There are some incontestable certainties about the Britain that we’ve woken up to today. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s still actually there. During the last few months, an outside observer might have assumed the physical location of the land mass was going to change; to be anchored further out to sea perhaps, making it even harder for the ‘other’ people to get to. Secondly, the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west. Although – this being Scotland after all – you may have to take that for granted as opposed to witnessing it with your own eyes. Thirdly – and of no interest to you at all, I’m sure – I’ll still be over fifty.
My experiences, attitudes, understanding, perspective etc etc will no doubt change or adapt as this number increases; just as it has since I was a more politically active teenager in the early 80s. That change has come about through interaction with interesting people from all different continental walks of life. My profession (Architecture) is fundamentally about people. It tries to empathise and understand social and cultural need. It seeks to appreciate the values of social cohesion and supported community regardless of location. It aspires to create environments which enrich and enhance the quality of people’s everyday lives, regardless of class or boundary. The profession doesn’t always get it right, but when we do it’s usually because these things have been thought about from other people’s perspectives and the right balance between pragmatism and inspiration has been struck.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my working life. I’ve had the chance to put whatever skills I have in these areas to positive use in many culturally diverse places around the world. Whether it’s been in poverty-stricken parts of India, or in the various sensitivities of Soweto, or even in areas of China where no-one spoke English, we’ve always found a common language in trying to understand people and their hopes, fears, dreams and concerns and the natural potential for all of those to be taken away without warning.
I was born and grew up in two separate parts of the West of Scotland commonly and lazily described as ‘socially-deprived’: the East End of Glasgow, and North-west Kilmarnock respectively. Whilst life in these two areas remains challenging for many, I’ve always found warmth and a cultural richness in such communities to echo that of those other places around the world which I’ve been lucky enough to visit. They have intangible values that are a part of my soul, and are the essence of pieces I’ve written, whether fictional or otherwise. I see people from communities across Europe like my own struggle daily with the pressures of simply living and existing. Being part of a larger Union addressing the unfairness and inequality in such situations should be the principal driver for those in elected positions of power. But in the UK of today, it isn’t. Other more self-interested and parochial priorities now exist; the priorities of exclusion and the maintenance of privilege.
I am not a nationalist, far from it … more an Inter-nationalist. I am suspicious of boundaries and of any suggestions of such exclusion. Such inferences are ideologically opposed to a core philosophy of welfare and equality that I – like many of my age, I suspect – inherited from family. However, ‘Britain’ as it now currently sits in mid-2019 is an outdated and divided conceit. It certainly isn’t ‘Great’. A more liberal, left-leaning and federalist desire to share out opportunity equally isn’t reflected in an English nationalist-driven UK with other apparent priorities.
My outlook on life has been shaped by people, places, music, literature, arts and culture that are resolutely international as opposed to solely British. They aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be there to thrill and inspire me for the next 25 years, as they have the last. But like almost all the people with whom I’ve discussed it recently, I’m now uncertain about the immediate future, but equally so for the retention of any nostalgic notion of ‘Union’ as I would be for an independent Scotland that now appears to be inevitable. There are difficult economic issues and challenges for both sides of this most divisive of debates to face and I’ve always been suspicious of those who would profess – with the certainty of knowing the sun will rise on this summer morning – to know exactly what awaits us in either scenario. It’s our misfortune to find ourselves being led into such uncertainty by the most selfish and strategically ill-equipped political generation in Westminster’s history.
But I’m a pragmatic thinker and an optimistic dreamer in equal measure. As unlikely as it might seem now, an opportunity to help create the type of caring, socially responsible and equal society that I want to live the remainder of my life in, and for my kids to mature in and contribute to will always exist. It might just be within a smaller context. However our future in Scotland must become all about people. And all people, not just the more privileged few. That’s an aspiration worth striving for.
I hope that becomes the unifying ethos of the brave new world of independence that is almost certainty now just around the corner.