“It is perhaps an earnest of the quality of the man that the last words of this last column are these: ‘To induce people to think is more valuable than to convert them to your own point of view.’”
Rev AS Borrowman on Oliver Brown

LENGTHY lockdowns, dreich days. Spending hours on the computer lost its appeal. On Twitter people were on a short fuse. Banter and good-natured sparring dried up.

What to do? I picked up book after book, rereading many I knew I would enjoy, though soon discovered the need to choose carefully. Nothing too chilling or emotional. Maintaining equilibrium and a positive frame of mind was essential.

Soon my reading hunger led to downloading ebooks. Picky here too, I stumbled on Scandinavian and Nordic Noir, shunning the darker narratives. A new world of writers gripped me, writers whose books about police procedures also encompassed engaging characters, backstories, a penchant for coffee (no decent Scandi Noir character is without their coffee), work/family balance, immigration, descriptions of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Greenland today and in days gone by.

The National: Coffee being poured

I was fascinated, astounded by my feeling of kinship, of association with social attitudes similar to what I had grown up with in Scotland. Their outlook on life, their left-leaning/social democratic politics threatened by far-right parties and organisations, all chimed with my feelings of living today in Scotland under a right-wing UK Tory administration.

A glance at readers’ comments before buying. The number of readers who dislike a book because they can’t pronounce the names of places mentioned astonishes me. True, many are initially daunting, especially Greenlandic ones, but why let that deter reading a good book? Just settle on a pronunciation that suits and go for it, ditch the focus on the unimportant detail and concentrate on the wider narrative. Or open your mind to learning how such place names might be pronounced. Have confidence. Embrace the challenge.

Unfortunately we now have a UK government determined to rid us of Europeans. Why?

Where does this dislike of things foreign, this xenophobia come from? I don’t remember it in my younger years when many happily mispronounced French, Belgian and other cities and towns where British soldiers fought during two world wars. Package holidays abroad should surely have opened eyes and minds to other languages and cultures.

The National: GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 31: A demonstrator waves a flag at a Stop the Coup protest in George Square on August 31, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. Left-wing group Momentum, remain group Another Europe is Possible and the People's Assembly coordinate a se

Decades ago at secondary school in Glasgow my French teacher engendered in us the thrill of learning the language of a country some of us dreamed of visiting … someday. He tunelessly trilled French songs, told us stories, usually corny, of his family’s escapades in France. On one occasion he even took us to the Cosmo cinema in Glasgow to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. For us teenagers it brought another country alive, planting the seed of a lifelong delight in and fascination with other European countries.

My French teacher also left me with an enduring feeling of being Scottish and a deep sense of pride in that. Hardly surprising, as that teacher was Oliver Brown – a man with memorable tales to tell.

Wee Olly, as he was nicknamed was, for me, building on foundations already there. Although young in coronation year the extravaganza struck an off-tune chord. My dad had bought a TV for the event, the only TV set in the street of prefabs to which we had moved several years previously. We were overjoyed – a house of our own, with a fitted kitchen that included a fridge. I didn’t know anyone else with a fridge. I had a bedroom to myself, a luxury enjoyed by none of my friends. And we had a grassy garden large enough to accommodate all my playmates from the street. Life was good.

Neighbours took it in turns to watch the day-long proceedings unfolding in grainy black and white on a nine-inch screen. We listened, open-mouthed, to the plummy voices of reporters overwhelmed by the grandeur of the occasion. Royalty, grandees and politicians from around the world. Silk, satin, velvet, ermine, sparkling gems and glittering jewels. The sheen of gold even on the coronation coach. This was another world, a world I never knew existed. This was wealth and status beyond my ken. Different people. Different values. Very different lifestyles.

Seventy years later that difference remains. The UK, according to the OECD, had among the highest levels of income inequality in the European Union. Per person the UK is the poorest country in north-west Europe and is becoming increasingly poorer with the wealth gap doubling from -7.6% in 2000 to -16.3% in 2021. Our elderly receive the lowest pensions in north-west Europe, many living in fuel poverty despite our oil. Union broad shoulders? Union benefits?

In pre-Thatcher days remnants of pride at being second city of the empire still fluttered around Glasgow despite enduring poverty and the closing of prestigious shipyards and heavy engineering works. Photographers captured the decaying housing and backcourts of the slums, children in rags, the creased and disillusioned faces of those who lived without hope in the precious union of the United Kingdom.

The 1979 referendum was a ragtag affair of hope, fear, anxiety, anger even. In the end those wanting a derisory measure of devolution won but not by sufficient margin to leap the iniquitous 40% barrier introduced by Labour MP George Cunningham. Fear had triumphed over confidence.

The National: File photo dated 09/10/85 of Margaret Thatcher. The BBC has announced a new documentary series on Margaret Thatcher, which it says will "reignite the debate" around the former prime minister. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday April

Then came Margaret Thatcher with her ignorance of Scotland and its requirements, her domineering attitude and determination to be rid of troublesome, outdated manufacturing and mining and embrace a modern service economy. With the demise of these industries went jobs, confidence followed. Scotland was useless. Thatcher-era poverty and mass unemployment at a time when oil was gushing with fecundity from wells in Scottish waters.

The poll tax wreaked irreparable damage, fuelling bitterness. Badly thought through and divisive. A policy, like many other Westminster policies, totally unsuited to Scotland and it’s left-of-centre beliefs.

Would an independent Scotland have followed this destructive path – a path that threw a generation on the scrap heap and destroyed our belief in our abilities and in ourselves?

It wasn’t until the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 that the tentative shoots of a new confidence blinked into the light of day. The parliament would, to a limited extent, enable us to shape our politics and our lives in the way that best suited Scotland and us as individuals. Hopes flew high like kites dancing in the sky.

The Parliament hasn’t always met our hopes, but it has improved lives and provided us with the kind of left-of-centre policies most Scots embrace. Some might carp at its failings, but it has retained and improved our free-at-the-point-of-use NHS, our youngsters can attend university irrespective of their parents’ incomes and bank balances, and our older and less able folk receive care as required.

In the wake of Brexit our feelings of being European, those same feelings imparted by Ollie Brown many decades ago to classes of youngsters in Glasgow, remain. But sadly we still lack confidence despite Scotland having more natural resources than most other countries of a similar size.

Too many still believe Scotland is poor, unable to manage without England’s supposedly broad shoulders. So while more than 60 countries, many much less well-endowed than Scotland, became independent from the UK and forged their own paths in the world, Scotland remains tied to Westminster’s coat tails. These countries didn’t beat their chests over what currency to use. Countries have currencies in order to trade. As in place name pronunciation, investigate the options, decide and move on.

Europeans often have relatives, friends, jobs in other countries. Even before the formation of the EU, borders didn’t make strangers of them. Borders were merely an administrative necessity. Many Europeans speak numerous languages, it’s what people do to live alongside one another. Yet many in the UK recoil from speaking other languages, disadvantaging and isolating us. Europeans are usually outgoing and have confidence in themselves and in their countries, are often partly educated in other countries, or work abroad for experience and to hone language skills required in global businesses.

The National:

“Worldbeating” – merely another of Boris Johnson’s void PR stunt words. Brexit UK is being left behind, Brexiters wallowing in nostalgia for an Enid Blyton country. Was it zeal, based on insecurity in the UK’s ability to compete in a forward-looking EU, that spurred Brexiters to withdraw into isolation?

The Enid Blyton era is long over. The UK’s reign has been relegated to history books, replaced by lies and intransigence in dealing with our neighbours whilst plastering everything with Union flags.

Insecurity writ large.

So the question to ask yourself is not “Why Scotland should be independent?” but “Why shouldn’t Scotland be independent?” Independence is normal as is interdependence in today’s world in order to tackle major problems such as the approaching climate disaster.

Scotland used to be a country renowned for its thinkers, inventors, engineers, financiers, administrators, explorers, scientists, doctors – those who left their mark around the world. What happened to us? Why did we sink into the depths of fear and apprehension, cowering in the belief we are incapable, inferior to so many others on this planet? Where did our faith in ourselves and our abilities disappear to?

Isn’t it time we squared our shoulders and decided to play our part in this world where conflicts, poverty, a global pandemic and climate change are problems desperately needing addressed? Scotland has the expertise to help, but does it have the courage, the confidence?

In the last decades, under the Union we may have gained slightly more material benefit, more money, some very considerably more money than others. But what have we lost? The entrepreneurial spirit, the ambition, the confidence to stand for what we believe in and the type of inclusive country we want to live in. Instead we watch a right-wing government we didn’t vote for ride a wave of destruction through beliefs and laws hard won through the centuries.

The Scottish Parliament that Scots voted for overwhelmingly in 1997 is having powers ripped from it.

The UK Government intends to ditch democracy and destroy devolution in order to reshape the UK into a private profit model that will include health and welfare. The US model beckons. The clock is being turned back centuries whilst the devolved and UK parliaments are ignored, their decisions overridden by a mendacious Westminster executive out of control.

The UK Government is determined to subsume Scotland into greater England, destroying our culture and way of life. The Tories in government have endless confidence, arrogance too, just look at their behaviour. But where is our ambition, our confidence?

Like the UK Government, people in England have moved to the right, embracing policies that are anathema to most Scots. With its 80-seat majority there is little chance of government or policies changing direction. Instead, the Tories will continue to cut a channel of division, creating rifts deeper than any border could between England and Scotland.

The older generation took advantage of nearly five decades of EU membership, enjoying freedom of movement, retiring to holiday homes in the sun, benefitting from increased standards across a variety of areas from appliance safety, high food standards, cheap package holidays, opportunities to attend universities in EU countries, the chance to work abroad with qualifications recognised, a wide range of foodstuffs easily imported and readily available. Sadly it was this older generation that also turned its back on the EU and on the younger generation as it voted to leave in the Brexit referendum. The present younger generation will, because of the actions of their elders, be the first to have more isolated, more constricted, less colourful, less satisfying, less outward-looking lives, with fewer, more limited opportunities than those their parents enjoyed. Lives will be significantly more constrained within the UK strait-jacket.

If that bleak outlook doesn’t appeal, if you want a better, fairer society for everyone, then maybe you need to reassess your views and long-held beliefs and consider the potential and benefits of an independent Scotland.

If you have the confidence to challenge your own cherished stance, and your curiosity has been whetted on independence, Believe In Scotland has an excellent website (https://www.believeinscotland.org/) with articles covering a range of subjects. A book, Scotland The Brief, is also available that could be shared with family and friends.

We look forward to welcoming you to Yes.

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