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Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on


Butterfly with the colours of the Scottish flag on its wingsI came to Australia in 2007 for six months and am now leaving after six years. There is a nice symmetry to the advent and the departure. The first party I attended in 2007 in Sydney was on election night à la David Williamson and I leave soon after an election with a very different result (or not?) but one hardly greeted with unalloyed joy.

My fellow countrymen and women, deliberate Scots emigrés, think me mad in leaving a permanent position, sun, beauty, fireworks, koalas, schooners and the chance of an Australian passport to return to wet, cold, possible penury, vitamin D tablets instead of actual sunshine, rain (slightly different from 'wet'), snow, midges and the Sunday Post, our sentimental Sunday weekly made famous by the phrase that 'Scotland would never be free until the last Presbyterian minister had been strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post'.

Yet I am going home.

David Malouf, in The Conversations at Curlow Creek, describes home for his Irish protagonist, Adair, whose only memory of Dublin was of 'cats' piss on coal', as 'not four walls and a roof, with a fire and a chair before it, but the place of one's earliest affection, where that handful of men and women may be found who, alone in all the world know a little of your wants, your habits, the affairs that come nearest your heart, and who care for them'. That comes near to my reasoning for returning but there is also above all the matter of the referendum.

There has been little interest in Australia about the referendum to be held on 18 September 2014. It will ask Scots 'Should Scotland become an independent country?'. There is nothing surprising about it. Ever since I was a teenager in the 1960s, Scottish political debate has been dominated by the question of Scottish sovereignty. The success of the main protagonist, the Scottish National Party (SNP — note 'National' not 'Nationalist', i.e. of a nation not an ideology) is the reason for the existence of a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

As the Scottish Government, the SNP, under First Minister Alex Salmond, has administered the country brilliantly, first as a minority government and now as a government with a substantial majority. British PM David Cameron, whose party has been reduced to one MP in the Westminster Parliament since Thatcher wreaked economic vandalism on Scotland, acknowledges that Salmond has the mandate to call a binding referendum to end the Union and begin life anew as a modern, social democratic state.

And that is what many of us intend to usher in. In the post-war era, the Scots, with their distinct legal system requiring separate legislation and now domestic parliament, have not been represented by most UK governments, which is not exactly democracy. Within 25 miles of Scotland's largest population centre lurks the Trident nuclear deterrent — refused by Norway and Denmark but accepted by the UK and put in a 'remote' area.

While a pro-EU social democratic party is in power in Scotland, our neighbours are opting for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which wants to haul the UK out of the EU and has forced Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2016. The UKIP package includes curbs on immigration (Scotland needs refugees), vouchers for education so that you can choose private schools — which are as scarce as a Tory in less class-ridden Scotland, scrapping investment in renewable energy (Scotland is on track as being one of the world's greenest countries) and reducing the powers of the Scotland Act if the Scots get too uppity.

The referendum is essentially a contest between this insular, Little Englander nightmare and a place in the world as a sovereign state, following a Nordic model of social democracy and adding the Scottish ingredients of a communitarian society, an anti-nuclear future and economic decisions that take people, not just ideologies, into account. It's a case of 'Stop the world. Scotland wants to get on!' That's worth leaving Australia for!


Duncan MacLaren headshotDuncan MacLaren lectured at Australian Catholic University in international development studies and coordinated its program to offer tertiary education to Burmese refugees and migrants on the Thai-Burma Border. He is a former Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis and was based in the Vatican for 12 years. He is returning to Scotland to work for the referendum and to undertake doctoral studies in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow.

Scottish butterfly image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Duncan MacLaren, Scotland



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Existing comments

How wonderful that a Scot can look forward to being governed from Brussels instead of London.

John Vernau | 17 December 2013  

Better than being taken for granted by Westminster or slavishly following the dictates of Wall Street, John V

Ginger Meggs | 17 December 2013  

The Duncan Mc Laren who worked in SNP HQ at one time, right?

Brian Innes-Will | 17 December 2013  

It's great to hear your energy about this Duncan. Thank you for all you have done here in Oz and we'll happily have you back.

Anne Lanyon | 18 December 2013  

That's a heartfelt and informative piece; thank you. Interesting to watch as the last vestiges of England's imperial greed finally break away. America fought its way loose; Australia outwitted the empire; India was jettisoned for reasons of imperial cash flow; Canada and New Zealand watched, bored, as the empire fell apart; and finally Ireland cast off the last ropes. Now Scotland. (Wales was never really conquered at all, was it?) Fun to watch. Sic semper tyrannis.

Brian Doyle | 18 December 2013  

My admiration for your idealism and love of country Duncan. We will miss you here in Australia but I envy you the cold east wind and the shiny cobbled streets of Edinburgh on a cold winter's night. Go self government!

Loretto Richardson | 18 December 2013  

If it becomes independent, how is Scotland going to support itself, Mr McLaren?

john frawley | 18 December 2013  

Farewell to a great internationalist, who in recent years has helped Australia to interact better with the rest of the world.

Denis Fitzgerald | 18 December 2013  

Best wishes on your departure Duncan, and best wishes for the referendum. My very right-wing father never forgave Margaret Thatcher for beggaring Scotland and uncounted English leaders whose thin red lines of initial defence were men who marched into battle to the skirl of bag-pipes. He'll be dancing in his grave when Scotland wins independence.

Ian Fraser | 18 December 2013  

Wonderful Scotland! Well done, Duncan. I will certainly visit an independent Scotland when this occurs. The Nordic social democratic model will be magnificent! All the power to you!!!

Nathalie | 18 December 2013  

I will be there for the World Reunion of the DOUGLAS Clan in the new year. Oh how great to see the Scots in Australia have out lived the Irish who once had the fire in the belly for Independence from the German Queen. I pray you leave for a short stay and you return with that furnace of fire in the belly to lead Australia out of the Bogs. I'll be on my knees for Ya Mate. Swift return.

Dr.Francis Douglas | 18 December 2013  

Good luck to you in Scotland. I pray for the day when something like that can happen in Kurdistan, Kashmir, Tibet, West Papua.

Gavan | 18 December 2013  

The referendum will be very interesting. It seems to me that an independent Scotland will in be, an economic and GDP sense, rather poorer per head, at least initially. The question to be addressed is a very moral one, and probably quite close to the heart of what Pope fancies is banging on about: is that relative poverty (overall) a price worth paying for your political freedom to run a county in the way you want to run it...and indeed in a more egalitarian and more "Scottish" way (relatively more on education and health for example) in this instance. Objectively, i would vote for it, but i would not also be taking the pain.

Eugene | 18 December 2013  

I am an English migrant from the 1950's and look on with interest about happenings in "the old country" my English brother in law complains that the scots have 2 votes ,one for the Westminster Parliament and one for the parliament in Edinburgh. He thinks there should be a federal system with an English parliament as well as the parliament at Westminster.

John ozanne | 18 December 2013  

Hi Duncan, remember me from your SCIAF, my Oxfam days? Heard you were in Timor where I am now but will go home if all's well, to vote for independence. Why would we not take responsibility for our own messes, as well as successes? Good luck to you in the campaign.

Mary Patience | 18 December 2013  

Yes the Scots have always had a separate legal system but that did not stop Scottish mps meddling and voting on English affairs as they do now. One of the most recent of Scottish myths was the English experimenting on Scotland with the poll tax. The poll tax was a Scottish invention agreed to by Thatcher. it was only implemented in Scotland first because they were revaluing Scottish council rates a year earlier than England. A third of the ratepayers in Scotland at that time were paying for the other two thirds,and they were screaming about it.Rifkind and Younger could see no reason why Scotland had to wait for English revaluations and demanded instant implementation. Like true Scotsmen they ducked when the shit hit the fan and let the English take the blame. All surveys taken in recent times in England show that the English would vote yes to Scottish Independence.the whole of the uk but England specifically,was beggared under new labour's Scottish raj in government.i doubt the scots would have allowed an English mp as PM who could vote on their affairs but not English affairs. We also need to be rid of scotsmen sitting in English seats.

Tally | 09 January 2014  

I can't begin to understand the political complexities that this referendum may overturn but my kinsfolk in the Scottish Borders (via my Scottish grand-mother) have resoundingly told me their hearts' hopes for disentanglement. Less class-ridden - indeed - a better education system and legal/social justice than those poor sods south of the border! I want to wish you all well - and I think of the words of Robert BURNS: "For a' that…"! Courage, Scotland! Forwards! The sentiments of The Declaration of Arbroath rise again!

Jim KABLE | 25 January 2014  

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