Some Home Truths for Scotland Secretary

Dear Secretary of State for Scotland,

I have recently read your article in The Times (Bright future at risk from nationalist gloom) which prompted me to write an open letter because I feel some of your claims need to be challenged.

I am coming from the position of someone who has the experience of being involved with the pro-Union and pro-independence movements. I was involved with local Scottish Conservative branches, events, conferences and even the Better Together campaign. I have also been a Scottish Conservative councillor.

After I moved from No to Yes, I then became involved with Women for Independence and Common Weal, and I have been invited to speak at various Yes groups and party branches as well as at rallies throughout Scotland. I passionately believe that understanding the perspective of (former) No voters and converting soft No voters to Yes is a pivotal part of the Scottish independence campaign.

Much has changed following the referendums of 2014 and 2016. Simply put, the “status quo” that many No voters, me included, thought they were voting for in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 does not exist anymore, and the Brexit deal the people were promised in the EU referendum in 2016 is undeliverable. In other words, the pre-2014 Britain no longer exists, and many more No voters are changing their minds because they are not willing to sacrifice the welfare of the people for the sake of the UK Union.

I noticed your first claim. You said: “Scottish nationalists like to claim that theirs is a different kind of nationalism, somehow uniquely benign. I’m sorry but I’m not sure I can spot the difference.”

When I was a Tory and Unionist, I, like you, used to genuinely believe that all Scottish nationalists hated the English just for the sake of it because of what pro-Union politicians and organisations repeatedly claimed, and still claim, in the mainstream media. They never mention any other pro-independence organisations such as Women for Independence, the Common Weal, the Scottish Independence Convention and English Scots for Yes. It is always the SNP, ad hominem.

The reason they do not highlight the diversity of the independence movement is because it defeats their narrative and feeds the myth of narrow-minded, angry, English-hating nationalism. Yet I have met many pro-independence supporters in my travels throughout Scotland, and I can confirm that this is simply not true. Fair enough, there are the odd few ones on the fringes, but you also find this within the pro-Union movement – neither side is all innocent.

Interestingly, I only became receptive to the idea of Scottish independence after discovering Common Weal and reading their library papers, because I had no idea who they were and thus had no resentment or resistance with them as I did with the SNP at the time.

If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon really hated the English, then why did she make the time and effort to go to London to speak at the People’s Vote march and rally? Why would she even care? Can I just say as a previous No voter, by being there she helped to transform the view the English electorate (as well as the EU) had of the SNP, Scotland and the Scottish independence question, more than what has been poorly presented by the mainstream media. She stood on that stage as a responsible leader and as a friend to England. A lot of the English, as well as soft No voters based in Scotland, will not forget this.

Scottish independence is not about patriotism or nationalism, it is about democracy and bringing power closer to the people, where we can hold it to account and ensure nothing like the current Brexit debacle happens again. Independence is a constitutional matter, not party political.

We believe in self-governance because to preserve the values we have in Scotland we cannot have policies imposed on us from Westminster that jar with the kind of Scotland we are trying to build. Scotland’s traditional liberal values of freedom, tolerance, prosperity, innovation, equality and individual rights need to be protected. We need political independence for political freedom.

I find your claim that “strengthening the Union ... is a brighter vision than narrow, angry nationalism can offer”, absolutely and stunningly

incredulous, especially since it is your party that literally wants to put up a border with 27 countries and is isolating many of its own moderate and liberal members.

More disturbingly, your Prime Minister has withdrawn the whip from 21 MPs for voting in the national interest rather than to vote for No Deal and inflict deliberate harm across the four nations.

In the words of Philippe Lamberts, senior European MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group: “[Your] claim to defend the UK in all its parts is rubbish. [The Conservative Party] are English nationalists and want a hard Brexit.” Describing the dismay of the people at the scenes in Westminster in recent days as an “invented grievance” is laughably out of touch.

I am pleased that colleagues across the UK are mounting legal challenges to the UK executive’s plans to wrest the legislative timetable from MPs. The prorogation case upheld in the Scottish Court of Session shines a light on the absolute absence of ethics, integrity or public service at the very top of the UK Government.

In my ward of Sighthill-Gorgie, we have one of the most multinational communities in Scotland, with a large Asian community and one of the most populous communities of EU27 nationals in Scotland. These industrious new Scots augment our community, economy and public life, and they are – and in Scotland will always remain – warmly welcome.

There is an old argument I want to address too: “The UK market is worth far more to them [Scotland] than the rest of the world put together.”

Pragmatically speaking, a tiny wee island with a few trade deals is simply not sustainable. We do not even have the sustainability to produce all our own food or produce short-life medical isotopes and life-saving insulin which is currently exported from the EU.

However, an independent Scotland in the EU is sustainable because we would have the ability to trade with 27 other countries, have freedom of movement and be in the single market and custom union. The reality is, Scotland has a choice of being an unequal partner in a market of 50 million people or an equal partner in a market of 500 million people.

It is time for Scotland to have political independence, to be able to self-govern with full freedom to build and shape our future as the kind of country we want to be with the kind of Government we want to have.

A Scottish society where, together, we can work for the removal of barriers to people’s economic, social and civic inclusion, and to promote our rights, choices and voices. A place where every person is a full and equal citizen.

Here’s to self-governance for all who live here!

Ashley Graczyk is an independent councillor for Sighthill-Gorgie

Published in the National | 13th September 2019