I got into a minor on-line debate recently concerning an article in the National by Andrew Wilson, author of the Sustainable Growth Commission Report (‘Winning over rUK voters is key to indy ref 2 success’). In the article Wilson noted that 53% of native Scots voted Yes in 2014, while 72% of English incomers voted No, to which I made the following comment:
As an Englishman I’ve always found it deeply troubling that 53% of Scots voted Yes in 2014 while 72% of English voted No. English residents in Scotland will generally fall into either or both of two categories. They will be either economic migrants or moved here as a lifestyle choice and for the environment. For those who are economic migrants I ask, ‘do you see your long term future in Scotland, or do you anticipate eventually moving back to England’ If it’s the latter, I can’t see how in all conscience, these people can vote No in a future Scottish independence referendum, against the wishes of the majority of the indigenous community. The only honourable option is, in my view, to abstain. Those who came for lifestyle/environmental reasons and who voted No in 2014 should bear in mind that it’s those Scots whose families have lived here for generations who created the conditions, even the ‘natural’environment that they so value. So once again a No vote flies in the face of what is morally just.
My comment received a number of responses, some from Scots thanking me for pointing out the perversity of incomers denying the wishes of native Scots for self-determination. Others were more critical, pointing out for instance that we live in a democracy and that incomers also pay taxes and contribute towards the Scottish economy. I absolutely agree and the last thing I would want to do is to deny the vote to anyone who lives in Scotland and is eligible to vote. My objection is a moral one, that to vote against the wishes of the indigenous majority if you don’t see your long term future in Scotland is morally unjust, as you are unlikely to bear the consequences of your vote.
Another criticism my comment provoked was that as Scotland has been part of the Union for over 300 years, it’s the UK that has created the ‘environment’ that many incomers to Scotland find attractive. This is a risible and ignorant proposition. As I’ve posted in a previous article ‘Wha’s Like Us’, I see a culture in Scotland that’s quite distinct from that in England. If the Scottish culture was a result of our Britishness then I would expect little difference North and South of the Border. That there are differences; Scotland is more politically left leaning and in my view is more egalitarian and less egotistic, is due to a number of historical factors, not least the Clan tradition of the Highlands, different education system (no state-run grammar schools and public education provision long before anything similar in England) and a different Religious doctrine (the Presbyterian tradition which separates church and state rather than the much more hierarchical Anglican tradition which binds itself to the state).
My reference to the environment is borne of first hand experience. Before we moved to Scotland, we lived for about 10 years in the English Lake District. At the time I was an active environmentalist and member of the Friends of the Earth. Our main area of concern was the nuclear power stations which had recently been developed at Windscale (Sellafield) and Heysham in North Lancashire. However we were also critical of some hill farming practices. Recently I read ‘A Shepherds Life’ by James Rebanks, a wonderful account of a year in the life of a Cumbrian hill farmer. A particular grievance of Rebanks was those incomers who, having moved to the Lake District because of the beauty of the area and the lifestyle , then set about trying to re-shape it to fit their own values. So, people like me. It was a salutary lesson to find myself caught in the cross-hairs. My excuse is I was young (well, younger) and foolish then.
I see the same phenomena happening in Scotland as incomers move here for lifestyle reasons, then by accident or design, seek to change it into something that’s more recognisable to the culture they’ve come from. For example there’s a couple of B&Bs near where I live. One is called ‘La Maison de Mer’ and the other ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, neither of which names have much connection with the local Highland culture. I plead guilty as charged on this count also. In the 1980s we moved to a cottage in the countryside of Central Scotland called Glengyle North. No sooner had we moved in we renamed it ‘Taransay’ after the island off the west coast of Harris. Why did we do that? Clearly we wanted to stamp our own personality on our new home. In doing so however, we arrogantly dismissed the personality that already existed, through the Scots who built, named and lived in it for generations before we arrived.
Of course Scotland in particular has a gigantic precedent in this regard, in the many Highland sporting estates (half the private land in Scotland being owned by less than 500 people), each of which have in their own way, sought to turn back time and create some mythical Highland Brig o’ Doonesque environment. While these landowners have certainly shaped the Scottish environment, it’s the ruins of the many crofting communities (often the result of decisions taken by the land owners to suit their own interests rather than those of the indigenous community), half-submerged dry stone and earth dykes and of course the ubiquitous lazy beds stripes on the hillside that speak most powerfully of the impact of the Scottish people on the environment. To those people who moved to Scotland for lifestyle reasons therefore, I appeal to you not to make the mistakes I made, to value what’s there, how it got to be like it is, who created it and not to and try to reshape it in your own image.
In the 2014 referendum, nobody knew that a majority of Scots would vote Yes. So a No vote from incomers was less contentious. Now we know that a majority of Scots support independence and I believe that the 53% figure should be broadcast loudly so that incomers inclined to vote No, will be in no doubt that such a vote helps to deny the right of Scots to self-determination. So if you’re an incomer who can’t bring yourself to vote Yes to support the wishes of most Scots, I respectfully ask that you abstain.