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  • Alistair Braidwood

Independent Thought: A Selection Of The Best Books On The Referendum…

With less than two weeks to go to the Scottish Referendum, it may be that some of you want more detailed information before you vote. There have been lots of publications dealing with the road to Referendum, (including Iain MacWhirter’s excellent Road To Referendum), which examine the who’s, hows, whys and why nots, and it is never too late to take on new arguments. Even if you are 100% sure as to how you you will vote on the 18/09/14 you will find something to interest you in the following, and, I suspect, considering the date, you may now get them at a reduced price.

The first two are all about how we got to this point in history, the aforementioned Road To Referendum and Murray Pittock’s superb The Road To Independence: Scotland In The Balance. Iain MacWhirter’s book was written to accompany the STV series of the same name, and was one of the first books out of the blocks to examine not only the importance of Scotland’s vote, but the background to it. There are few political commentators who have covered recent Scottish political history as thoroughly as MacWhirter, and the book shows his major strength as a writer and journalist, which is to make the complex and potentially dry accessible, interesting and relevant. One of Scotland’s most important political writers, MacWhirter looks at Scotland’s history as well as more recent political flash points to put the Referendum into perspective.

The Road To Independence?: Scotland In The Balance was first published in 2008, but the latest edition is revised and expanded, and has a new foreword from Alex Salmond. But this is no recruiting pamphlet for the SNP. Pittock is one of Scotland’s leading academics, and he brings his astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge about Scotland’s history and culture to this analysis of the country’s recent political movements, the effects of devolution, and the rise of modern Scottish nationalism. He not only looks at the differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, but those that occur within Scotland as well. If you are interested in the facts and figures surrounding the Referendum rather than a more cultural or emotional argument then this is the book for you.

Alasdair Gray gives a personal take with Independence: An Argument for Home Rule. In some ways it’s a follow up to his Why Scots Should Rule Scotland and the 2005 pamphlet How We Should Rule Ourselves, which he wrote with Adam Tomkins. It is a collection of typically esoteric Gray essays which touch upon geology, economics, Anglo/Scots relations, and the fallout from his now infamous ‘Settlers and Colonists’ essay. Who else would take a trip to the doctors and end up relating the contents of the waiting room magazines to the case for an independent Scotland? Gray has been writing about and campaigning for independence for most of his adult life, and on a purely personal basis, it would gladden my heart if he were to see the early days of a better nation.

Born Under A Union Flag: Rangers, Britain & Scottish Independence is one of the more unusual books looking at the Referendum. To pretend that football and politics don’t mix is naive in the extreme, especially when it comes to Glasgow Rangers who are stereotyped as foremost flag bearers for a United Kingdom. Edited by Alan Bissett and Alasdair McKillop, and with excellent articles by Eileen Reid, Adam Tomkins, Richard Wilson and Allan Wilson, this is not a book for bluenoses alone. What you get is a lot of soul searching, self-confessed contradiction, and some of the best writing on the Referendum and Scottish/British national identity to be found in any of these, or any other books on the subject and has some of the most relevant and honest arguments for both Yes and No to be found.

My favourite book on the case for Scottish independence is Arts Of Independence by Sandy Moffat and Alan Riach. It takes the form of a lengthy discussion between the two men as they look at the cultural argument for independence. The book opens by claiming “All arts work for independence”, and then the two men, artists as well as academics both, go on to set out why they believe this is, and why it applies to Scotland in-particular. They make the argument I can relate to the most, which has little to do with nationalism, economics or party politics, although they are all discussed.

By relegating Scotland’s music, painting, theatre and literature to second-class, or even third-class, status as has happened with Scotland as part of the UK, particularly with regard to education, we deny our culture its proper worth, as a collective and as individuals. This is not about looking inwards, but about reaching out and recognising Scotland’s rich and varied culture has a right to stand as an equal to any other, and not be relegated to a footnote in someone else’s. I find Moffat and Riach’s arguments compelling and the discussion enlightening and inspirational, and out of all of the above books this is the one I will return to again and again no matter what Scotland decides.

You may think you have no time or inclination to read anything else before the 18th, but I would suggest, particularly if you are undecided, you really should as the decision to be made is too important not to hear as many arguments as possible. You may find the one thing that swings you one way or the other, or changes your mind, or fortifies your stance. Or, you could just trust me and vote Yes. You do trust me, don’t you?


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