Thank you, Playgroup, for suggesting the idea of pulling together members’ “journeys” to Scottish Independence. I think it is an innovative idea and, who knows, someone might one day think it’s of significance when they look back and reflect on how Scotland re-emerged as a nation state of Europe and the World.
I too am in the OAP category, having been born in a very different United Kingdom in the year 1951. It is worth reflecting on that period, immediately after World War 2; I still have my rationing book which records my entitlement to milk powder and orange juice concentrate. Clearly both worked well as I grew to over 6 foot tall!
As with all born of that time, we enjoyed probably the best of all things “British”. The Welfare State had been formed in the period between 1945 and 1947, the mood was extant in the country to make “A land fit for Heroes” and, unlike after World War 1, this time the political consensus was for real change to honour that wartime pledge to the British People.
Free health care, dental treatment, massive council house building programmes to eradicate slums, full employment, and improving living standards, not forgetting working people developing “aspirations”, however modest, to acquire a recently invented black and white TV or part share in a motor car.
My father was a police officer and “our” first car was bought second hand between my father and two other officers. This was around 1958.
We had the use of it every third week and for the two weeks of annual leave. There was an elderly couple in our street who owned the only TV. I can still recall being in their living room with half the residents of the street watching what must have been the first episode of Coronation Street- yes, it has been running that long!
What has any of that got to do with Scottish Independence?
Well you see 1955 was the last time that the majority of the electorate in Scotland voted for the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Prime Minister of which was a Scot, Harold MacMillan. He probably made one of the truest economic statements of any Tory Prime Minister to date when back then he said “You have never had it so good” the “You” he referred to being the British Working Class.
I was brought up and schooled in Galloway. My father was from Uig in Skye and he met my mother, a Borderer, when, after joining the City of Glasgow police before the War, he had transferred to Annan in Dumfriesshire. Just after the Declaration of War he had to attend the bombing of a dance venue in the munition town of Gretna. The scene he saw that night ensured he enlisted the following day. Being a “Skyeman” he joined the navy and was immediately put on a battleship taking supplies to our then ally, Russia, in Murmansk.
This experience, as a Petty Officer at the age of 22, left a lasting impression on him. My mother was deployed to an armament factory in Powfoot, Dumfriesshire. Long after the War she used to say that she “made the bombs and Donald fired them!”. They married in 1946 and his career subsequently took him all over Dumfries and Galloway.
As a very young boy I was totally unaware of even the concept of Scottish Nationalism; all our play was about shooting the “Gerries” as we called them and, of course, our schooling told us that “The sun never set on the British Empire”. Even my primary school teacher had been with the diplomatic core and, on a Friday afternoon had us all enthralled with her stories of distant lands like Sudan and Egypt where she had seen service. Yes the 1950s were probably the time, looking back, when I really was “proud to be British”.
My first recollection of “Scottishness” was when we, as a family, obtained a rented black and white TV, probably in the early 60s. My father and his two colleagues would come to the house to watch Scotland play England at the home internationals. I wondered what all the shouting was about and wondered what they were getting so excited about- so what who wins its only football? It had no impression on me as my pals and I were still flying Union Jack flags and fighting the Battle of Waterloo in our games or even with our sets of Timpo toy soldiers.
The early 60s saw continued rises in general wealth and wellbeing. Life was good – and then, of course, into the mid to late 60s we also had the Beatles, Stones, The Who and The Animals, The Six Five Special and Top of the Pops on TV. It was the “Swinging Sixties” and it was cool, Britain led the way in all things Pop.
As a boy in my early teens life was good; first dates, kipper ties, regency jackets, hey why worry about politics?
I had, however, had a strange moment of awareness of Scottish Nationalism, surreal to recall it now, but at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis my father came home and, at dinner, mentioned that we should prepare for war. He had received instructions to ready people for the worst and to round up all known Communists and Scottish Nationalists at the first outbreak of hostilities, they both being classed as “Enemies of the State”. Thankfully Russia backed down and war was averted. However, it was many years later before air raid sirens stopped being “tested” at one o’ clock on a Saturday throughout every town in the UK.
On a lighter note, and in the midst of this “modernity” and threat of a nuclear war I had, thanks to my father, an acute awareness throughout my childhood of a very different place, a place “removed”, in as much as all my holidays were back to the homeland – idyllic times spent at my grandmother’s home, with uncles, aunts and cousins all in close proximity here in Uig, Isle of Skye. Uig in the 50s and well into the late 60s was a Gaelic-speaking village. Most families were related and all were active crofters with hens, a milking cow, vegetable plots, and potatoes. In my own families case even a couple of pigs to eat all the leftovers! My earliest memory of this time was all the able bodied men of the village helping Effie MacPherson, a war widow as I recall, bring in her hay, indeed hay making took place on every croft around the Bay. It is sad to see their relative dereliction today. That experience, one of seeing shared endeavour, has remained with me all my life and undoubtedly was an early sowing of my belief in the need for common purpose and fairness in Society.
My “Scottishness” was always there but “politically” it was not until 1967, when Winnie Ewing was elected as a Scottish National MP for Hamilton that I suddenly took a political interest. The Labour Party in Scotland was outraged, claims of “Tartan Tories” were hurled at the Party and she was given a rough time in Parliament. Nothing new there then!
On my trips to Skye I still see, in my mind’s eye, the rock faces painted over with “Do you know Winnie?”- which was the buzz at the time. She was such a charismatic person, ahead of her time really, and no wonder that across Europe she was referred to as “Madame Ecosse”.
There was also another influence on me that, looking back, was more a “re-action”, not an action on my part. England’s football team won the World cup in 1966. The endless media hype, about the simple winning of a football tournament came over more akin to England, single handedly, winning World War 2 a second time. Commemorative postage stamps were even issued throughout the UK. I found this excessive “triumphalism” very irritating as it lasted for years! Seems trivial really but many fellow Scots felt the same and undoubtedly the legacy remains as even to this day very few Scots would support an English team.
At this time I was in my final and fifth year at Kirkcudbright Academy where my biology teacher was George Thomson, also standing as an SNP candidate in Galloway and the Head Master was Peter Cook, father of the late Robin Cook Labour MP. School debates were often on political subjects and I enjoyed these immensely.
Influenced in no small way by my parents’ background – my mother’s father had been mortally wounded by a rivet while working in a steel plate mill, and my father’s crofting background – together with my own observations of the social equality in that crofting community, I found myself being of a left of centre persuasion and that has remained so ever since. George Thomson was subsequently elected as the SNP MP for Galloway. This was an amazing achievement given that that area was a long standing fiefdom of the Tory Party.
On leaving school I worked in a private forestry at St Mary’s Isle, Kirkcudbright where I encountered my first party member of the SNP. He persuaded me to join, at the age of 17. I loved working in the forests and this was another influence that has stayed with me all my life. I am a keen advocate of reforesting Scotland. Over time the jobs created would far outweigh those of upland farming.
Even though I loved the forests and really enjoyed the comradeship of being part of a work squad the reality was that the wages were poor at £5 a week so I joined the Royal Bank as an office junior at the princely sum of £8 per week. On an aside and interestingly enough, St Mary’s Isle was the only part of Britain invaded by the American Navy in their war of independence. John Paul Jones, a Scotsman who is credited with founding the American Navy, landed here under the Stars and Stripes with the intention of kidnapping the Earl and Lady Selkirk for ransom- sadly they were not at home that evening!
I had joined the Party in July 1969 really more as a “romantic” gesture than from any real political thinking. Things changed dramatically in the early to mid-70s, however, when vast reserves of oil and gas were discovered in the North Sea. This “blew away” the endless references to Scotland being a “dependency” of England. Yes even way back then the rhetoric was always to make Scots feel dependent on our larger neighbour. Britain had by this time lost most of its colonies under the founding Charter of the United Nations, itself set up in the aftermath of WW2. It is a founding principle of the UN Charter that all peoples and countries have a right to self-determination. Nicola may require reverting to this UN obligation to secure our own ScotRef?
By 1969 the Sun no longer “never set on the British Empire”!
These developments in Scotland and in the former British colonies now determined that independence became a real economic and political possibility not just a romantic dream.
By the mid 70s things were really happening, the then Labour government started to panic, a report was commissioned, called the McCrone Report. This was intended to re-emphasise Scotland’s continuing dependency. It was an “independent report” when such things still really were produced by UK Governments. However, its findings were “incendiary”. Scotland, if independent, could be one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, a bit like Norway today. The report was never officially published although its contents were “leaked”. It remained under wraps for 30 years only becoming available in 2005.
I, like many others, became energised to become really active. I became Branch Secretary and Treasurer, helped run a weekly draw, leafleted, even canvassed round the doors, went to National Council and Annual Conference – heady times.
There was another “ecclesiastic” element. The SNP candidate for Dumfries shire was Laurence Wheatley, son of the eminent theologian and minister, the Rev Wheatley of the Church of Scotland. Laurence failed to win the seat but went on himself to a distinguished career in the ministry.
The optimism and enthusiasm at this time was palpable, we really did think that independence was just round the corner. This was the period 1974 to 1979.
An amusing anecdote of the time- I was now a bank teller and had my own car which carried my much loved stickers declaring “It’s Scotland’s Oil” and “It’s time for Independence” plastered all over it. One day I was called into the manager’s office and told that a customer had reported me to him for displaying political posters and allegiances. It was pointed out to me that I was expected to be politically impartial. Indeed, I was in breach of my contract of employment and could be disciplined if I didn’t remove them! I, of course, had to “comply” or lose my job! However, during the election campaign of 1974 I saw the very same manager driving around Dumfries with a public address system on the roof of his car and campaigning openly in support of the Conservative and Unionist candidate. That was another defining moment in my life, and taught me an early lesson in politics- never trust a Tory! My stickers went back on!.
You took a lot of abuse back then for supporting the SNP. There were the usual “Tartan Tory” jibes, the “Scottish No Point” party, the “Scottish No Hope Party”, etc. However, support continued to increase and then!
In 1979, in response to this growing support, there was the referendum to see if the Scottish People wanted a Scottish Assembly. This, as I recall, produced a majority support of circa 52% for an assembly but there was a second hurdle put in by Westminster. The enabling legislation had a second requirement. It wasn’t enough to get a majority vote. In addition, because this was classed as “a major constitutional change”, Scotland uniquely would have to demonstrate that the majority of people in the country supported the Proposition.
Yes that’s right, even those who don’t vote- the notorious “40% Rule”.
By this it was devised that, in addition to getting a voting majority, over 40% of the total electorate must vote in favour of creating a Scottish Assembly. So, for the first time ever, people who didn’t vote would be counted as against the Proposal. This was devised by a Labour government.
The 52% in favour failed the 40% Rule. Had the same rules been applied to the UK Brexit Vote of 2016, when only 37% of the electorate voted Leave, Brexit would not be happening.
This was a devastating result and put the Party and its activists like me into a tail spin. I withdrew from active participation although kept my membership. I had a young family by now and was progressing well in my career so made a conscious decision to devote myself to improving my life and that of my children. In some ways sad but it wasn’t clear what could be done faced with the resistance of Westminster and the poor showing from Scots.
And then Thatcher!
The General Election of late 1979 saw the emergence of Margaret Thatcher and a very right wing Tory Party. She famously said, on the steps of Downing Street;- “where there is discord may I bring harmony”- nothing could be further from the truth!
I ived in the Midlothian mining belt at this time and saw, first hand, how she destroyed those once proud communities. Indeed Thatcher destroyed Industrial Scotland. Arguably she achieved more in terms of destroying Industrial Britain, not just Scotland, than Adolf Hitler could ever have dreamt of and then, for good measure, she sold off all the nationalised industries.
The Harold MacMillan referred to in the introduction, former Tory Prime Minister, now a very old man, condemned her actions as “selling off the family silver”, the “family” being the British People. He knew, only too well, that these assets and the revenue they generated were key to creating the general wealth enjoyed by the people of Britain during his Premiership, indeed the very basis of funding the National Health Service relied, not only on income tax, national insurance contributions, but also on the profits generated by the Nationalised Industries, like Steel, Coal, Hydro, BP and BT.
It was another “Tory Lie” that described these State assets as “Dead Duck” industries- The Tories invented “Fake News” way back then and continue to do so to this day.
The period also saw what I call an “attack on Scotland” from the right wing, free market Tories of Thatcher and her London centric government.
All regional aid was removed, not only from Scotland of but from the North of England and Wales. The response in Scotland was to look at an ever less effective Labour opposition and beyond to the Scottish National Party to counter this onslaught. The “attack” also manifested itself in the unfettered free market wiping out of established successful quoted Scottish companies. This resulted in massive job losses as plants here were closed, no references to the Monopolies commission or, if there was, these were dismissed by and large on the basis that Scotland wasn’t unique but part of a bigger entity, the UK. You only need to think back to Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, Stakis, William Low, Distillers, Goldbergs, etc.
The Labour Party seemed to be incapable of opposing these Tory led attacks on the Scottish economy; their MPs at Westminster were called “the Feeble 50”, such was their ineffectiveness. Thatcher was waging war, a class war, against industrial workers and their trade unions throughout mainland UK and “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland were at their peak with both sides resorting to armed violence. Based on her “success” in the Falklands War, and her reputation as “The Iron Lady” she appeared to relish conflict- so much for her “where there is discord etc”.
I remained a member of the SNP and interested in advocating the case for Scottish independence whenever and with whoever I met but on an informal basis really right through the remainder of my career in the Royal Bank. In 1990 that career took me out of retail banking and into the emerging world of card and electronic payments. This saw me working with associates not only across the UK and Europe but in North America as we established international electronic payment networks. We take electronic payments for granted today but the infrastructure was created through a truly international collaboration. It was very interesting work and a world removed from my forestry work all those years ago. I well remember coming out of a business meeting when one of my colleagues said “Have you heard about Thatcher” , well I hadn’t but she enthusiastically said that she had had to resign and John Major was now the Prime Minister. Scotland rejoiced!
At the next General Election Tony Blair stormed to victory with his “New Labour” Party. This was great news as he had campaigned, among other things, on creating a Scottish Parliament and devolving many domestic powers to Scotland. Whatever Blair is remembered for I for one salute him for returning to us our Parliament. It was, of course, believed, in the corridors of power at Westminster, that this would “kill stone dead” the desire for Scottish independence and more particularly the SNP – not so, even despite the contrived voting system at Holyrood which was designed to ensure perpetual coalition governments.
The mood of the country was changed by the return of Labour. There were hopes of better things to come.
Thatcher was bizarrely also to be thanked in a black type of acknowledgement. Her actions against blue collar coal and steel workers, and the ineffective Labour Party response in Scotland, had recruited vast numbers of former staunch socialists to the Cause of Scottish Independence – there was a general recognition that politics in Scotland were diverging so fundamentally from those in England, a drift that continues to this day.
I retired in 2005 when I was a Senior Manager, I had been made a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland in acknowledgement of my contribution to the reputation of Scottish Banking (yes changed days after 2008) through my role as the UK’s only representative on the Global Advisory Board of MasterCard and as Deputy Chairman and Board Director of the Switch Card Scheme in the UK.
Where was my Scottish Nationalism at this time? It was still very much a part of my psyche. I took great pride in being Scottish in all my professional dealings. During the period that I worked in RBS the organisation had grown from a relatively small “regional” bank to being the fifth largest in the World. There was no indication at that time of the disaster to come other than that the organisation was losing swathes of experienced staff through a deliberate policy of redundancy and early retirements for those in the 50+ age category.
I was still only 54 and therefore used my knowledge and experience in the setting up my own consultancy company. I really enjoyed being self-employed and worked as such over the next three years with contracts with MasterCard in Brussels and the Irish Payment Services Board in Dublin. My role, in both locations, was reviewing draft European Union regulations on the Banking and Payments industry. This experience reinforced my belief in the European Union as I got a very intimate knowledge of how the EU drafts into Law its Directives. Contrary to the image created in the British Press the process is very consultative.
The 2008 Banking Crisis saw me leave the Banking Industry for good. I “retired” to Skye and set up a “hobby job” as a sport fly fishing tutor and guide. All my career I had enjoyed fly fishing and hiking as a means of seeking relaxation away from things like Blackberrys, phones, emails and all aspects of corporate endeavours – I enjoyed introducing others to the sport.
This took me through the period to 2014 when we were progressing the Cause of independence. Many clients, from all over the World, asked me about the movement to Scottish independence. I was always pleased to tell them about Scotland, not just the Independence movement, but our history and culture. Some would be bemused, others interested in a polite way, others really understood while occasionally others would be hostile. Strangely, the later tended to be fellow Scots.
Like the other 45% I was totally bereft at the September 2014 result. The morning after it was as if there had been a death in the family – I recall looking out the window that morning of the 19th September and thinking that all that wass missing was watching tumble weed blowing down the road – Scotland had committed a grave self-harm – an opportunity missed – it even seemed that those Unionists in the local area had gone to ground. Such sorrow!
That sadness was then followed by outrage; the “Brown Vow” was worthless as we in the Movement knew. English votes for English Laws was introduced, making Scots MP’s second-class at Westminster. The allegations of Vote rigging were credible particularly the Postal Voting where both Cameron and Davidson claimed they knew the result of these before polling booths closed- an illegal act in itself. Then of there was the reflection on the Media, particularly the BBC. Throughout the Campaign their bias was a key opinion former for the “Better Together” camp, giving them a critical advantage against the Yes Movement.
This experience of political failure reminded of 1979. Where do you go from here?
Well, the answer would be delivered in a most unexpected way!
The subsequent General Election saw the election of a majority Tory Government. Scotland returned 56 of its 59 MPs as Scottish Nationalists. Cameron stood on a promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union. The result of the Brexit Referendum in June 2016 was a narrow win for the Leave Campaign who took 51.7% of the votes cast. Cameron stood down and was replaced by Theresa May!
Only 37% of those entitled to vote actually supported Brexit – as mentioned above, under the Scottish Assembly enabling legislation the infamous:- “1979 Major Constitutional Change 40% Rule”- Brexit would not be happening!
Scotland now faces the actuality of being taken out of the European Union despite voting by 62% to stay in and, within the UK, the likelihood of at least 10 years of Conservative and Unionist rule from Westminster. This is not democracy by any standard. Scotland has not voted for a Conservative Government in 62 years. The last time a majority of Scots voted Conservatism was in 1955!
Thankfully, unlike the rest of the UK Scotland has the hope of retaining its connections to the European Union through a second independence referendum. On the 13th March 2017, our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish Governments intention to hold a second referendum to be held once the details of the Brexit Proposition becomes clear- most likely to be during the period Autumn 2018/ Spring 2019.
Such are the terms of the Scotland Act, which created the Scottish Parliament that Westminster needs to grant a Section 30 Order to allow us to hold a legally binding and internationally recognised second independence referendum. This compares unfavourably with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland whereby in that territory there is a guarantee of entitlement to hold a referendum on re-unification with the Republic at any time that the majority in the NI Assembly wish to hold one. It would therefore be quite wrong for Westminster to apply different criteria to Scotland. Hence May’s “this is not the right time”, code for “there will never be a right time as long as I am Prime Minister but I am not admitting it”.
It is as well that we fully understand her position.
She will have the backing of the Royal family.
She will have the backing of the British Establishment.
She will have the backing of the UK Media.
She will have the backing of some serious Unionist organisations.
I await with interest Nicola’s proposals to take Scotland forward.
The UK is now seriously dysfunctional, terminally so in my opinion, and within my capabilities I look forward to working on taking forward the Cause as I am sure the next time is certainly the last time, not only in my lifetime, but because, if we lose again the British State will dismantle everything that implies the potential for Scottish Nationhood.
With independence I wish to see a new nation state of Scotland, a new Nova Scotia, where we who live here decide on our priorities and use our people and resources to create a better and fairer society aligned more to the models of democracy of our Nordic neighbours. A nation state that plays its part as a member of the European family of nations in a World where competition for resources across an ever growing population will need all the combined intelligence and endeavours of the many to ensure the survival of all, it is not the time for introspection and isolationism favoured by the Brexiteers.
That Scotland cannot be just a smaller version of our southern neighbour; it is not just about economics, it is about the fair distribution of wealth. Such a process of change, after independence, will challenge many, as to achieve such a goal we will, ironically, need to look to that Britain of which I was once so proud. The Britain of 1945 which created the Welfare State, which committed to increased taxation of the rich, which endeavoured to establish full employment, gave everyone the right to housing, provided free education and was an example to the World.
I look forward to being a part of the Campaign.
48 years a member of the Scottish National Party.