Hardeep Singh Kohli: A Scotland that believes in itself can be what it wants

A country once treated as a needy child is able to control its own destiny

Share
Related Topics

In April 1992, I was begrudgingly departing my beloved Glasgow for an enforced three-month-long sojourn in The Big London. The BBC, my then employer, had ordained it thus. But I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to leave Scotland. Why would I? Why leave the best city in the best country in the world?

But depart I did. Twelve weeks stretched out into six months. Those months melted into years, then decades. Now my future seems inextricably linked to The Big London one way or another. And Scotland has changed in my absence.

The year I left Glasgow, John Major was sleepwalking his way into the political oblivion, after astonishing everyone (mostly himself) by returning the Tories to a fourth term in government. This finale, this flourish, was most memorable for the setting up of the Cones Hotline and the hopeless, helpless, flailing during the meltdown that became Black Wednesday.

In Scotland, the Tories were at the heady heights of their powers – in the modern age, at any rate. There were 11 Scottish Conservative MPs. The behemothic Labour Party still had the stranglehold on Scottish politics, with 49 of the 72 elected Parliamentarians sent to Westminster. The SNP's three MPs accounted for less than 5 per cent of Scotland's representatives in Parliament, The party was as far away from power as it had ever been, going nowhere, slowly. How things have changed.

Then New Labour unfurled the new "danger" of devolution. The party would give a sop to the "regions", handing over some degree of autonomy so the Scots would finally have a voice. But while the newly formed Scottish Parliament led to a diminished number of Scottish MPs at Westminster, it left many questions still unanswered. Tam Dalyell had it about right when he suggested that devolution wasn't the end of a process, rather the beginning. And now, almost 20 years to the day after I left Scotland, it seems as if the process is beginning to mark the end of the Union as we know it.

The maturing of Scotland under devolution has been a sight to behold. Up until 1997, Scotland had been treated like a political child; and those treated as children will more often than not behave thus. The constant griping about England fuelled the sense of Scots being put upon, being hard done by. Scotland was only too ready to fill the role of younger, bullied sibling; England was too self-absorbed, too ignorant of anything outside its immediate circumstance, to notice that it was being the bullying older child. That has begun to change.

Devolution required Scotland to stop abrogating responsibility, stop blaming England and start growing up. (Michael Portillo refers to the infantilisation of the Scots, a point I am pained to agree with.) There has been an emergence of a new generation of great politicians, led by unarguably the finest leader of our times: Alex Salmond. See how well represented women are in Scottish politics, how well ethnic minorities are accounted for. Westminster could do worse than send a team to Holyrood to study a more inclusive, more democratic system of government.

Scotland has a unique set of problems when compared with its Union partners. Devolution has allowed these problems to be dealt with meaningfully by people who know and care. More than that, important changes were felt prior to the epoch-changing SNP majority government of last year (impressive in itself and yet more impressive, given that the Labour government in 1997 designed the system in such a way as to make majority rule in Holyrood nigh impossible).

There had been much greater cross-party consensus in the preceding decade, the parties being forced to work together, forced to put the interest of the country first. This they achieved. And all the while the perceived wisdom, the accepted truths, the tectonic plates of Scottish politics were gradually starting to shift.

The shift has not only been within the hinterland of Scotland itself; the already strained Westminster/Holyrood axis began to unravel. With the new Scottish Parliament came other ancillary elements: the BBC in Scotland was compelled to broadcast proceedings from the Scottish Parliament and hold the new politicians to account. Scotland started opting out of the full Westminster circus and opting into to its own body politic. London became as politically irrelevant as it ought to be, 400 miles away. Devolution wasn't about creating a new country; it was about restoring a new nation.

If one element became apparent last week with the Prime Minister's intervention into the detail of the Scottish independence referendum, it was his utter lack of sensitivity or knowledge about the Scots. With one Conservative MP in Scotland, it's not that the Tories don't care, it's just that there aren't many folk around to tell London what to care about. Relations never recovered after the imposition of the poll tax on Scotland with little or no consultation.

The redefinition of Scottish politics around the centre-left is in stark contrast to the centre-right politics of London. The Lib Dems were damaged at the Scottish general election in May, losing 12 seats. The Tories lost five. While these two parties rule in an uneasy coalition in Westminster, they are yesterday's people north of Carlisle. The SNP's percentage of total seats is more than all the other parties combined. It has almost doubled its vote since 2003.

There is a sense that Scotland is in control of itself for the first time in 300 years. Dave's ill-timed, ill-conceived outburst is just further grist to the mill of Scottish independence. And here's the key difference. Before 1997, Scots would have been jumping up and down, shouting the Prime Minister down about his lack of understanding. The reaction I felt and witnessed was more of a gentle headshake and a soft tut-tut, as if to say: "Och, wee laddie. Disnae really know whit he's oan aboot.". Perhaps that characterises the change more than anything else.

So what happens now? I think Dave and George will now back off; the signs of a rowback are already apparent. I can't imagine there will be any legal challenge to the First Ministers's desired referendum. He will have his referendum when he sees fit for the Scottish people. But it does seem a tad ironic that the leader of a minority Westminster Party is trying to shout the odds to the leader of a majority government.

My dad has been in Scotland for as long as I've been alive. I asked him about independence, bearing in mind he's a born and bred Labourite. "Scotland was once a nation and can be again," he says over a Whisky Mac. "It's all about self-confidence. Whether the people want it. Whether the people believe."

If anyone can make the people of Scotland believe, it will be Alex Salmond. He has dragged the party from disarray and despair to power and prominence. Given what he has achieved since 2004, he'd probably manage for Scotland to win the World Cup. One dream at a time....

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
 

If Renee Zellweger wants to look different, who are we to question it?

Boyd Tonkin
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker