A keynote lecture as part of the Political Earthquakes series of talks at the international book festival, the speech by writer Andrew O’ Hagan was a highly anticipated event that I was very, very lucky to get a ticket for. Thanks to the great staff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival Returns Desk for that one, and for putting up with my frequent visits…
O’Hagan was, he freely admits, originally skeptical of the independence movement. But in the speech, he chronicles the major turning points that brought him round to the idea of Scottish independence within the last few years, projecting his voice onto a packed and receptive audience in Charlotte Square.
Connecting with my own work, these turning points, broadly at least, do not seem to rely on some overt ethnic or historic nationalist view point. Rather, the Scottish independence movement for O’Hagan is the vehicle by which the nation can bring about an end to what he sees as a corrupted Britain which has “mismanaged itself out of existence.” It is an opportunity to readdress the balance of democracy within the nation, and to re-stablish a progressive, open vision of a country.
Crucial to this is the idea of Scotland as a firmly European nation. The fallout from the Brexit referendum in which the views of the united kingdom at large were at odds with that of Scotland helped spur on this cause for O’Hagan. From my own experience, many others feel the same. I even wrote about it myself, although admittedly from a slightly different point of view.
For me, the speech seemed to draw upon arguments that have been fermenting in the various forums for Scottish independence since the 1992 general election saw Scotland again at odds with the rest of the United Kingdom. This argument, argues O’Hagan is not about nationalism in its “traditional” form. It’s a constitutional injustice, about “fairness and self-determination, about sovereignty in a much finer sense… and now it was about the march of history.”
This strand of Scottish independence thinking sees its development as far back as the democracy for Scotland movement, supposedly independent of party politics and crucially, founded with the aim of bringing a democratic voice back to the Scottish people. This was a movement made up of not only vocal cries for full independence, but born out of a need for further devolution and the calls for a Scottish Parliament. Now, seeing that sovereignty again being undermined by supposedly overriding rule from Westminster quashing the will of the Scottish people over Brexit, that movement takes its next step in establishing this “fairness.”
If the identity of the nation is purportedly egalitarian, it is rooted in the right to self determination. It desires a perceived fairer and equitably democratic system, and a rejection of isolationist values… This will be reflected in its future architecture of government. The fact that the vigil held by Democracy for Scotland also took place on Calton Hill makes this line of investigation all the more relevant to this project.
It is O’Hagan’s frank and honest past appraisals of the nation’s psyche and elements of the independence movement that make this lecture so poignant, and such a turning point. Nuance is, as will be discussed in later posts, something that is sadly lacking from much of the political debate abounding at the moment. This is especially true with the discourse around Scottish independence, with visceral fringe voices dominating coverage of the debate and creating an extremely polarised discussion on the subject.