We’ve been enjoying a few days in Crieff and the surrounding countryside.
It’s been nice to get away for a while from all the divisive politics going on within Scotland at the moment. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid such things altogether, because there are newspapers that are difficult to avoid, and social media posts that continue the barrage.
Even walking over the hills above Crieff I found myself pondering when and why divisiveness becomes conflict.
In the case of South Sudan, it is pretty obvious. The people there found themselves fighting with the northern Sudanese for decades before forming their new country. Lindsey and I almost walked into the conflict when it flared up in 1983. By the time South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, there were guns and armaments all over the place, plus military personnel with ambitions. It didn’t take long for President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar to fall out, and for their supporters to start fighting each other. Much of their support is along ethnic lines, with the Dinka behind Kiir, and the Nuers behind Machar. Whilst a minority of both peoples are involved in the current war, it’s the unaligned poor people who suffer the most.
In Biafra there must have been a particular moment when certain people decided to declare independence, whatever the eventual cost, and turn existing divisions into potential conflict. In 1960, when Nigeria had became independent, the country had divisions along ethnic lines with the Hausa and Fulani majority in the north, and the Yoruba and Igbo majority in the south. In 1966 there was a coup, then a counter-coup, and in 1967 the military governor in the south east announced the Republic of Biafra. It so happens that in the Biafran region there was lots of oil, which everyone wanted to control and exploit. The resulting Biafran War resulted in about 100,000 overall military casualties, with between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians dying from starvation. The defeated Biafran leader was, rather surprisingly, given the highest military accolade in Nigeria when he eventually died in 2011.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that all successful or unsuccessful bids for independence end in conflict, of course. There have been several peaceful creations of new nations. I expect that some Shetland Islanders have recently been looking with interest at the case of Palau, which gained full sovereignty in 1994 after eight referenda. Palau has a population of approximately 21,000.
I had a run in, of sorts, with radical elements within the ‘Scottish Liberation Army’ in 1977, described here. At the present time, Scottish politics is not nearly at the stage of open conflict, but the desire of the minority SNP government for a further referendum is certainly causing much divisiveness within our society. The SNP say that they have a mandate for another referendum, yet they need the support of the Greens, who definitely don’t have any sort of mandate for one, to call for a referendum on Scottish independence.
The current SNP strategy is to let anger and divisions bubble up and then work out how to take advantage of it. The thing is, the SNP have created and nurtured the anger and divisions in the first place. Their most recent whinge is about not being informed about the date when Article 50 will be triggered. I mean to say – everyone else knows. Don’t they read the newspapers or watch the telly?
The SNP was founded in 1934. Its first president, Douglas Young, went to Merchiston Castle School and then St Andrews University, and was criticised for undermining the war effort against the Nazis. Hugh MacDiarmid is another well-known figure in history who stood as a candidate for the SNP in 1945 and 1950 before switching to the Communist Party in 1964. In the late-60s I was slightly involved in politics on behalf of the Young Liberals in Moray & Nairn, and I later remember Winnie Ewing being elected to Westminster for that constituency in 1974. After that, the SNP gained more ground and they won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, but in the next election in 2016 they lost seats and also their majority.
In the 2014 Scottish Referendum, which various people in the SNP including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, the current First Minister, described as a once-in-a-generation event, the “No” side won, with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favour.
Since then, the SNP seem to have become obsessed with the idea of another referendum. Various opinion polls repeatedly suggest that the majority of Scots do not want another referendum – of course, this fact is disputed by the SNP. Whatever the figures, at the very least, an extremely large number of Scottish people do not want another referendum. Referendums, and all the politicking that goes along with them, are very divisive. We Scots saw exactly that, in 2014.
One thing which very much annoys me is the habit of Nicola Sturgeon saying that ‘the people of Scotland want [this or that]’. She’s entitled to say that the minority SNP government would like [this or that], but what is becoming very obvious is that what the people of Scotland would really like is for her to stop the obsessive behaviour and all the whinging that goes with it. We’re embarrassed by it. We don’t want to be known elsewhere in the world as obsessive whingers.
From my time exploring social media with respect to the referendum(s) in Scotland, I can clearly see that by claiming to talk for all Scottish people and by demanding another referendum, Sturgeon is creating anti-Scottish feeling among those south of Hadrian’s Wall. Perhaps that is one of her aims, so that there might be a corresponding growth in anti-English feeling in Scotland, which would, presumably, result in more votes to leave the UK. If so, it is divisiveness at its worst.
My friend Fat Mac, who I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog and who often posts comments under various names, told me only this morning that he is against the Tories, and for independence, because there are so many poor children in Scotland (More than one in five (220,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty). So, good on Fat Mac, for feeling bad about poor children in Scotland. Glasgow communities are home to the worst child poverty in Scotland (Evening Times). Now, I am not for one minute belittling child poverty in Scotland. Being poor, especially among great wealth is not right. On the other hand, in the 1980s for two years I lived and worked in the world’s poorest country, Malawi. There, I saw what poverty was like in an extremely poor country with few resources. Not good at all. Thinking about Malawi, I can only imagine what it would be like for poor children in an independent Scotland, which many economists have predicted, due to deficits and without the Barnett Formula payments etc, would be economically a basket case.
We experienced all four seasons on our walk up near Loch Turret, plus snow, cold, sunshine and warmth. The glacial trench of Glen Turret was flooded in 1964 to form Loch Turret. The water from Turret River has been used to produce whisky for hundreds of years. The day before our walk, we enjoyed a big family meal in the Wilde Thyme restaurant, part of the Glenturret Distillery.