“Dear Joanne”. As a reader, father and Yes man, writing a response to JK Rowling’s major endorsement of the No campaign in the Scottish independence referendum, it’s difficult not to begin with those affectionate words.
Like many millions the world over, I’ve brought up my children with Rowling’s books and films at my side over the last decade or so. I’ve shared their thrills, their laughter, their gasps and tears at her rich, resonant storytelling. When she was eight, I took my eldest to see JK at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that day thinking, “there’s the best teacher any kid could ever have”.
There are many policy positions Ms Rowling takes in her blog that I could clarify or rebut – and I’ll do some of that. But there’s no debate in this referendum I could have that better demonstrates the old David Hume line, that “the truth springs from arguments amongst friends”.
For one thing, I wonder about the sources Joanne has read to make up her decision. I recognise many of her arguments as coming from what she describes as an “independent study” called “Scotland’s Choices”.
One of its authors, Jim Gallagher, is hardly “independent” – he’s given policy advice both to the main No campaign organisation, Better Together, and its leading member, the Labour Party. At the very least, JK should know that on all her major issues with independence, there is a competing body of evidence and argumentation.
Oil and gas is a bonus for the Scottish economy – even without it, we are on a par with the UK economy. In the eyes of many global financial observers, a currency union would be the best initial arrangement between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK – and while other options are available and practical, it’s in everyone’s interests to begin the new relationship in a stable way. Scotland’s EU membership is now accepted as inevitable – the arguments are about timescale, and the general tenor of the discussion is pragmatic.
I could go on in this manner (as a Yes Scotland advisory board member, it’s my role to do so!). I hear JK’s completely heart-felt anxieties about medical research funding, post-independence. But I’d ask her how every other developed country in the world manages to fund its research, and also collaborate across national boundaries, in the best collegial spirit of scientific practice. Does she really think that we will face such “bitter neighbours” that we couldn’t work out the best optimum cross-border relationship, for the benefit of patients and sufferers?
You can’t miss Joanne’s patriotism: I recognise and share her enthusiasms about the achievements and talents of Scotland, past, present and future. I am not enthusiastic about her belief that, after a No vote, Scotland will be in a position to get a better deal from Westminster. I think they’ll regard the “Scottish question” as being on the back-burner for a very long time indeed.
But there’s one note in Joanne’s blog which is completely wrong. In the context of worrying whether she’s regarded as “insufficiently Scottish” in this debate, she comments that “when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste”.
Like many on the pro-indy side, I scratched my head at this one. If there’s anything we’re all proud of on the Yes side, it’s the fact that your right to vote in this referendum is based on residency and registration, and not “the purity of your lineage”.
Are you a MacTavish or MacDuff from the Scots diaspora – insanely proud of your roots, but either generations removed, or recently registered elsewhere? Sorry, pal: no vote. Are you a Pole, or a Somalian, or a Romanian who has been solidly living, working and contributing to Scotland for several years? There’s the voting booth, madam or sir.
In her friends on the anti-indy side, I hope that Joanne hasn’t been talking too much to Alastair Darling, leader of Better Together. A recent New Statesman interview asked: did he think the SNP was a “blood-and-soil” nationalist party? “At heart,” he answered.
A little history tells you blood-and-soil comes from “blut-und-boden”, an old racial ideology from Nazi Germany – which is, indeed, all about “purity of lineage”. It would be easy to throw angry facts at this (one might be that the first non-white and Muslim Asian MSP in the Scottish Parliament was the late Bashir Ahmed, an SNP representative).
But like Joanne, it might be best to be personal. You may notice this byline has its origin in a location somewhere over the Irish Sea. My parents and my grandparents (who were immigrants) both have enough horror stories to tell about anti Irish-Catholic discrimination in Scotland, with details that even a Death Eater might blanche at.
But their sons and grandsons, three solid Yes supporters, stand in a modern Caledonia that travels to the polls with one clear idea. The people who live and work here – that’s all the people, of all colours and origins – are the only ones who should decide its future. From my own background, I couldn’t support an independence that wasn’t at its very core about multiculturalism and diversity – the “mongrel nation”, as her fellow writer William Macilvanney once named us.
“It’s because I love this country that I want it to thrive,” JK says at the end. She adds: “If the majority of people in Scotland want independence, I truly hope that it is a resounding success.” Even given her opposition, it’s a measure of the quality of the woman that she can include such quotable lines. With a malt of your choice, see you on the other side, dear Joanne.