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Independence: An Argument for Home Rule by Alasdair Gray; My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing by Gordon Brown – review | Political books

Owhen a polemic claiming the independence of Scotland receives the title Independence, but the subtitle An argument for Home Rule, be prepared for some confusion. Momentarily, the cover of Alasdair Gray’s book gives the impression that he could defend both sides in the upcoming referendum.

Self-government for Scotland – within the UK – is what the Scottish Labor and Liberal parties have intermittently advocated since the late 19th century; it has already been partly achieved by devolution, and it is a constitutional process that Gordon Brown says should continue if Scotland returns a ‘no’ vote in September.

Autonomy in this sense, however, is not what Gray means; it signifies separation from the United Kingdom. He has a utopian vision of how (in the words of his more cohesive 1992 book on the subject) “the Scots should rule Scotland”, entirely disentangled from England. He imagines an independent nation in the sepia image of his own childhood, in a retro-futuristic landscape reminiscent of the beginnings of the British welfare state. It’s state-owned Scotland, minus the anti-Scottish BBC; a Scotland free of NATO and nuclear weapons and aggression; a neutral, fabienne-socialist Scotland, like an incredibly benevolent Switzerland, but without the banks.

Gray recounts it all in a pamphlet full of cod history, doggerel poetry, whimsical tangents, the bitter settlement of personal squabbles and the repeat of the Scottish Socialist Party’s defunct “Calton Hill” manifesto for a “Scottish Commonwealth”. .

A book that should have been a major cultural asset for the “yes” campaign does it no favors. It is, frankly, mortifying to compare such an incoherent mess with Gordon Brown’s powerful collection of arguments. My Scotland, our Britain.

Nonetheless, there remain illuminating parallels between these two Scottish originals. Although on opposite sides, Brown and Gray agree on the central pillars of Scottish culture: the egalitarian ethic of the Presbyterian kirk, the distinctive institutions of Scottish law, and the ambitious traditions of Scottish education. They also agree that the Scottish National Party government’s recent policies at Holyrood have in fact undermined these institutions and values ​​- through over-centralisation, attacks on the legal system and the dumbing down of education.

Despite his overt support for the “yes” campaign, Gray rages against recent attempts by Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to remove the principle of corroboration from Scottish law (thus bringing it closer to English), and he can’t help but express fears about bureaucracy. authoritarianism within the SNP. Gray may dream of independence, but he dreads reality, perhaps aware that his polymathic Scottish traditionalism finds little echo among contemporary nationalists.

But there the parallels end. Gordon Brown does not seem to suffer from such internal contradictions or uncertainties. In My Scotland, our Britain, he summons against separatism an almost overwhelming legion of economic data, historical evidence, political rhetoric, philosophical argument and personal experience. In the interconnected world of globalization, he derides nationalism as a 19th century answer to a 21st century problem.

Brown gets rid of the heavy economic artillery: why would the SNP want a monetary union in sterling while renouncing any Scottish influence on economic decision-making in the UK? How can you rely on North Sea oil, when it produced 4.5 million barrels a day in 1999, but only 1.4 million in 2013? According to him, the loss of trade within a UK-wide integrated economy would mean that independent Scotland’s exports to the enduring UK would be 83% lower after 30 years (and exports from rest of the UK to Scotland 77%) lower than if Scotland were to remain part of the UK.

Brown’s statistical arguments are relentless, inflexible and exhaustive: a taste, one presumes, of what it might have been like to try to disagree with him at the Treasury. Yet it is not finance that drives his book. Although few paid much attention to his speech on “British values” when he was in government, it was the central theme of his political life. Although he refuses to toe directly with the Better Together campaign or any party line, his absence and presence have been enduring features of the referendum debate.

At the heart of his understanding of British values ​​is a startlingly beautiful notion of fusion: the Scottish principles of solidarity, civil society and “democratic intellect” have, through union, intertwined with the English values ​​of freedom, of tolerance and pragmatism. He calls Britain an alliance rather than a contract.

Before the union, he argues, there was a greater division between highlands and lowlands in Scotland – or between Jacobites and Covenanters – than there was between Scotland and England. England. The stories and myths of a unified Scottish nation were created and promoted by people like Walter Scott precisely to ensure that Scotland remained in the union as an independent, unsubordinated partner. A cohesive Scottish identity was forged not against the union, but through it.

Brown provides an interesting modern parallel to this process: how the legendary strength of Scottish unions came from their merger with British unions. Although a book about nationalism and the constitution, Brown sees the British state as the means by which Labor politics can survive: in the desire to tackle poverty and inequality, and in the hope that a civil society can continue to thrive in a global context. economy.

Such policies are ultimately not so far removed from Gray’s nostalgic welfare statism – but Brown’s vision is broader and his argument is deeper. It is by far the most serious and important work on Scottish and British identity to emerge from the referendum debate. It should be required reading for anyone genuinely considering the arguments before September 18, or what to do with the UK constitution afterwards.

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Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera