The ethnic vote: the enemy in our midst? Lessons from the Quebec referendum
As a Canadian I well remember Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau’s bitter remarks to his followers on October 30th, 1995, on the night of Quebec’s independence referendum, when the province lost its bid to become an independent nation by the thinnest of margins. Parizeau stormed to his heartbroken supporters that Quebec’s national aspirations had been sacrificed on the altar of ‘money and the ethnic vote’.
Are there lessons in the Quebec experience for Scotland’s ‘Yes’ campaign? Aye, there are.
The role of London-based Tory bagmen and banksters at bankrolling ‘Better Together’ has been amply covered elsewhere. I will confine my remarks to the possible role of Scotland’s ethnic voters in the September 18th referendum, and to some strategies for winning them over.
According to Wikipedia ninety-six per cent of Scotland’s population is Caucasian (‘White’), which leaves a ‘visible minority’ population (Asians, Africans, Caribbeans, Arabs or ‘others’) of four percent. How might Scotland’s visible minorities vote in the independence referendum? More on that later.
But the devil is in the details: of Scotland’s Caucasian population, according to Wikipedia, nearly eight per cent are self-described as ‘white other British’. Might these be the enemies in our midst? As Britons living in Scotland they are entitled to vote, and eight per cent of an electorate can easily swing an election result – or a referendum. So the question then becomes: will it?
Consider me as an example: I am a new resident of Scotland, and a newly registered voter. I am a Canadian citizen and a long time Canadian resident, but with parents hailing from Gravesend and Durham respectively, I am legally British, with a UK passport to prove it; and as a matter of accurate ethnic classification, I am therefore ‘white other British’. That is how I personally fit into the Scottish ‘ethnicity’ landscape: and yes, I am the enemy in your midst.
I am the enemy of ‘Better Together’. I have children, and so I am the enemy of a nuclear armed world in which our species is poised on the edge of annihilation – let’s send the rUK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’ to the Thames. I am an enemy of the UK’s financialized, greed driven, London-centric economy, in which those who have get more, and more and yet more. I am an enemy of the gutting of my English working class ancestors’ hard won victories, who won (often under Scottish leadership) pensions for all, public housing for all, a National Health Service for all, and a social safety net for all. I am an enemy of the ‘little Englander’ fantasies that may yet take Scotland out of the EU in 2015. And I am an enemy of the unfettered capitalism that puts quarterly profit and loss statements ahead of the rape of our environment; and which loots the planet’s vanishing resources in aid of creating a consumerist hell on earth, in which the price of everything can be calculated to a nicety, but in which the humanistic values which ought to govern our lives and our relations with each other are all but forgotten.
Luckily for Scotland’s national aspirations, our vision is quite different to Quebec’s in 1995. Quebec nationalism then (I can’t speak to it now) had an exclusionist, slightly xenophobic quality captured in the expression pur laine (‘pure wool’), which was used to describe ‘old Quebecers’ of the proper French ethnicity. Parizeau was probably right: the reaction of the ethnic vote against this wisp of a soupçon of nativist superiority likely did swing the Quebec referendum over to a ‘no’ outcome (the ‘no’ side in Quebec won by less than one percent of the vote).
So what lessons has Quebec’s referendum experience to offer us today, in the run up to September 18th? And how will the ethnic vote figure in the referendum?
Our Scottishness, as I understand it, is neither an ethnicity nor even mainly a nationality; but rather, it is a shared vision of a better future for ourselves and our children, built upon ideals of cooperation, compassion for others and genuine social cohesion. All for one, and one for all.
If the Yes campaign continues to build and express such a vision as this, of an independent Scotland which is also a new northern ‘commonwealth’ in the fullest sense of that word: a nation with full honours and a place at the table for each and every Scot (whether Scottish, ‘white other British’, or from a ‘visible minority’), then I expect it will win the referendum handily, with a majority of ethnic voters on side. I am myself a living example of the universal appeal of ‘Scottishness’ as more than merely a revivified nationality, but rather, as a radical new vision for the future.
I will be voting ‘aye’ on September 18th for the sake of my newly adopted country and my new compatriots. But here is the kicker: I will also be voting ‘aye’ for the sake of the long-suffering people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We in Scotland have a historic opportunity to break the mold of British politics, for ourselves, and as a service to all of the peoples of these islands. It may be that rUK will have to endure yet for a while in the howling Tory wilderness that has been consuming us all. But with the good example that we set before them, I am confident they won’t stay there for long. I have faith in the innate good sense of the British people; and as a ‘white other British’ person, I should know.
We Scots have cultivated a habit of showing our insular neighbors, and often the world, the way forward to a better future. Our time has come to do it again.