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Why does Scottish middle class remain so rigidly opposed to independence, asks son of nationalist campaigner Stephen Maxwell
Oct 05, 2014 09:45 By Dailyrecord.co.uk
WRITER and commentator Jamie Maxwell says his late dad might have been dismayed by the referendum result but would not have been surprised by the middle classes voting No.
AT the end of last year, in these pages, I wrote about my late dad Stephen, an influential nationalist writer and intellectual.
After he died in 2012, just a few months shy of his 70th birthday, I edited a collection of his work, The Case For Left Wing Nationalism. The essays included spanned a range of subjects, from the limits of British social democracy to the rise and fall of Toryism in Scotland.
But one of the threads that bound my dad’s thinking together was the belief that Scotland’s middle class had failed to step up and help lead the country.
Indeed, for my dad – himself a product of the British post-war middle class (he studied at Cambridge and the London School of Economics) – Scottish professionals consistently put their own short-term interests above those with the most to gain from political reform.
“The Scottish middle classes have betrayed those suffering at the rough edge of life”, he told The Herald in 1989. “The legals, the medicals and all the rest have been shamefully feeble.”
The Sunday Mail Opinion discusses why it's time for politicians to get back to basics following the Referendum
My dad didn’t live to see the independence referendum – a referendum he spent his entire adult life campaigning for – but if he had, the outcome wouldn’t have surprised him.
Although large swathes of low-income Scots, particularly in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire, voted Yes to independence, an even larger slice of middle Scotland, from Edinburgh and affluent East Renfrewshire to the Tory-and-Liberal-voting Borders, clung to the comfort of the status quo.
This is – and always has been – typical of Scottish middle-class conservatism.
In 1979, devolution enjoyed widespread backing among Scottish workers. But professional Scots, with the country’s educational and business establishments, fought tooth and nail to protect Westminster’s supremacy – and ultimately left Scotland defenceless as Margaret Thatcher waged war on our industries.
Two decades later, even after Scottish civil society had (belatedly) thrown its weight behind the Home Rule movement, Scottish working-class support for devolution continued to outstrip middle-class support by around 20 per cent.
And, of course, in the final weeks of the independence campaign, we got another dose of the apocalyptic rhetoric
institutional Scotland deploys when it wants to stymie progressive change.
The big question, however, is why the Scottish middle class remains so rigidly opposed to independence. The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the late 1960s transformed Scotland’s economic prospects. By 2013, Scotland had gone from being one of the poorest parts of the UK to being the third richest, behind only London and the English south-east.
Yet, despite its wealth, Scotland’s social record is still among the worst in Western Europe. Scottish life expectancy sits some way below the EU average. Twenty per cent of Scottish children live in poverty compared to five per cent of Danish and four per cent of Norwegian. Rates of long-term illness are higher in Scotland than they are in the UK as a whole.
In the Nordic states, the middle classes have sought to raise living standards across the board by marshalling resources in the national interest.
As my dad explained in 2007, part of the reason they have succeeded is that they “continue to insist on political independence as the indispensable condition [of social progress]”.
By contrast, Scottish professionals – the lawyers, accountants and executives who run many big institutions – have allowed the potentially transformative opportunities opened up by North Sea oil to slip away under successive Westminster governments.
From a position of financial security within the Union, they have watched growing numbers of Scots become trapped in a world of low-paid, temporary employment.
They have stood back as vast chunks of the Scottish economy have been run down or sold off to foreign capital.