St Andrew’s Day – A proud Scot making the positive case for remaining within the UK partnership of nations
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St Andrew’s day on the 30th of November, Willie Rennie MSP writes about the importance of identity in the context of St Andrew’s day and the referendum campaign. He believes it is possible to be a proud Scot and still support Scotland’s continued membership of the United Kingdom.
Willie Rennie is the Scottish Liberal Democrat Member of the Scottish Parliament for Mid Scotland and Fife and is Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party.
To follow Willie Rennie on Twitter – @willie_rennie
For some, St Andrew’s day is an opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s history and culture, attending any of the great events hosted throughout the country by our tourism and hospitality industry.
For others, November 30th is an optional public holiday conveniently placed after the tattie holidays and before the Christmas break. You might even get some Christmas shopping done.
But whether you choose to celebrate St Andrew’s day, or choose to save your annual leave for later in the year, nobody has the right to question your fundamental commitment to Scotland.
And it is against this old backdrop of identity in politics that, on this St Andrew’s Day, we look towards the referendum next year.
In the middle of November, my friend and colleague Alistair Carmichael made his first speech as Secretary of State for Scotland. In the space of a month since his appointment, he explained, he had been labelled everything from a bruiser to a “supposed Scot.” I know which label would sting more.
Importantly, he noted that “once you start mixing up politics and patriotism you can quickly get into dangerous territory.”
At the Liberal Democrat federal conference in Glasgow earlier this year, I was invited to a fringe event hosted by the National Centre for Social Research. Headed up by Scotland’s esteemed psephologist John Curtice, we discussed issues of identity in the Scottish referendum.
Data published by the National Centre for Social Research found that less than half of those who deny they are British support independence. This has been the case since the Scottish Parliament began, with only slight fluctuations in support for the SNP’s independence plans.
Correspondence between identity and support for independence is therefore not a given. Identity is not a key battleground in deciding Scotland’s future.
Yet a small minority of people believe that you’re either for independence or against Scotland. A supposed Scot. A Secretary of State against Scotland – not for Scotland. You’re either with us, or against us. That is the false and dangerous myth which we all must work to dispel.
It is because I am a proud Scot that I want to see a constitutional settlement which gives us the best chance to get on in life. 2011 was the first year where the number of people aged 65 and over was higher than the number of those aged under 15. When it comes to providing stability for pensions, welfare and our economy I believe stronger when we work together across the UK partnership of nations.
It is sad that those who do not back the nationalist’s independence plans feel as though they have to qualify their loyalty to their country.
That is not where we should be in the decade after devolution.
To have SNP councillors, Ministers, and even the First Minister holding the belief that those who want Scotland to remain in the UK are arguing against Scotland does nothing to address the real issues in the debate on Scotland’s future.
It was the Liberal Democrat/Labour administration which approved the bill which made St Andrew’s Day a voluntary public holiday in Scotland. Its proposer, an Independent MSP Denis Canavan, drew parallels to St Patrick’s events in Ireland, where the festival is estimated to be worth €121 million to Irish economy.
To Denis, this was about arguments of the head as much as the heart.
I hope that Denis Canavan still agrees that when it comes to arguing about what’s best for Scotland it is more about matters of the head than the heart. That is why the SNP have a duty to answer the key questions on currency, pensions, welfare, and spending in their independence plans.
That is why I will continue to set out the positive case for remaining within the UK partnership of nations. The referendum debate cannot descend into the trading of insults or the questioning people’s fundamental loyalty to Scotland.
It was Alex Salmond himself who said “It is incumbent upon all of us, as parliamentarians, to lead by example and to ensure that the level of this hugely important debate matches the expectations of the people who elected us.”
As for my own St Andrews plans, I will spend the evening watching Borgen; a Danish political drama which charts the ups and down of coalition government. But that’s a story for another time.
Published: Friday 29 November 2013
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2013
Photograph: © Copyright of Willie Rennie MSP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.