History has been invoked in calls for a No vote to maintain the “most successful” 300-year-old union. It is true that in 1707 the Scottish state joined the English state as it expanded its commercial reach, and, bit by bit, conquered many areas of the globe to create an empire and become a world superpower, as shown on the map painted red that hung on the wall of my primary school, way back in the mists of time. My teacher used to say that what we saw on that map “belonged to us”.
But did it belong to us working- class children, and our parents? Was it so successful for the people in these islands that now, in the 21st Century, we must be influenced by its previous existence, continue to glow in its supposed achievements to the point where we set aside the stark issues that face us today – 250,000 Scottish children living in poverty, 157,000 families on the housing waiting lists, 50,000 families in Edinburgh below the poverty line, workers bargaining power so weakened in the labour market that they are on zero hours contracts, food banks for those who have no money and no food, including the 22,000 Scottish children fed by them last year? These are legitimate questions.
There is no doubt that for some Scots, a minority, joining and running the English Empire was very successful. They were the ‘us’ that owned it. They made fortunes in India, in the sugar growing lands of the West Indies, in the gold and diamond mines in South Africa, and took up well-paid positions in the great offices of state in London. But what of the majority? Did me and those I come from, and most of this papers’ readers come from, really ‘own’ that empire, and draw prosperity from it? A look at the social history says no.
Where was the success in the slums of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and the atrocious living conditions of miners and their families? Can it be true that in this ‘successful’ union, children in Glasgow and elsewhere were so ill-nourished their bones were deformed by rickets, and infant mortality was high? Or that in foreign matters this great union was the first to construct large scale concentration camps for Boer women and children, where the death rate reached 344 per 1000 at one time. And was it a marvellous union that sent people on convict ships to Australia, engaged in the repeated subjugation of Ireland and its people on behalf of an absentee landlord class, and resisted Kenyan demands for independence with the brutality of the Hola death camps?
You could say that was all in the past. But we are told to rejoice at the whole 300 years.
Turning to the recent times, there are strong grounds for doubting the success of this union from a Scottish perspective. We have suffered the destruction of our industrial base, and there are wrecked towns and villages and wrecked humans as a consequence. Job insecurity remains the scourge it has always been, unemployment has remained high, depressing the level of wages. Can this union be really so successful that a Labour party leader, Milliband, announces a policy re-introducing means testing, this time for the young who can’t find a job, as there are no jobs for them?
The state of this union today, a fading economic and political power, with a ratio of debt to GDP greater than Portugal and Greece, offering nothing but low wages, greater inequality, should impel us in Scotland to look for an escape.
The past in Great Britain wasn’t so great for working people. The future can be with independence.