Unity or division – A letter to Scotland (Independent newspaper)

Dear fellow Scots,

Greetings! My name is Lucy.  I am an international civil servant who returned to Scotland for the referendum.

When divisions are so hardened that proponents do not listen to one another, facts and analysis don’t matter.  All that will be heard is what cannot be refuted: people’s experiences and beliefs.  Please allow me to share mine with you.I believe that independence is an illusion.

We are interdependent.  Our fortunes are tied to the fortunes of England, America, India, Indonesia, Colombia, and Mali. We can escape into utopian visions of independence, or we can accept that we live in an interdependent – and imperfect – world. We all suffer from the impact of the financial crisis, subjugation of women, and the challenge of providing free services with limited resources.

I believe that nationalism is a dangerous political philosophy.   I’ve spent the last 7 years working in war-torn countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  In them, this is how war began: a charismatic leader convinced a group of people that their hardship is caused by another group which dominates state institutions.  The answer is to bring down the state.  Neighbours are pit against one another.  Conflict erupts into violence. The economy collapses, and in come people like me.

I believe that being British is a tremendous advantage.  Growing up in a union essentially ‘trains’ you for the new world which is coming into existence.  It is a world where national boundaries matter less and less. They matter less to us personally: we can live, work, and connect across boundaries.  They also matter less politically: what matters is the power we wield in international and regional organisations.

It’s because I’m British that I’ve been able to live and work in 4 continents.  And it’s because I’m British that I’ve wanted to! Because growing up in Britain teaches you to help people who suffer, wherever they are in the world.  Britain was the major force behind almost every step towards making our world more peaceful and just: the human rights movement; the women’s rights movement; the end of fascism.  Today, Britain is the major supporter of international humanitarian and development efforts.

Britain invests more than 11 billion pounds a year to help the poorest people in the world. That investment matters tremendously. There are more slaves today in the world than at any time in history.  Violence against women is at epidemic levels.  There are active conflicts in more than 40 countries. But it’s not just the money and political capital Britain invests.   We model unity and tolerance and justice to countries which are struggling with these things.   We show them how to establish inclusive state institutions, and give them hope that different people can live together.

That is why the UK has such great power within international and regional organisations like the UN, EU, IMF, and WTO.

If we break this union, we will lose that. I don’t want to live in a country that isn’t able to effectively influence international law and policy.  Most of all, I don’t want the world to lose that powerful voice for unity and the rule of law.

Because there are so few of us!  So few people in this world truly care about human rights. So few countries invest in making this world a better place. We are just 5 million Scots—64 million Brits—in a world of 7 billion people.  Just one of 196 states!  How can we create a world that reflects our values if we do not stand together?

I believe the reason for this referendum is that we Scots have an enemy image of England.   I’ve heard ‘Flower of Scotland’ more in the last two weeks than in my whole life to date.  I understand it.  I’m a MacDonald from the Isle of Islay.  My ancestors were allies of Robert Bruce and fought at Bannockburn. They also suffered the Highland Clearances.   And when I moved to England aged 7, I was bullied for my Scottish accent.

But I had to get over it. 700 years ago!   200 years ago!   25 years ago!  We can’t move into a peaceful and just future if we carry these resentments. We need to let it go.

Because it doesn’t matter how you talk.  What matters is what you have to say, what you stand for, and who you stand with. I stand with anyone who believes in unity, peace, and justice among the peoples of this earth.

I want to live in a world where people trust one another, and work together to create a better world.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re from Edinburgh or London or Juba. If you also want to live in this world, then you’re my brother; you’re my sister.

Well, we’ve never met, but if you’ve read this far then I know something about you that I value deeply.  You are a person who believes that an ordinary person has the right to speak and be heard alongside the politicians and pundits.  And so I call you my brother.

With very best wishes,


*  This article was published by national newspaper The Independent newspaper:  http://ind.pn/1sBVLG5

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