‘Britishness and Otherness: An Argument’, in The Journal of British Studies, 31/4: ‘Britishness and Europeanness: Who Are the British Anyway?’ (October 1992), 309–29, 311. Against this,
  17. Common Weal. The Jimmy Reid Foundation. An excellent site (great name too) with really useful library of articles and reports. For example, ‘The Common Weal. A model for economic and social development in Scotland‘ (pdf).
  18. See Jamie Maxwell and David Torrance, Scotland’s Referendum. A Guide for Voters (Luath, 2014).
  19. Martin Kettle, ‘Yes or no, things could get nasty after the Scottish referendum’, in the Guardian, 20 August 2014.
  20. The Times, 18 August 2014.
  21. Is Scotland more left-wing than England?‘ (pdf), British Social Attitudes Survey: ScotCen. Social Research That Works for Society. British Social Attitudes, 28. 5 December 2011.
  22. Peter Singer, ‘Comparing defense budgets apples to apples‘, Time, 25 September 2012.
  23. Denise Mina, in Scott Hames (ed.), 150.
  24. Naomi Klein, No Logo (2000), at And see a rare, constructive initiative, The Israel and Palestine Centre for Research and Information. And Daniel Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, bless all such reaching of hands across.
  25. In Scott Hames (ed.) 44.
  26. I read Margaret Elphinstone’s essay in Scott Hames’ Unstated (2012) after I had written these paragraphs. Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.
  27. Rory Stewart, ‘Border Country. The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland’. And, From Jimmy Reid to Rory Stewart via Fiona MacInnes, a truly federalist vision.

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