Dave permits Alex to exploit Scottish youth, but to little avail
The bitter winds of economic recession have weakened the impact of nationalism’s tunes of glory. Nothing near a majority of under 18 year-olds is dancing to the independence beat
Today, London and Edinburgh are supposed to be setting out the procedures for a referendum in 2014 which will decide if Scotland stays in, or quits, the United Kingdom. The event is being portrayed as an historical test for the durability of a partnership in which, for two hundred years, the elites of a small nation were usually given room to breathe by their more powerful neighbour.
This is a complete reversal of the historical norm in continental Europe where the weak have been gobbled up by the strong, including even in our own time, the era of enlightened Eurocracy. Try as I might, I find it hard to view the meeting between David Cameron and Alex Salmond as symbolic. Instead, it resembles an encounter between a seedy Northern theatrical agent and a big-time London promoter.
The pushy outsider believes he has a talent which can enable him to finally make the big time and the gent from the Smoke is prepared to indulge him. Tartan Alex is pinning his hopes on Scotland’s young people, 16 to 18 year-olds to be exact. London Dave thinks that by conceding the vote to this age group, he can avoid a problematic second referendum question.
Opponents of separation currently have a 28 percent opinion poll lead but there is still heavy support for devo-max -- fiscal independence but in which Scotland contributes to shared services such as foreign affairs and defence. Such a shaky compromise is a gift for Nationalists who prefer to pursue a grievance than administer a country with no lack of problems.
So Dave conceded Alex his chief demand. An age cohort seen as most receptive to the SNP’s emotion–laden message of defiance, will have a say in their country’s future. Indeed, this moment may prove to be the only big national decision that they ever get a chance to take part in. After five years of SNP rule, there is absolutely no sign that Scotland is embarking on a quiet revolution that will enable young Scots to anticipate building successful lives in a free and aspirational country.
Job prospects are bleak even for those with university qualifications. Under Michael Russell, the Bromley-born education minister who often sounds like a Whitehall mandarin in a kilt, education remains a stronghold of post-war liberal orthodoxy. At the tertiary level, It is geared towards producing an array of young people with a narrow range of bureaucratic skills. If they are lucky, they will find a place in Scotland’s sprawling local and Edinburgh-centred bureaucracies; if not so lucky, long-term unemployment, bar work, or jobs in call centres await not a few graduates.
Russell’s current big idea is to promote the teaching of history with a pronounced Scottish national slant. There is no sign of innovations that will put an emphasis on technology or information sciences, or else endow young Scots not necessarily suited for university, with a range of practical skills that equip them for a fulfilling life in occupations, some of which have become the preserve of East European migrants.
For all his professed love of Scotland and its people, Salmond rarely refers to them in everyday terms, extolling their individuality, proclaiming their potential, and even criticising certain of their shortcomings. Instead, excepting iconic Scots from history whom he regularly extols, the Scots are a collective defined by their association with a territory. But if they are gone from Scottish soil, when the referendum is held or if they live abroad but still vote in parliamentary elections, they will be denied any say about Scotland’s constitutional destiny.
The chances are that expatriate Scots have turned into the wrong sort. Due to travelling and living abroad, they have become ‘strangerised’ (estrangeirados is a word that exists in Portugal but by rights it should also apply for Scotland since it is another highly introverted small west European country). Such uprooted Scots have had their perspective altered.
They may acquire too much nostalgia for the humane and predictable British way of doing things and, heaven forbid, may even confuse personalised regimes run by unsavoury types mouthing nationalist platitudes with the emergent nationalist order back home.
Alex the earthy populist and Dave the upper middle-class liberal, may seem an odd couple but they are actually birds of a feather. Granting under-18s the vote is the kind of social progressivism that is dear to the heart of this untypical English Tory. He will have noted that Alex has not been far behind in legislating for gay marriage only to find himself in the same kind of difficulties, with Scots who believe the freedom journey must be about more than indulging lifestyle liberalism.
Both have seen political success in terms of conquering the citadels of media influence. As a PR executive this is the world David Cameron moved in before he became MP for Witney in 2001. It is also the world that Salmond dreamed of being part of upon completing his education when he applied to become a BBC journalist and almost got to the very last stage of the selection process.
As managerial politicians comfortable with backstairs deals, both of them see little wrong in altering the constitution by lowering the voting age without even allowing parliament to debate the issue for an afternoon.
Alex and Dave both share one other thing in common. They hope that the British state will only be a temporary location for them. Dave’s inability to mask his impatience with the values of his own party and the daunting problems of governing a complex and unhappy realm, is obvious. At times, he seems to treat the premiership as a kind of extended gap year, a staging post for higher things.
In relation to bumper amounts of overseas aid, the Eurozone’s plans for an economic union, Baroness Warsi and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he has made all the right moves. They are ones that should enable him to walk into a top international job when this stage of his career ends.
If by 2018, he is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the EU’s High Commissioner for Security and Foreign Affairs, who knows, Alex Salmond for all his prickliness, could have his uses. If 50,000 Syrians or Filipinos need to be relocated after wars or invasions, then as a future Paramount Chief of Scotland, he could well be persuaded to see a legacy for himself in repopulating the Highlands with these New Scots.
Alex also yearns for faraway places where his lustre can shine. Whether it be taking tea with the Emir of Qatar or being the chief guest this autumn at the US Ryder Cup, paid for by the grateful Scottish taxpayer, he desires to put Scotland on the world map. A deferential BBC Scotland run by a pliable controller (just appointed by the BBC’s Lord Patten to try and douse the flames of the Jimmy Savile affair) and a Machiavellian current affairs head, are content for Scots to be told that this is Alex just being Alex.
Salmond’s belief that everyone has his price and that he can persuade a parade of publicity-conscious academics, disillusioned Labour politicians, church worthies and media personalities to declare for independence in the next two years, will be put to the test. But the bitter winds of economic recession have weakened the impact of nationalism’s tunes of glory. Nothing near a majority of under 18 year-olds is dancing to the independence beat. Perhaps some reckon that if the 2014 referendum preserves the Union, only for there to be another held a decade from now, many of them will be long gone from Scotland.
Alex’s dreams of glory will not enable them to start a family or find a fulfilling job. Of course, those who move on from Scotland will become non-Scots, too worldly-wise many of them ever to be entrusted with another vote in Scotland’s ‘Neverendum’.
Tom Gallagher’s The Illusion of Freedom: Scotland Under Nationalism was published in 2010. His next book Europe’s Route to Crisis: The Story of the EU’s Utopian Union will appear next year
Read more on: david cameron, Alex Salmond, scottish referendum, Tom Gallagher and Scottish Independence, What are the pros and cons of Scottish independence?, Harry Cole and Scottish independence, Scottish independence, Scottish conservatives, scottish national party, Scottish Labour Party, and Scottish elections
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