New Year celebrations in Edinburgh. Photo: Getty
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Sean Connery on Scottish independence: “Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation”

The 2014 referendum is an opportunity too good to miss.

Having been on this journey to independence for more than 50 years, it seems to me that the arguments have been kicked about like a bladder on a beach.

But as the 18 September approaches and, one by one, the scare stories are burst, a new sense of opportunity and hope for the future is now in sight. Scotland has an opportunity to make a step change.

More than anything else, culture defines a country. It provides international visibility and stimulates global interest more than a nation’s politics, business or economy ever can.

So, with our colourful history, strong identity, deep-rooted traditions, a commitment to artistic innovation and diverse and beautiful landscapes, Scotland is truly blessed.

All these attributes mean that Scotland is one of the most familiar countries on earth. As a Scot who has lived much of his life furth of Scotland, I am always amazed by people’s knowledge of and affection for the nation.

I have no doubt that this is due to our reconvened Scottish parliament. It seems to me that devolution has encouraged a new expression of cultural values, fostering a new pride in our national heritage and providing a support framework for everything from the Gaelic language to cutting-edge architecture. Attending the opening of the parliament in my home city was one of the proudest days of my life. 

I believe Scotland can and will go further. A Yes vote in September will capture the attention of the world. That inevitably means there will be a renewed focus on our culture as well as our new politics, presenting us with an unparalleled opportunity to promote our heritage and creative excellence.

The powers of independence will allow Scotland to develop and enrich its culture as well as marketing it more effectively.

We can build on the success of events such as Homecoming, winter festivals like Edinburgh’s phenomenally successful Hogmanay, this year’s sporting spectacles such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, as well as the other diverse festivals around Scotland.

Culture and creativity are a force for public good and with the enhanced resources offered by independence, Scotland will compete with the best.

No one will be surprised to learn that I am particularly excited by the possibilities a Yes vote offers for the Scottish film industry, with new inward investment encouraged and the international promotion of Scotland as an iconic location. A bigger and more confident film and broadcast sector will mean an inflow of resources and new jobs and training.

Having researched the numbers, it is clear that there are huge economic benefits to be gained as well as cultural ones. Scotland’s creative industries generated £2.8bn for the country’s economy in 2011. The historic environment brought in over £2bn, supporting 60,000 jobs. These are impressive numbers. With independence, they can be more impressive still.

I fully respect that the choice facing Scotland on 18 September is a matter for the people who choose to work and live there – that is only right and proper. But as a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.

Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation.

 

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.