This week Iain Gray, the leader of the Labour group in the Scottish parliament, said giving the people of our country a say in their future by means of a referendum was, in his words, “a vanity project”. Just think about that for a moment. The future of Scotland: a vanity project.
The word vanity has several meanings. One definition is futility. To wish for something in vain is futile. Not worth the candle. Vanity is also, according to the Oxford Dictionary, an “excessive belief in your own abilities.” Well nobody ever accused Mr Gray of a can do attitude. It’s fortunate for the Labour party that he wasn’t around 100 years ago to tell Keir Hardie his plans to create a new force in British politics were a pointless exercise...
When Iain Gray dismisses the desire for independence and full economic powers as “a vanity project," he is really saying it’s over ambitious to want Scotland to have the status of a normal nation. That ambition stems from having too much confidence in your own ability. He is saying it is futile to hope that in an globalised world, Scotland might speak for herself in The European Union, The United Nations, The OECD or The World Trade Organisation.
He’s even saying it is excessively ambitious to argue for economic power to create a prosperous and fairer Scotland. A Scotland where never again would we see average wages fall during a period of prosperity – as they did in The Scottish Borders between 2007 – 2008. Or where one in five households officially live in poverty and the same number are now workless. We desperately need to invest in infrastructure – in transport and for digital connectivity. To do that the Scottish government needs borrowing powers just like the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and local authorities. This is the bare minimum demand that Scottish government officials have tried to extract from The Treasury in the course of the current talks around the flawed Calman Commission proposals. Yet we are denied even that limited request. It is setting our sights too high.
So let’s take the advice of Mr Gray, Mr Scott and Miss Goldie and lower our ambition to a more realistic level. Let London do the talking for us in Europe, even though London bargained away our fishing rights and agreed to a CAP reform that discriminates against most Scottish farmers. Let’s not grumble that we have sent more than £155 billion worth of oil revenues south while the cost of filling up your tank in rural Scotland would feed a family for a week
Let’s shed our vanity. Let London continue to make the big decisions, like taking us into illegal wars. While we are on the subject of vanity projects – was there anything more vainglorious than the Iraq War which cost this country £9.5bill and killed upwards of 200,000? Actually I can think of one thing potentially worse - replacing Trident at a cost of £34bn. Now there is a real example of excessive ambition and futility. Is there anything more futile than a set of weapons that can destroy humanity several times over? Compared to these plans for mass annihilation, SNP ambitions for Scotland appear rather modest.
Of course they are not modest at all. With real power we could transform this country. That must always be our main focus. Yes we want to govern well. But not by abandoning our core principal. We are not about managerialism. We about lifting Scotland up to a higher level. The same level as everyone else.
Back in 1992, I was involved with Scotland United, a cross party organisation that campaigned for a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s future - the very thing the Liberal Democrats and Labour now spend much of their time and energy trashing . Back then, they had signed A Claim of Right for Scotland in which they acknowledged the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.
Where is the sovereign right of the Scottish people today? When did the Scots in the unionist parties abandon that solemn principle? Twenty years ago, The Scottish Liberal Democrats talked about the democratic deficit. Now they just talk about the deficit. And sometimes they seem even more rabid in their desire to cut it than the Tories.
Ruling elites always accuse those who challenge them of having ideas above their station. If you are a radical – and you do not get any more radical than wanting to break up the British state – you need to get used to name-calling, exaggeration and distortion. It is a distortion to label as vain those who walk tall in the world.. There is absolutely no shame in believing in yourself. It is essential if you want others to respect you. First though, you must take responsibility for your own life, your own future and your own country. That is not a vanity project. It is a self-respect agenda.