The referendum generation vs grumpy old unionism


In twenty years where will Scotland be and what will have changed the country? Many believe it depends on the referendum result. To a great extent that’s true. However, the referendum process has already unleashed a new generation who will be significant in determining Scotland’s political direction. What no one seems to have notice is how one-sided this change has been.

Some call it the ‘movement for independence’. Gerry Hassan calls it the growth of ‘Third Scotland‘ – a Do It Yourself culture of political start-ups distinct from SNP and Labour establishments. A report by Ben Wray suggests that such groups may form the foundation of a new political party. They are the people for whom the referendum discussion has been a catalyst – bringing thousands into or back into the political process.

Yet there is a longer-term significance to Scotland’s generational shift. There are hundreds of talented, creative people campaigning for independence who within a generation will hold influence within Scotland’s public life – in media, arts, politics, academia and business.

To take just 10 examples:

Katie Gallogly-Swan is an articulate organiser and writer with the Common Weal group. She also co-founded a publishing group ‘Northern Renewal’.

Chris Silver is a writer and film-maker. Alongside Jack Foster he has raised over £20,000 to create ‘Scotland Yet‘, a full length film on the referendum campaign.

Cat Boyd is a leading member of Radical Independence, and has made a mark campaigning with the PCS Union.

Amy Westwell is a writer, student and Labour Party activist from Glasgow. She has written some excellent articles on Scotland and the referendum as part of Mair nor a roch wind.

James Foley and Pete Ramand, young writers from Glasgow, published their first book this year: ‘Yes: the radical case for independence‘.

Miriam Brett is an International Relations graduate from Stirling and presented her case for independence at ‘Aye Talks’, which received an excellent reception.

Graeme Cowie is a researcher at the University of Glasgow in constitutional affairs, member of the Liberal Democrats and supporter of independence.

Mairi McFadyen works at the University of Edinburgh and as a leading member of TradYes is highly involved in the National Collective ‘Yestival’ tour.

Kezia Kinder is a student at the University of Glasgow and is a leading organiser with Women for Independence.

Graham Hogg is a recent Strathclyde University graduate in architecture and a key member of the Lateral North group, which has published an ‘Atlas of Productivity‘ on Scotland.

In just a few days I helped make a list of 100 new voices of the independence generation. If someone wished to create an Encyclopaedia of these type of people there would be 1000s of examples to document across the various projects and 30 odd campaign groups for independence.

This tidal wave would meet its match if there was an equivalent enthusiasm and diversity which supports a No vote. There isn’t.

The only young people I’ve met with any passion for the No campaign are well trained members of the Conservative and Labour parties. That’s unsurprising, yet should raise unionist concerns. The recent Conservative youth conference in Edinburgh was cancelled after only 12 people registered. Media warnings by the likes of John Major, Lord Robertson and Baroness Trumpington only highlight this divergence between Scotland’s past and Scotland’s future.

Last week ex-Labour business minister Shriti Vadera compounded these fears by stating that the No Campaign is driven by “grumpy old men”. I wouldn’t be as harsh as Baroness Vadera, but she has a point. In wider society there are hardly any young people making a case for a No vote.

The most passionate supporters of Westminster in Scotland’s media are the likes of Alan Cochrane (in his 60s), Brian Wilson (age 66), Gerald Warner (age 69), Michael Kelly (age 74) and Iain McMillan, now ex-CBI Scotland Director (age 65).

Age brings experience, but the experience of reading this old unionism has been deeply dispiriting. It’s cynicism has done the greatest damage to the union. If you sound like the past and offer no future, it’s no surprise when new generations reject you. That’s what is happening in Scotland.

The only green shoots of a new unionism come from the federalism advocated by the likes of David Torrance. Yet as a concession to greater demands for change, it only highlights a gradual progression to a fully independent Parliament.

Other than David (age 36) you’re hard pushed to find anyone under 40 writing about the future of Scotland from a Unionist perspective. The older generation of Unionist politicians refuse to recognise this sea change, never mind engage with it.

For these reasons the referendum has opened up an irreversible conflict between the aspiration of people in Scotland and the Westminster political establishment. A generation have found their voice and they won’t go away. As said of previous generation, in a debate between the future and ‘grumpy, old men’ it’s change that wins:

“Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is

Rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one

If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’.”

Michael Gray



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