The Better Together pro-union campaign had its launch event for Cowal last night, 7th October, at Dunoon Grammar School – with a platform party sandwiched by the school’s output.
David Barton, at one end, is a present day senior pupil at the school and was one of the speakers. Rob Shorthouse at the other end, a former pupil, is Communications Director for the Better Together campaign.
The session was chaired by Council Leader Dick Walsh, with Alan Reid, Argyll and Bute’s MP; Jamie McGrigor, Highlands and Islands MSP and resident of Argyll; and Mary Galbraith the declared Labour candidate for the 2015 General Election. all joining David Barton on the speaking panel.
At one point Councillor Walsh forgot he was in the Chair and gave an impromptu address on the subject himself.
The brief for the speakers was to give their personal reason for their pro-union position. With the exception of David Barton, who had not been identified in time, the speeches of the panel members are published here below, along with similar but pro-independence contributions from Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute’s MSP and Campbell Cameron, Oban’s Town Centre Manager.
Alan Reid’s address was less personal than it was political – but then he has been steeped more deeply in politics since his part became one of the coalition partners in power at Westminster, so he can be forgiven for being carried by the adrenaline of that ongoing experience.
Mary Galbraith proved someone whose rich family life, cultural background, experiences and practices ought to have marked her out pre-eminently as a nationalist – but she relishes and thrives in the texture of the ‘club’ that is the UK. Warm, alert, amused and quick thinking, she is going to be one to watch in the Westminster election campaign to come in 2015. Professionally she is an IT business professional, specialising in mergers and demergers, which, in his introduction of her, Councillor Walsh, wittily noted ‘might come in handy’.
Jamie McGrigor perpetually overturns cliched expectations of Tories – because that’s not what he is. He was a naturally conversational and compelling speaker. Quick to pick up on Mary Galbraith’s fidelity to the brief of ‘being personal’ he departed from his planned speech [published below] off the cuff and refocused what he had to say. Because this was new material, we are including here an outline of what it was.
He spoke of his own family,Clan Gregor, devastatingly punished for their political loyalties by the retributive establishment of their day. Jamie McGrigor said simply that his family had ‘lost everything’, ‘even our name’ and had ended up ‘on a croft somewhere north of Tomintoul’. [For those unaware of the fate of Clan Gregor, Wikipedia has a useful summary.]
He then sketched in the military service of three generations of his family, with one becoming a celebrated doctor in London. Linking this into his planned address, he finished by saying that he had two daughters, both living and working in England but both firmly Scots in identity. The advice he has given them is to be as proud as anything of their Scottishness but never to forget what the United Kingdom has done for their family.
Moments of truth
The session began by reclaiming territory as jointly owned, with a film showcasing Scotland, breathtaking as usual – and Scots who feel powerfully both for Scotland and for Britain.
The first slamming insight of the night came from that film. A young woman said: ‘When I go down there in the future, I don’t want to feel I don’t belong there or I’m not welcome’. This immediately brought into being the sense of unwanted alienation in which nothing thrives.
Then Rob Shorthouse, in his own opening remarks – emphasising the need to vote and not simply to express a view – described nationalism as ‘an old fashioned position’. He was talking about the 16 year-olds who will vote for the first time in the independence referendum. He was comparing the tight and defensive boundaries of nationalism with the freebooting global community of the internet which young people inhabit with a will. This was the second wake-up call of the night – the disjunction between the world of the young and the political confinement of a fortified world long gone.
David Barton then threw into the mix an instantly powerful practical predicament. Saying that he as aiming to go to University and then into the British armed services, he said: ‘But what will be possible for me if Scotland is independent? Will I get in to the UK services? What’s out there for me? If I want to move south to work, will I be able to do that?’
The elephants in the room
There was a wrecking party present, which revealed itself when it came to Question tie. A phalanx of three tanks had positioned themselves early – in pole position, bang in the middle of the front row.
In the centre was SNP councillor Gordon Blair, whose thin tones belied the hulking presence of the gang of three from which they came.
Other voices scattered around the rows quickly indicated that there was a dispersed presence, there with a single purpose – to derail discussion by trying to force it into territory irrelevant to the debate – the specific detail of today’s UK government projects. They had their moment but they were unpleasantly and unnecessarily aggressive.
At this point, Jamie McGrigor took them on.
‘Look here’, he said. ‘We had a debate in the Scottish Parliament today – about the Common Agricultural Policy – with Scottish farmers anxious about the detail of a deal. Your lot just kept talking about the referendum. That’s all it is these days. Referendum, Referendum, Referendum. And the things we need to do aren’t getting done. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the lot of you.’
Being a gentleman, he later apologised for getting heated – but the point was a real one.
Later during questions, when a woman in the audience raised the issue of the sheer cost of the Bannockburn reenactment for 2014, an exasperated and utterly uncontrived McGrigor told a few more home truths.
‘Bannockburn’, he said. ‘They only want to celebrate Bannockburn because we won that one.What about the one’s when got beaten? I went to a commemoration of Flodden – where we got hammered. 10,000 Scots were killed, 5,000 English were killed. There wasn’t a single SNP representative there. Not one. No interest in paying tribute to Scots lives lost. It’s only about winning.’
At the end of the session, some of the SNP plants tried to sweep up the pro-union literature at the back of the room – to dump in a bin.
This was a pretty thuggish effort all round – and no advertisement for the kind of Scotland we can expect if we drift languidly into letting them have their ill-considered way.
The big revelation
Very early on in the Question and Answer session after the addresses, a woman in the front row announced herself as a nationalist – and then said she would be voting ‘No’.
She had come to this decision ‘because what’s on offer isn’t independence at all’. Bright, un-shrill, articulate - hurting – she outlined a sense of betrayal at what is being proposed as ‘independence’ – each aspect of which she listed.
Her point was that she is not alone and that the Better Together campaign would do better to address people like herself, who would vote ‘No’.
The Better Together platform party immediately felt they owned here, failing, at first, to understand the issue.
This was clarified at the end of the session where a man sitting beside her also spoke. Describing himself also as a nationalist who would be voting ‘No’, he said: ‘But I’m not ‘Better Together’, I’m pro-independence’.
Now they got the point and were working to adjust to it. The first speaker than challenged each of the platform party to define ‘independence’. All failed – except David Barton who told her that the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had defined it as ‘being autonomous, making one’s own decisions’. Delighted, the woman said that he had just revised her opinion of Scottish education.
What this element of last nights session underlined – sharply – is that in the middle of the two entrenched encampments there are homeless people on no man’s land.
The issue here is not that they are natural prey for predatory vote collectors on either side but that they have been left homeless by a a prospectus for independence which has not had the courage of its convictions – or has abandoned its convictions for the fatality of an ‘end justifies the means’ policy.
When Rob Shorthouse told the woman who spoke first that, even if she wasn’t pro-union, he was glad she’d be voting ‘No’ – she said simply: ‘I have no choice’.
There is real pain here, in people who have nothing to fight FOR, only something they have no choice but to defend against.
We ourselves are in territory not dissimilar to this, having initially supported independence and moved progressively away from it because of the lack of integrity of the independence prospectus on these grounds, on those of its utter incompetence in economic survivability and in its failure to understand the complex consequences of separation.
Where we differ from these two nationalists whose position impacted on us so strongly, is that is moving away from independence, we have come to understand better and to value more the textured complexity of being part of something bigger and more various than ourselves.
We may not like all of it but what we do not like casts into relief where our own circumstances here are better.
What we do like – the genuinely bigger game with the pooling and sharing to grow and shelter, cannot be supplied by a small country.
We do have the best of both worlds right now – a clear identity a cultural distinctiveness, work to do – and a common good to which we can contribute generously and from which we receive in periods of need.
It’s about what we give as much as about what we get – and it’s about what, together, we are – different, rich, combative, supportive. jostling and joshing – a family.