Scotland's False Idealism

Scotland's False Idealism

At the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 Sheena Wellington sang Robert Burns' anthem of global equality A man's a man for a' that. It remains a paean for a classless society, but it is really only idealism expressed in poetry. “...The rank is but the guinea's stamp, The Man's the gowd for a' that... The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor, Is king o' men for a' that...Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord...His ribband, star, an' a' that: The man o' independent mind, He looks an' laughs at a' that...Their dignities an' a' that; The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth, Are higher rank than a' that...Then let us pray that come it may, (As come it will for a' that,)... That Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that.” Many of those present joined in for the last verse.

As the date of the Referendum draws closer there are muted suggestions of divisions of opinion based on class. A larger proportion of Scotland's aristocracy, landed gentry, business people and the wealthy appear to be in favour of a 'No' vote. The inheritors of those who had no say at the time of the 1707 Union are now enfranchised and they appear to be more in favour of a 'Yes' vote. They may be among Scotland's poorest - those who struggle in life and are state dependent, plus many in manual, semi-skilled and skilled occupations. In simple terms those who have something to lose will vote 'No' and those with nothing to lose will vote 'Yes'.

There are significant contradictions and large hypocrisies. The Labour Party is campaigning for the status quo though its historic raison d'être is actually expressed more positively in the SNP's Scotland's Future. The Labour Party has conducted a UK wide class war of varying intensity for more than a century. Perhaps it is due to the low respect for politicians in general and the colossal failures of our political leaders that the British cling to constitutional monarchy as a stabilising influence. Monarchy and its supporting aristocracy are clearly at odds with the aspirations lyrically articulated on 1st July 1999. Robert Burns' words are far from being realised.

On the other hand the SNP Government has already given notice that it does not wish to govern by consensus. This has made reasonable people wary of future independence. The legal establishment has had to stand up against precipitous abandonment of the present law of corroboration. The views of Scotland's many Christians on the nature of marriage were ignored and now there is to be a national imposition of a state guardian for each and every child, reminding us of the ownership of children in 20th century communist ideology and practice. The basic issue here is that a political party cannot claim to have all wisdom and cannot dismiss the views of citizens without destroying the forms of democracy that we cherish. There are more sources of wisdom and truth than are found in political manifestos. The SNP have not demonstrated a large enough practice of politics to be trusted by those whose support they want and need.

It is doubtful whether the classless society is possible. Freedom and order contradict one another. The French Revolution inaugurated murderous tyranny in the name of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. America, the so-called 'Land of the Free' has become a ghastly caricature of its founding principles. It has its own forms of royalty based on wealth and fame with shameless and abject poverty in its midst. These contradictions are dwarfed by those of the communist led countries and empires of the 20th century, notably Russia and China. Genocide was acceptable as a means to political ends. Equivalent forms of royalty existed in the party elite and in ruling despots. North Korea today continues that inhumane ideology.

Ours is a gentle choice by comparison. But such democratic rights and freedoms that we may think we enjoy can easily be set aside. Political parties in government continuously impose policies outside their manifesto pledges. In an independent Scotland, there will be insufficient checks and balances on government power. Even so, small might be beautiful. More accountability could be made possible than there is at present in the UK Parliament structure and far more than in the EU behemoth.

Is there really in Scotland an agreement that Robert Burns' words noted above articulate unqualified national aspiration? Is the pursuit of progress, development, wealth and international status not dependent on loosing the inequalities inherent in expressions of genius and capability? May it just be that Scotland being a small nation might aspire to a closer range of disparity than to an absolute condition of collective existence.

Burns prayed that ‘come it will for a' that’. He suggested an inevitability about the fulfilment of human aspiration to social equality. Poetic idealism is one thing, organising a successful example is another. His thoughts though beautiful were not original. The prophets of Judaism said as much and more. Jesus prayed that ‘all may be one’. Above the clamour of the arguments and the clash of conflicting statistics there hovers an aspiration in Scotland's air. It makes no idol of nationalism. It does not seek iconoclastic independence. It breathes the air of hope and possibility that a 'Yes' vote can help future generations of those who reside in Scotland.

Robert Anderson 2017

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