An Independent Scotland, Highlands Style

Inverewe Gardens, Poolewe, Highlands, Scotland

This year’s tattie holidays took us up to the North West Highlands. It’s been glorious… sun… sea… sky…soaring mountains… yes crofts.

Yes Croft
Yes Croft

The Highlands voted no but there’s not much evidence of that to be seen up North. Drive north of Perth and there are yes stickers on the backs of every second road sign.

Get as far as Ullapool and there yes saltires fluttering from flagpoles and posters still proudly on show in every window. You’d be forgiven for thinking the referendum result hadn’t happened. You’d be forgiven for thinking that folk are still campaigning. Maybe that’s because they are.

One of the places we ended up was Inverewe Gardens on the shores of Loch Ewe. Some might think that a sub-tropical garden in the North West Highlands was a bit of an oddity and they wouldn’t be wrong. To get to Inverewe you drive along cliffs lined with snow poles. The Highlands aren’t known for their mild climate and sub-tropical temperatures. It’s enough to make a keen gardener give up the ghost.

The most northerly cabbage
The most northerly cabbage

Dreaming the future 

Back in the 1860s all that Inverewe had to commend it was bare rock and two scrubby willow trees, but keen plant collector Osgood Mackenzie though it had more to offer. In the wash of the gulf stream he envisoned a verdant oasis, sheltered from the brutal wind and spilling over with bright flowers from as far afield as Tibet, New Zealand and India. All it would take would be 100 acres of woodland to stand guard around the garden, creating a warm, snug wall around the fragile ecosystem.

It would have been easy to dismiss Osgood as a mad dreamer but luckily for him he had the means to make his vision a reality. He planted his woods and two hundred years later Inverewe continues to flourish, basking in sunlight and balmy waters.

So what’s that got to do with anything? 

As I sat chewing on my cheese buttie on the shore of Loch Ewe it struck me that there were parallels in the story of Inverewe and Scottish Independence. A friend described the Yes movement to me as a movement of poets and dreamers; a romantic ideal that didn’t stack up.

Maybe not yet. Maybe not now. But as Inverewe shows, with a strong vision, long term thinking and the right investment in the right things at the right time, dreams really do come true.

It’s possible to build and nurture something beautiful in fairly barren ground if there is enough protection to give it the chance to thrive.

What can we learn from this? 

If we want to build a fairer society, there are examples around the world that we can draw on to show us what we might need to build it. We know that: the Common Weal has already been examining them.

If we want to convince people that that society can work, we don’t do so by telling them, we do so by showing them. People who have experienced something are more likely to believe it. Communities – like mine – which are very active in pursuing local campaigns seemed to have been more likely to vote yes. Why? Because they have experience of self determination at a micro-scale and could imagine it working Scotland-wide.

If we want to make our future work we need to get the long term foundations right. That means shifting our dependence away from the things that held us back, and planting the seeds of an economic environment that will allow an independent Scotland to flourish. That way we remove the teeth from the Big Bad Wolves of business by rendering them unimportant.

And we need to keep the pressure up. Because sticking to a long term, radical vision for change isn’t easy. It takes constant investment and reinvestment of time and energy. It takes building networks, exploring, gathering ideas and planting them at the right time and in the right way.

The prize isn’t more powers. It’s a permanent change in the landscape and a fair and just society for every person in Scotland – and beyond.

we can change the landscape
we can change the landscape

Wrestling with Food Banks

Back in 1995 when I was 17 I helped out in a soup kitchen, making butties for homeless people in Manchester. It felt like a good thing to do and I guess it was. It made me aware of the complex challenges some people face when they end up on the fringes of society. It gave me a better understanding of just how trapped a person – any person – can become.

The soup kitchen met a need. It stopped people from starving. It gave people a place to go that was out of the cold and (it was Manchester) the bitter rain. It was a place where a person could get a haircut. A wash. Advice. A smile. But its existence represented failure. People were living in such poverty that they were dependent on the goodwill to stand between them and starvation.

I feel the same way about food bank. Every time I hear the words “food bank” I wince. Every time I hear about a new food bank opening, I want to cry. Every time I donate food to a food bank I’m reminded of our failure. That’s because despite the dedication of the people who run them, and the generosity of the people who support them, food banks are a stark reminder of just how far we have drifted into becoming a land of haves and have nots.

It’s not as though people who use food banks are homeless. Many aren’t even out of work, but they’re living on the brink of poverty all the same and that’s just not right. Continue reading Wrestling with Food Banks

Voting Dilemmas: General Election 2015


Tearing apart the Human Rights Act.

Privatisation of the NHS.

More austerity.

After the no vote in Scotland on 18 September I felt scared. There will be a backlash, I thought. Scotland has risen up and tweaked the whiskers on the imperial British lion. We’re going to get a kicking.

Maybe that’s paranoid but I don’t think it’s entirely unjustified. Already there are murmurs about scrapping the Barnett Formula because it “robs Wales” (divde and rule, anyone?).

And let’s not forget our very own local councils trying to penalise people who signed up to the electoral register by hunting them down for ancient poll tax claims in what must the single most cynical and undemocratic move I’ve seen for many a year. Nicely done.

Now  that sense of dread is only increasing, only now it’s not because of a fear of some sort of scorched earth policy making. It’s because of the realisation that far from being Better Together, we’re still living in the shadow of Westminster decision making.

And what does that mean? 

Continue reading Voting Dilemmas: General Election 2015