Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scottish independence, Fintan O'Toole reminds me "tae keep the heid "

Experiencing the final skirmishes of the Scottish referendum campaign as each side struggles to deal the last telling blow has been for me -  even at a distance from it -   emotionally exhausting. Goodness knows how those at the core of the conflict are feeling. I admire their endurance in the midst of attrition.  My use, without thinking,  of metaphors from the battleground tells me how intense the campaign has been for me, and how  easy it has been for me to forget, given the strength of feeling and thought on both sides, that this has been a campaign full of passion, yet free of violence. 

This morning my own internal frenzy has been arrested.  My attention  was drawn to an essay written by Fintan O'Toole in today's Irish Times entitled What kind of state could Scotland be?   What follows is a short extract from the essay but I think this measured, sober article deserves to be read in its entirety. It was a timely reminder for me  "tae keep the heid", to take time away from the fervour,  and to consider what an independent Scotland will be like and the responsibilities it would face.

An extract from  Fintan O'Toole's "What kind of state could Scotland be?" 

"Scotland’s situation at the point of potential independence is infinitely better than Ireland’s was in the 1920s. It does not risk the violence that stained Ireland’s sense of its better self. However divisive the referendum campaign has been, it will not lead to the kind of traumatic civil war whose legacy deformed Irish politics for decades.

"Whatever happens, Scotland will not suffer the consequences of partition which, in Ireland’s case, meant that ideals of a pluralist democracy were lost in the creation of two mutually exclusive sectarian states. And Scotland has, as Ireland did not have at independence, the context of a European Union, which, for all its faults, gives small nations a set of international institutions within which they can make themselves heard.

"These advantages give Scottish independence, by historical standards, a remarkably fair wind. If it happens, it will also create its own energy of euphoria. But fair winds and moments of ecstasy don’t last long in a harsh environment of long-term global instabilities. Patriotism is a rocket fuel that can get you out of the orbit of an old order but it burns up quickly and leaves you dependent on much more complex and subtle systems of guidance to get you through the lonely expanses of historic space. Those guidance systems will have to be calibrated to Scotland as it is and the world as it is, not to any nostalgic belief that the conditions of an idealised older Britain can simply be recreated in 21st-century circumstances.

"For an outsider like me, this is what is most interesting about the possibility of Scottish independence. It is not that Scotland might become a new state but that it might become a new kind of state. For independence to be meaningful, Scotland would have to start with an acknowledgement that many of the things to which it appeals – the power of government, the legitimacy of democratic institutions, the equality of citizens – are in crisis. They cannot be assumed – they have to be radically reinvented. A new Scotland is as good a place as any to start that work. To begin it, Scotland needs to own not just its country but its own reality."

Fintan O’Toole is Literary Editor of The Irish Times. This essay was written for the ImagiNation Festival in Glasgow. A version of it was published in the Sunday Herald.
This extract was taken from the version published in the Irish Times on Saturday, September 13th, 2014
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