I'm an honours list grinch. I imagine a good few of you are too, and survey the bi-annual dishing out of damehoods and ennobling shoulder-bonking with the regal scimitar without enthusiasm. Within the British state, grousing about such fopperies avails us not at all, but the combination of disgruntlement and powerlessness is not entirely without its psychological compensations. Our egalitarian-minded girning never has to contend with the heavy political weather of actually abolishing the ermine, the gewgaws, the ribbon and the magic names.
You can imagine the Scotsman headlines, if any parliamentarian had enough brass neck to introduce an Abolition of Nobility (Scotland) Bill. "Outcry as Olympic hero Hoy to be stripped of knighthood"; "Abolishing dukedoms 'violates human rights', experts claim"; "Foulkes 'forced to live rough' if deprived of his Barony".
Courtesy of Pater Peat Worrier, my Christmas morning stocking was plump with a copy of the late Stephen Maxwell's Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risks and the Wicked Issues (2012) this year. It is a lucid, accessibly-written volume, which will prove invaluable for anyone trying to convince skeptical family members or cronies about the potential benefits of independence, or who risk political conversations down the pub. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the extent to which it tackles the issues of risks and probability head on, without fear, and without apology.
Maxwell isn't feart to recognise both upsides and downsides, opportunities and challenges, which Scottish independence might bring. Whatever your views on the national question, this candour is refreshing and the level of the debate would be significantly improved, if unionists as well as nationalists leant Maxwell's arguments some of their time. A number of the book's themes resonated with me, but for the moment, let's focus on just one: responsibility. Over the past year, we've heard a good deal from a number of commentators about Scotland's (often only abstract) social democratic sensibilities. It also came up in our conversation with Kevin Williamson and Rory Scothorne in episode seven of the For A' That podcast, and to an extent, in Alex Massie's prediction that an independent Scotland would not be a "socialist nirvana" as some hope, but a state likely to resort to more "neoliberal" forms of governance.
In a chapter headed The Cultural Case, (p. 148), Maxwell writes:
"By equipping Scots with the authority and responsibility to act across the whole spectrum of issues, independence would expose Scotland's moralising rhetoric of resistance to sterner tests than it will ever face under the forms of devolution currently touted by the Unionist parties. It would remove the alibi for inaction provided by the Union and confront the voters with the consequences of their collusion in the politicians' rhetoric.
How much would we be prepared to pay in higher taxes for our opposition to spending cuts? Ho many more asylum seekers or economic migrants would we be ready to welcome to Scotland when the UK Border Agency is no longer there to do the dirty work of control and deportation? How much redistribution of income and wealth are the better off prepared to accept in the name of a fairer and more compassionate Scotland? How many jobs are we prepared to jeopardise in the short term as the price of terminating our role in the UK's delusional defence strategy?
The answers might be unsettling, but our public culture would be the better for being able to subject politicians' rhetoric to the test of practical responsibility."
Rings bells for me. Between the idea, And the reality, Between the motion, And the act, Falls the Shadow. As Kenny MacAskill almost said, eventually, one really ought to grow tired of just girning. Arise Sir Wiggo.