LibLink: Alistair Carmichael – Liberalism is the most effective counter to competing nationalisms

writing in the Scotsman, Alistair Carmichael challenges both the SNP’s view that independence is inevitable because so many young people support it and the older voters will die off and the Conservative view that those young people will become more conservative and risk averse as they grow older.

Both of these views are blinkered – and, frankly, complacent. We should have higher ambitions than some kind of “demographic destiny”. When we are talking about no less than the future of Scotland, our people deserve a little more by way of ideas and ideals, and a little less talk of inevitability.

Partisans on both sides of the constitutional divide are kidding themselves if they think they have a lock on our country’s future. The case for independence has not been made – but the stability of our shared community with the rest of the United Kingdom cannot be treated as an afterthought either. In a liberal democracy, we have to respect one another enough to make the case for the values of interdependence and shared prosperity, year on year and day by day.

He cited the experience of Quebec, where support for independence that once seemed inevitable is now much reduced. How did this happen?

What changed was not the demographic “inevitability” of Quebec, but the democratic debate and exchange of ideas. In the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, Liberal leaders and academics alike took on the issues raised by nationalism and independence and responded.

They challenged nationalist narratives head-on and reinvigorated discussions on the federal make-up of Canada. They changed minds – and made the case for a Canadian society of both diversity and shared common interest

And we have to keep winning the arguments to preserve our liberal values:

Across the world, we are awakening to the reality that liberal democracy is not simply something we have “done” as a society – it is a set of values that we must renew with each new generation. We have to constantly re-learn and reinforce the ideal of a shared society with different values, nationalities and communities, against those who see the liberal democratic compromise as something that gets in the way of their own ideology, whether nationalism, populism or authoritarianism.

The debate over independence – like that over our democratic values as a whole – cannot be reduced to waiting for the old to die off or for the young to “see sense”, to the extremes of SNP or Tory nationalism. It has to be won through hard work, fighting complacency, and the right ideals at the heart of our politics.

You can read the whole article here.

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14 Comments

  • John Marriott 13th Oct '21 - 10:16am

    OK, Mr C, how come not more people seem to want to vote for it then?

  • Brad Barrows 13th Oct '21 - 1:04pm

    Whether or not people agree with it, the case for Scottish independence is rooted is the belief that our country is unable to move in the direction it wishes due to being part of a Union that is dominated by different political ideas and ideals. Scotland has not elected a majority of Conservative MPs at a General election since the 1950s yet we continue to have our country shaped by Conservative governments. Though devolution has allowed us a limited escape in limited areas, so many powers are still in the control of Westminster that hugely impact on our lives that a growing number are now willing to consider leaving the Union we voluntarily joined in 1707 and reaffirmed our membership off in 2014. Brexit, which Scotland opposed, has persuaded many who had voted against independence in 2014, that our future lies as an independent member of the European Union rather than as a region with a post-Brexit UK. It is now up to those who wish Scotland to remain in the UK to explain how remaining as a region within a post-Brexit UK is a better future than becoming an independent member of the EU.

  • George Thomas 13th Oct '21 - 4:06pm

    I don’t know enough about Canadian politics to say for sure but I imagine if Quebec experienced a Canadian government pushing 10 years of austerity, rejecting America as a trade partner against Quebec’s wishes and what looks likely to be two terms of anti-devolution politics the support for independence would still be strong.

    At what point will Alistair Carmichael etc. start to think that LD’s winning in an independent Scotland and creating a liberal nation is better than continuing in a UK which consistently sees LD’s policies rejected in a voting system which allows for two parties (not the LD’s) and favours one (not the LD’s)?

  • nvelope2003 13th Oct '21 - 5:07pm

    For many years large parts of England rejected the Conservatives. Would they have benefitted from becoming independent and if so how ? Maybe as some of them border it they should join with an independent Scotland.

  • Brad, you say that post-Brexit opinion is shifting but that isn’t really shown in the opinion polls. While the SNP had a massive bump last year as a result of the UKs government’s disastrous handing of the pandemic eleven of twelve polls since the end of April have shown a No lead.

    Secondly, you say it’s better for a independent post-Brexit Scotland to rejoin the EU but we’ve seen what a terrible impact that’s had on Northern Ireland and they only have ‘one foot’ partially in the EU plus a sea border with the rest of the UK. I dread to think what it would be like for the communities in the borders and for businesses of Scotland becomes independent and rejoins the EU without rUK.

    Unfortunately, so far most of the things ‘Project Fear’ said about Brexit have come true. I’ve no doubt most of the things ‘Project Fear’ said about Scottish independence would also come true.

  • Brad, as an addendum, you say it is up to ‘unionists’ to say why it would be better for Scotland to remain in the UK. I don’t disagree with this at all but is it also not true that ‘nationalists’ should be open and honest with the electorate over important topics they’ve largely avoided talking about (such as currency)?

  • Brad Barrows 13th Oct '21 - 9:41pm

    @ANMAR
    You make good points. I have not paid much attention to opinion polls taken in the midst of a pandemic as I actually think they are more a reflection of the fear being caused by the situation rather than fundamental attitudes as to whether Scotland should regain its independence. However I know of a number of No voters from 2014 who voted No precisely because they wanted to remain in the EU, who now feel that Scottish independence provides the most realistic route back into the EU. Not a scientific sample but it appears on line with what the opinion polls prior to the pandemic were indicating.

  • An answer to the problem is to advocate a method of involving the people of Scotland in devising a future system of governance for the country. This is not an easy task, but is urgently needed.
    I have listened to talks by the leaders of the three main parties in Ireland. They are advocating such an approach for the future of their own country.
    We have an urgent need to carry forward an agenda for involving all in decision making.

  • ANMAW:
    I hardly think the current “terrible effects” you refer to in Northern Ireland are anything as terrible as to what happened during the troubles.

  • Opinions polls currently show most Scots want to remain in the UK, but it’s of no surprise to anyone with experience of politics that the SNP made a very big song and dance about the brief period of time when polling sort-of showed otherwise. Even when it was suggested ‘yes’ was ahead, this almost always relied on ignoring the don’t knows, and pretending margins of error aren’t a thing.

    It always relied on repeating the Yes/No question, which has since been ruled as inappropriate by the Electoral Commission, and as most of those polls were on behalf of Angus Robertson’s company, they tended to follow a series of questions primed to remind people of all of the bad things the Tories had been doing. Polling which swiftly halted once it was apparent it was a temporary wobble, not a trend.

    So I would encourage members not in Scotland to be more cautious before assuming that Scots are champing at the bit to leave, and any actions not facilitating that are undemocratic etc.

    But that aside, Alistair’s main point is correct. We shouldn’t be complacent. It feels right and reasonable that those wanting separation should do the homework to show how things will be better and that they’ve considered all the risks and have solutions. But we’ve all seen Brexit, and unfortunately rather than learn the lessons of the dangers of Brexit, the nationalists are learning the lessons of the Brexit campaign. We must too.

    Facts remain important, and the frequent lies should be challenged. However, we can’t rely on that and get bogged down on arguing that the slogan on the side of a bus is all lies. A study showed that supporters of the SNP/independence are far more likely to feel personally offended if their party is criticised, and you can see that reflected in how people behave online.

    This throws up another parallel between the nationalisms of Johnson and of the SNP. We’ve all scratched our heads at the polling, and wonder why people aren’t more angry about their failings during COVID. But the frightening reality is that Johnson & Sturgeon are both very good at convincing their supporters that the problem lies with the critics.

  • Like Fiona (15th Oct ’21 – 12:08pm) I’m amazed at the polling…What will it take for Johnson, et al, to be held accountable for a country that is falling apart before our eyes?

    YouGov (and others) polling shows Toties/Johnson well ahead of Labour/Starmer..It seems incredible that, in the disaster area that is Great Britain, this could possibly be true…
    I’m beginning to believe Trump’s statement that “he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody and still not lose voters.”..

  • Andy Hyde: Yes I should have chosen my words more carefully given the Northern Ireland context. But I think there are clearly big unresolved issues for businesses and the wider economy in NI as a result of Brexit (which were all predicted by ‘Project Fear’).

  • Peter Hirst 20th Oct '21 - 4:56pm

    Defending the Union would be easier if we had leading politicians, Lib Dems excepted who spoke and acted from a position of more humility, compassion and decency. We are never going to all agree. We can however respect others’ views and have a common core of values that we can agree on, especially in a crisis.

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