The Widening Gulf
Posted on October 9th, 2016
by Rab Bruce’s Spider
Much has been said and written about the growing gulf between the general attitudes in Scotland and England. Some have put this down to historical cultural outlooks, where Scotland has retained some memory of the ancient tribal and clan customs of community interdependence, while England has, since Anglo-Saxon times at least, placed a higher value on property than on people.
However, that is all ancient history and, while Scotland can certainly point to historical evidence for the sovereignty of the people rather than the sovereignty of a monarch or Parliament, there are more modern reasons why the outlook in the two countries has diverged so much.
The two main reasons are the attitude of the Government and the Internet.
Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the governing Parties have had responsibility for domestic areas such as Health and Education. Unable to legislate on reserved matters, they have concentrated on attempting to improve the areas where they do have responsibility. This general rule applies not only to the SNP Government but to their Lib / Lab predecessors. However, it is the SNP Government which has pushed things rather further than previous Administrations. Such things as free prescriptions, banning smoking in public places, and free University tuition to name but a few, have established social matters as a priority for the Scottish Government.
It is an interesting “What if?" question as to whether the Scottish Government would have had the will to progress these sorts of measures had Scotland been an independent country where the Government would have had wider responsibilities, but let’s leave that for the philosophers to discuss.
The SNP certainly aren’t perfect because no Government is, and they are not as Left Wing as they like to portray themselves, but the fact that they have championed socially progressive policies has had an impact on the outlook of many Scottish citizens.
Yet the hangover from previous decades still looms over us. The 1980s saw many individuals become wealthy and the infamous “Greed is good" quote from the film Wall street became something of a symbol of the growing attitude that people should look after themselves. This panders to our natural instinct to want to do the best we can for ourselves and our families but, when taken too far, it can be the cause of social division, especially when people come to believe that anyone who has not succeeded in becoming moderately well off has failed because of their own innate laziness or lack of ability. In hindsight, we can see that many of the policies which made some people wealthy also resulted in a widening inequality in British society.
Then came the Independence Referendum and many of us turned to the internet for information because that is what people do these days. In so doing, we discovered sources of information other than the BBC and the national newspapers. Not only that, we discovered that there were things we could do for ourselves. As the grass roots of the Yes campaign took off, social media was able to spread information on events and we discovered that, instead of merely shaking our heads and tutting when we heard that some people were relying on food banks, we could go out and do something about it.
The whole IndieRef campaign became something of a social as well as a political awakening for many of us. We realised that it might be possible to create a fairer, more benevolent country than the one we had become accustomed to.
This awakening has not reached everyone and it probably never will. There will always be those who prefer to accumulate wealth for themselves; there will always be those who will cling to the UK whatever happens; and there is also the older generation who were brought up to believe that the BBC is impartial and fair.
By the time of the IndieRef, less than half of the electorate shared the vision of a fairer country but the message had reached a significant proportion of Scottish citizens. So much so that the SNP Government now faces some problems in keeping its hugely expanded membership happy. For example, how much of their newly won support will they retain should they approve fracking in Scotland? In issues like this, the electorate has realised that the people truly are sovereign.
None of this is to say that an independent Scotland would be some sort of socially democratic Utopia. No country has ever managed that although some strive to attain the goal. An independent Scotland would hopefully become one of those countries where socially progressive policies become the norm. Even then, every country faces challenges and difficulties and there would no doubt be mistakes made as the newly independent country made its own way in the world.
This is, of course, still not guaranteed. We don’t have independence and we cannot yet be certain that enough of our fellow citizens have realised the opportunities that independence presents as well as the potential risks it poses.
However, events in England over the past week or so are showing up the difference in attitudes in stark contrast.
Again, it comes from the top. Theresa May and her Brexit Ministers are ramping up the anti-foreigner rhetoric to unprecedented levels for a UK Government and this, like the influence of the Scottish Government on social attitudes, has resulted in Right Wing views dominating the general outlook of the public. This is aided, of course, by the media who are themselves largely responsible for creating the situation in the first place.
A word of warning here about making sweeping generalisations. We must remember that not everyone in England thinks this way. There are millions of English people who share the values the Yes movement has championed. The problem they have is that, until very recently, they had no alternative media to look to for sources of news and information. This is beginning to change but it may already be too late since the xenophobes have seized control. Opposition is fragmented and, thanks to Labour’s in-fighting, effectively leaderless. Even if Jeremy Corbyn were to unite the Labour Party, he is not a genuine leader and is also a product of the Westminster system, with little interest in, or knowledge of, many regions outside London.
The sad result of the growing xenophobia and isolationist rhetoric, much of it harking back to some mythical golden age and thoughts of Empire, is that some extremists are taking matters into their own hands. Attacks on foreign-born nationals and on anyone perceived as gay, have increased dramatically in the wake of the Brexit vote.
We can see, then, that the attitudes of a Government give licence to individuals to adopt certain behaviours. In Scotland, this has produced a large minority in favour of broadly Left of Centre values, while England has a small majority who seem to have adopted the xenophobic perspective of the Brexit-dominated Tory Government and the Right Wing media.
Nothing is ever black and white in such matters, of course. Scotland has its share of Right Wing enthusiasts and England has its Left Wing idealists. There are many shades of grey in attitudes because people are human and each has their own opinions on pretty much any matter you care to raise. But those opinions are shaped by our media and our Government. What is different now is that the internet has provided an alternative way to source information and, more importantly, to share it. That is a tool we need to make great use of over the coming months because the mainstream media will remain implacably hostile to Scottish independence. By using social media and, most importantly, by talking face to face with people and persuading them that we can build a better country where people are valued for what they contribute, not for their country of birth, the colour of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation or any disability they may suffer from.
The Hash Tag #WeAreScotland has burgeoned on Twitter, proclaiming that not all of us subscribe to the view that foreigners should be hated. Some people may deride such things as meaningless and ineffectual but that is to underestimate the power of the internet to reinforce a sense of social cohesion. Such messages, whether relayed online or face to face, are important if we are to change the broader social outlook of even more Scottish citizens. It is happening, it is growing, but we need to keep it moving and, above all, we need to make a stand against the division and hatred being spread by those who revel in such things.
So don’t sit quiet. Whether online, in the pub, in the street, at work or at school, don’t let the unsavoury attitude of the Brexiteers go unchallenged. Stand up and speak up. You may not change the mind of the person confronting you but you will influence the others around you. Each of us needs to lead by example because there are a great many people who voted No in the IndieRef who are genuinely nice human beings but who just need a bit more convincing that there is a better way to live.