This week's big questions: Could Scottish independence happen? Should it? How important to it is Alex Salmond?

This week's big questions are answered by Scottish author A.L. Kennedy

A.l. Kennedy
Friday 22 March 2013 17:57
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond gestures during a press conference in St Andrews House in Edinburgh on October 15, 2012 after signing an agreement for a referendum on Scottish independence with the British prime minister.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond gestures during a press conference in St Andrews House in Edinburgh on October 15, 2012 after signing an agreement for a referendum on Scottish independence with the British prime minister.

Could Scottish independence happen? Should it? And in what form?

I’m not sure why we’re still being asked this question. In the 2011 election for the Scottish parliament, it was clear that the country voted against the immense corruption of Westminster and its tendency to follow ideology rather than sane economic principles, ie its desire to punish the poor and weak for being poor and weak by making them poorer and weaker. Scotland voted for a non-Westminster alternative, which is to say the Scottish National Party. That’s a statement of disgust in response to Westminster that many areas of England could share.

The Scottish electorate has to travel far beyond a one-off protest vote for Scotland to decide on full independence and trust the SNP to take them there. In the absence of cross-party strategies for an independent Scotland, a great deal of thought and creativity is being expended in non-political circles, but probably isn’t connecting with voters or politicians. This is sad because, even with the status quo, much of its energy and ingenuity could help Scotland in trying financial times. As England is punished and divided ever more savagely by Parliament, independence will look more attractive.

How would you assess Alex Salmond’s contribution to the debate about independence?

His personal contribution is to be Alex Salmond. He’s a vastly able and credible politician with areas where he has behaved with remarkable honour. Sadly, his desire to sell us to an American millionaire (and not just any millionaire, but Donald Trump, a laughable bully of a millionaire) summoned up the image of Scotland as a potential post-colonial playground for the hyper-rich.

What have been the other key factors in Scotland arriving at where it is today?

Margaret Thatcher sought to roll back all the advances made in creating a cohesive, stable and economically mobile society in the UK after the Second World War. This was an ideological decision, predicated on the belief that the majority of citizens should cede enough rights and enough of their identity to become “English” and live in a feudal society – that being, in some mythical way, essentially “English”. This agenda – still being pursued today by David Cameron et al – was based on a fake idea of “Englishness” – that everyone enjoyed the empire, aristocrats and plutocrats have inherent worth, anyone else is immoral and a threat, foreigners are stupid and wrong, etc… As the Scots were not and are not English people and have a history of working-class education, political activism, valuing social cohesion and not relishing serfdom, this made a redefinition of Scottishness for the 20th and 21st centuries very joyful, exciting and positive for us.

Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are talking about home rule. How do you view that prospect?

Because I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as part of a colonial power, I don’t see it as a threat. My own identity isn’t tied to the ownership of other people’s property. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles have a cultural case for independence, or levels of self-government, or interactions with Europe. Economically, there would be an impact on Scotland’s oil income if it were to cede territory with resources attached. Being frank, the majority of a country’s oil income always goes to the oil companies – it doesn’t make that much difference to any national exchequer and will be manipulated as oil prices and output are manipulated. Oil companies do the manipulation – if your country tries to, you will find it being ostracised and/or invaded. That’s how the world works. If Scotland, or small areas of it, were to make a grab for assets without a plan for a sustainable future , that would be both hugely disappointing and stupid.

You’ve written critically about the internal workings of Scottish politics. Is that situation improving?

Scottish politicians are exactly as corrupt, grasping, ignorant and short-sighted as those in Westminster. Those who have succeeded in Westminster have either fought harder for personal advancement (in their corruption and ignorance) or taken advantage of personal privilege to amble into positions of power (and ignorance and corruption). A London-centred perspective sees Westminster’s disastrous laziness, self-centred vandalism and hunger for power and wealth as somehow exceptions to a noble rule. Politicians are corrupt. It’s not a geographical problem; it’s a staff problem.

What do you feel about English attitudes to the Scots?

If they have an opinion at all, it’s often that they want to get on with redefining England. If they believe what they read in the papers, they may come north and expect to be disliked by a nation of violent racists – which is very unlikely. There are racists and bigots in Scotland, but they tend to focus – like knuckle-draggers everywhere – on very clear targets: people who aren’t white, or who are involved in the antiquated and vile opposition of Catholic and Protestant communities. The Scottish Executive has made some good moves to curb that kind of despicable nonsense, and also to reassess the position and safety of women in Scotland.

You’re a stand-up comedian as well as a writer. How important is it for you to get out from behind a desk and engage with an audience?

I engage with audiences in a number of different ways and they’re all valuable for me as a person and as a writer. Writing is about saying something to other people in your absence, so it’s sometimes good to say something to people when you’re all in the same room so that you can remember how that really works.

What is the main message you hope to get across in your latest book, On Writing?

I wanted to make the idea of writing simpler for people who want to try it, but to point out some of the perhaps unexpected pitfalls. I also wanted to demystify the vocation or profession for readers. Mainly I hoped to welcome interested parties into the process.

A L Kennedy’s ‘On Writing’ has just been published by Jonathan Cape, £18.99

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