Jackie Anderson stands in the center of the campaign office she helps run on Maryhill Road in north Glasgow. Her white T-shirt is emblazoned with a single word in bright blue print: “Yes.”
On Thursday, Scotland holds a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. Pollsters say the race is too close to call. But Anderson has no doubt about the way the residents of Maryhill will vote.
For as long as I’ve been aware of books, I’ve been aware of Tom Nairn’s The Break-Up of Britain. When I was growing up, there were at least two copies – separate editions: the original from 1977 and a later volume from 1981 with a postscript on Thatcherism – lodged on my dad’s bookshelves. It was the later volume, with its distinctive black and yellow jacket design, that first caught my attention.
As I got older and began to delve into them, I was quietly thrilled to find my dad’s name – Stephen Maxwell – among those cited by Nairn, alongside Gordon Brown and Hamish Henderson, in the acknowledgements. But it wasn’t until my late teens that I really began to engage with – or properly comprehend – their contents.
No party is more adept at exploiting the gap between practice and rhetoric in Scottish society than Labour, and no Scottish politician is more authentically Labour than Gordon Brown.
After a series of relatively underwhelming, policy-focused speeches, the former prime minister has landed back in the independence debate with a thud.
Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Owen Jones attacked the idea that English politics is split along north-south lines as a “myth” and a “distraction.” Given rates of poverty and inequality in the south of England are as high as they are in the north (higher, in some cases), “how much really divides the call centre worker in Hull from the supermarket shelf-stacker in Chelmsford?,” Jones asked.
It’s a legitimate point, and one familiar to anyone involved in the debate over Scottish independence. One of the clichés of Scottish unionism – particularly Scottish Labour unionism – is that a worker on minimum wage in Dundee has more in common with another minimum wage worker in Manchester than he or she does with a top-rate tax-payer in Edinburgh.
According to leading pollsters, Tricia O’Connor is a typical Yes voter.
The 33-year-old single mother from Larkfield, Greenock, earns just over £17,000 a year and lives in what she describes as a “working class area.”
The language of class has been pretty thoroughly scrubbed from Scotland’s political vocabulary.
Party leaders no longer talk about “working class interests.” They talk about “hard-pressed families” or – worse still – “the squeezed middle.”
Speaking in Glasgow recently, the Chancellor George Osborne said that a currency union between an independent Scotland and what remained of the UK would impose “significant constraints on [Scotland’s] economic sovereignty.”
Nationalists were quick to dismiss this warning in public, but privately they must have known that it was far from an empty threat: Osborne, armed with standard Tory prejudices about Scottish spending habits, will do what he can to limit public expenditure north of the border, whether Scotland stays part of the UK or not.