Andrew O’Hagan, from No to Yes, the highlights.
Andrew O’Hagan is one of Scotland’s greatest living novelists.
Judging by this historic quote from him it is safe to say he once supported the union.
Now he has decided that independence is the best way forward. He delivered a rather long speech at the Edinburgh Book Festival in which he explained his reasoning. You can read the whole transcript here.
For those of you who have a life, I have read it for you and below are some quotes that explain why he changed his mind.
On how he felt in 2014.
For years, in Scotland, my Scotland, I felt that England was all the better for having Scotland attached to it, and vice versa. I’d grown up with a strong sense of solidarity and had a natural Leftist belief in the commonality of these islands, of a joint commitment to decency and shared destiny, presenting a united front up and down the land against barbarian elements, which first meant, for my generation, Margaret Thatcher and her notion of ‘no such thing as society’.
On questioning his views.
It’s often a failure of intellectual curiosity that causes us to learn nothing from our own experience: we merely defend what we’ve said before, make a god of what we are known to believe, regardless of changes in the circumstances before us, because that makes us feel better, and feel that we were right all along.
But what happens if I try to understand the look in the eyes of my opponents? What if the No voters in the country allowed themselves the luxury of imagining without prejudice just exactly what they think they would be losing?
Me first. A writer’s job, after all, is not to defend what she believes in, but to animate what she can barely imagine. Many people in 2014 felt that the argument had not yet been made. And perhaps it hadn’t. It certainly hadn’t, in some respects.
But it began to seem to me that the ground was shifting nonetheless, regardless of opinion and that a re-constituted Scotland was already in process. Despite the seeming defeat and the constant punditry and a comic debility of Westminster power, what if we were already in the early days of a better nation, with the idea carefully minted and the coin merely to follow?
The turning point.
I didn’t stay home with my questions: I took them to the Supreme Court. I was the only novelist there during that week of the Appeal, and it was stale manna from the gods, I can tell you, listening to the government’s lawyers argue that a constitutional alteration the size of Brexit did not require an Act of Parliament.
I won’t enter into May’s cavalier — and I mean Cavalier with a capital C— attitude to the balance of power in the constitutional arrangements of these islands, but it was too little commented on at the time how events in the Supreme Court revealed a blundering attitude towards Scotland’s integrity as a political body.
For those of us who had always supported the idea of the United Kingdom, it was a shattering moment, to see how willing May was to ride rough-shod over Scotland’s discreet authority, enshrined in the Scotland Act of 1998 and located in the Sewell Convention, so that she could hold onto power and please the Brexiteers whom she had formerly opposed.
In a major respect, the Yes campaign had been right: it wasn’t really about nationalism, it was about fairness and self-definition, about sovereignty in a much finer sense and now it was also about the march of history. It took the full unfolding of the case to see with total clarity that the Union was corrupted. It was the end of another old song, and it was hard now to resist the fact that Britain was being smashed by those who claimed to defend it, and that Scotland would probably be a better country for all that.
I speak for no political movement but must say, that no party will do for this country that is not in touch with the growth of ideas. In the national song, it is proud Edward that is sent homewards to think again, but what if — all along — it was us who must think again, as our native philosophers taught us to do?
Should we not send ourselves homework, our proud army, to think again about what it was we said No to? ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,’ said our friend Orwell. And what is the truth now? Can we with a fresh conscience now say that Britain is taking us forward? Can we say that leaving Europe, without our consent, is set to enhance our children’s lives and connect them more constructively to the world of the future?
Some would say so, some unionists and some nationalists too, but a heavy majority would not, and many young people in Scotland feel they are being sold out by their own grandparents. Strangely, it is the younger ones who are more profoundly in touch with Scotland’s intellectual traditions.
It is not at base a political argument, but a philosophical one, a humanitarian one, an ecological one, putting the rights of all men and women, and all children, before the fears of a class of account-holders. And it’s a task of bravery for the account-holders to see that: there are much larger accounts at stake.
The world is not right, and the task of our combined generations is to put it right, or leave the possibility open. Letting Scotland takes it place at the table of modern nations relies on your bravery in thinking again.
Being optimistic about the future.
Compared with the new communities of the Internet, Britain seems like a minor abstraction — all pomp and no circumstance. ‘GREAT BRITAIN’: the name we once gave to a situation we were in, where we traded our sovereignty for empire, before the empire was gone.
Increasingly the experience of life in Scotland is not one of feeling bordered by old constitutional abstractions, of sentimental attachments, of fattening prejudice and deflated pomp, but of being open to a sense of energetic existence beyond the fetters of geography.
I went to Afghanistan, and the young Scottish and Irish soldiers there seemed alienated from all national stereotypes, and they spoke as if blimpish Britain had died when their parents were young, somewhere on Goose Green.
Their accents were clear, and they were proud of each other, but there was, for them, no hallowed corner of any foreign field that would be forever Britain. The young Scots felt Scottish in an international way. And Scotland itself, these last 15 years, has moved on from the old stasis I used to criticise. In the digital
In the digital age, it knows itself, and such knowledge is not a confinement. The land is so distinctive, the songs are so good, the poetry is so vital, the whisky sublime, the humour like no other, the sense of enquiry so rigorous and flexible, the stones so ageless, the spirit so fierce, that Scotland will in the future be a wellspring of algorithms as strong as memories.
In my view, in the Internet of Things, Scotland is due to become one of the world’s strongest digital republics, a place whose institutions are daily enhanced and purified not only by the life of the country but by the life of all countries.
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