Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

For most of the week I’ve been hardwired to CNN as the US election unfolded. Exciting, if tragic, stuff. But the week began rather more sedately as I joined a webinar to hear a keynote speech by Douglas Ross, the new(ish) leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

This was not an act of masochism on my part. I genuinely felt it was worth 45 minutes of my time to check on the current views of my political opponents. With our own Scottish general election just six months away, it might be useful to catch up on the new Tory thinking.

There are better ways to start to the week. In fairness, I think Douglas Ross gets that they have a problem. He says, “the driving force behind the independence movement right now is the perception that our values are no longer shared”.

But he seems to think that this is because the good people of Scotland have been misled and deceived by the nasty SNP. If only the “shared Union values” are re-stated, support for independence will fall. Expect a lot more branding and explanation of how the union is good for you.

The problem is it’s not just perception. It’s real. It’s not just that the opinions of those who run the UK and those who live in Scotland seem different. They actually are. Whether it’s Brexit or nuclear weapons or providing free school meals in the holidays, there's now a chasm between us on many major issues. In many ways old-fashioned British values like fairness and tolerance now have better custodians north of the border.

Douglas Ross argues unionism is open and inclusive. He claims Scottish nationalism is divisive and based on the exclusion of others.  His evidence? A Covid border protest where one fanatic tried to stop people coming from England. He’ll need better arguments than the actions of a disgruntled maverick.

The argument for Scottish independence is first and foremost about democracy. It’s about the people who live in this part of the world having control over their own affairs, and resources. You do not have to be a nationalist to agree with that.

Scotland already exists. It has a rich culture and history which for many define their identity in an uncertain world. But independence is not about identity. It’s about creating the political capacity to control our own lives. Far from separating from anyone, independence makes it possible to engage with others. It’s about becoming a partner and having the ability to work with others whether in Britain or across the world.

Independence will be the means by which Scotland can play a role in the world, changing it for the better. Strangely enough it’s the union that keeps us apart.

As we go towards the election these arguments will intensify. Unionists will try to caricature independence supporters as inward looking and fixated on identity. But it’s not us who turn our backs on desperate refuges or who have the hostile environment at the centre of immigration policy.

It doesn’t matter where you come from only where you want to go. That is the hallmark of the contemporary civic movement for political autonomy. No-one will be excluded from the campaign for independence, nor from the new Scotland it will achieve.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 6th November 2020

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