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