‘Before the fall of the empire in 1918, the Imperial Council here in Vienna consisted of a House of Lords and a House of Commons, just like the current system in the United Kingdom’, explained the guide on our tour of the Austrian Parliament last week.
I couldn’t help a wry smile and an apologetic shake of the head at the antiquated and undemocratic political system of my homeland. The guide noted this, and asked if I had any connection to the UK. Unfortunately aye, I answered.
My answer was not renunciation or regret of my British heritage and identity. Indeed in the context of the general frankness of the German-speaking lands, I take huge pride in many aspects of our warm, open, polite, and friendly British culture.
When it comes to politics however, and there have been many such situations during my year abroad, I feel the need to passionately protest my distinctly Scottish identity. And it is in these situations where it becomes desperately clear that Scotland must be internationally recognised as a distinct nation with its own political values, practices and aspirations.
For as long as we remain part of the United Kingdom, we will continue to be viewed merely as the northern part of Britain, tarred with the same brush that the colours the politics down in Westminster. A politics characterised by a bizarre and unjustifiable attachment to undemocratic and antiquated tradition in the form of an unelected upper house and devout deference to the monarchy, and where our third pillar of ‘democracy’ in the House of Commons is dominated by an agenda of increasingly right-wing conservatism, strong anti-EU sentiment, vigorous privatisation, merciless austerity measures and the destruction of the welfare state.
This is a political culture anathema to Scotland, most recently demonstrated by infamous UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s visit to Edinburgh, where, despite his party’s rise in England, he was trapped in a pub on the Royal Mile due to a spontaneous demonstration against his racist politics. UKIP does not have a single representative in Scotland.
The main party in the current UK Government has less representation in Scotland than panda bears, with Tian Tian and Yang Guang in Edinburgh Zoo outnumbering the sole Conservative MP two to one. On the surface a nice apercu, but it demonstrates just how removed the UK Government is from Scottish political values and aspirations.
Where the fight in Westminster is between those on the right of the political spectrum, and those further to the right, the Scottish Parliament is characterised by a social-democratic consensus. In areas such as health and education where we already make our own decisions, the markedly different approach north of the border is clear to see. Our NHS and the principle of universal health care free at point of need have been protected against the background of the rapid privatisation of its English counterpart. Where English students are now confronted with university tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, the Scottish Government has ensured that education remains based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. As Westminster slashes support for the elderly and the poor, the Scottish Government has maintained its commitment to free personal care for the elderly and universal free prescriptions.
And even in the areas where we don’t already make our own decisions, our difference in opinion is clear to see. The unanimous opposition to nuclear weapons in the Scottish Parliament stands in stark contrast to UK-wide support. The notorious ‘Bedroom Tax’ was opposed by over 90% of Scottish MPs in Westminster, and the current Scottish Government has pledged to scrap it in the event of independence.
Without the full powers and status of an independent nation, Scotland will only ever be able to mitigate the worst of hostile Westminster policies at home, and will remain powerless and inconsequential on the international stage, our interests and values neglected in favour of those of the UK as a whole, where Scotland accounts for less than 10% of the population.
As long as we remain part of the UK, we will have no means to realise our distinct political and social values and aspirations, and we will continued to be tarred with the same brush as the rest of the UK by outsiders.
We can shout and protest, but our voice will go unheard.
Europe and the rest of the world will never know or recognise Scotland as the distinct and independent nation that we are.
And Scotland has a hugely positive role to play on the international stage, as forerunners in renewable energy, opponents of nuclear weapons, and advocates of European integration, and with a progressive, modern parliament with strong social democratic foundations already in place at home.
A vote for independence in 2014 is a vote for normal nationhood. It is a vote recognising the reality that Scotland is a distinct nation, with values and aspirations different to those of the rest of the UK.
It’s time to take up our own place on the global stage, it’s time to make our own voice heard.
It’s time to let Scotland be Scotland.
Ashley Husband Powton