Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death: Why I Support Scottish Independence, Still!
Professor Joe Goldblatt
When I visited the very popular tourism attraction Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia to address an international conference of festival and event management professionals, I arrived with a secondary mission that had been deeply imbued in me from my childhood.
As a small child my father would often recite the immortal words of the American patriot Patrick Henry who proclaimed on 23 March 1775 “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” I fervently hoped that in Williamsburg I might find further inspiration and guidance from Henry regarding my own path to Scottish independence.
When passionately reciting these immortal words, my father’s voice would grow frighteningly loud and his eyes would widen as if he were in fact prepared to give his own life for liberty. To a child of six this was indeed a memorable occurence. Later in life during my teen age years Papa explained to me that throughout human history, all human beings including the Jewish slaves in Egypt who sought their exodus have seen liberty as a natural and more desirable state.
During the 2014 Scottish referendum on independence I spent many weekends standing at stalls to promote Scottish independence. I also attended many public forums where I spoke on behalf of Scottish independence. During each of these experiences I discovered the wide range of opinions about the sacred right of liberty within our bonny land.
In Haddington I handed a pro indy leaflet to a pedestrian and he struck me with it in the face. Suddenly two of my fellow campaigners put down their fiddles and guitars, leapt to their feet and chased my attacker up the high street shouting “You cannae do that to our pal!” I then turned tail and chased my pals shouting “I am not hurt. Leave him alone!”
This must have caused confusion and and perhaps even a few chuckles upon the high street of this wee historic market town, however, it is but one of many examplea of the emotional fevered high pitch of this divisive debate.
From the West End of Edinburgh to Stockbridge to Glasgow, every time I turned up to argue in favour of Scottish independence I was met with strong emotional outbursts. On the street corners of Stockbridge local folk would shout at me “What do you know about Scottish independence? You are an AMERICAN!” Others would shout that I was a Communist. At one point I could not decide which was the worst insult, to be a communist or an American?
In Glasgow I debated with the late restaurant guru Andrew Fairlie and we soon found that our opponents would immediately resort to fabrication to try and undermine our arguments. As we sat in a stately home surrounded by folks who typically would support the union, our opponents stated at the top of the debate “My lords and ladies, look around you at this furniture and these beautiful paintings. You will be saying goodbye to all of them if the nationalists succeed with their independence!” The audience hurrumphed loudly and to his credit Chef Fairlie immediately rose from his chair and said “That is a bold faced lie and you know it! Any terms and conditions of independence will be negotiated in the future.” The audience was still not buying it because they envisioned their precious paintings and furniture melitng away as if they were part of a surrealist Dali painting.
In the same city where political emotions often run from hot to scorching, I joined a former former Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary in debating two leaders of the Better Together campaign before a large religious community. Following loud boos and jeers from the audience the Cabinet Secretary arose from her chair and admonished the audience stating that if they did not behave in a more civil manner that she and I would leave the room. The audience settled down however I was worried that upon leaving the meeting we might be physically accosted.
This type of anger, confusion, and outrage continued for many months. During each encounter with those who disagreed with my views, I sought to better understand why they felt so strongly that liberty, independence, and freedom was such a huge risk for a country that had given birth to the rational ideology of the Scottish enlightenment?
I soon realised that due to our long historical links with our southern neighbours many of their concerns were sentimentally based upon family ties and therefore somewhat emotional. A small percentage of the folk who I discussed the topic of independence with stated that their views were shaped by their continued uncertaintity over the economy including trade, a future currency agreement, and global safety and security.
When I explained that each country that had previously chosen to become independent from the U.K. had achieved success in each of these areas and none had considered even briefly returning to the shackles of being governed by others despite their own internal struggles, they still displayed grave concern about Scotland’s future.
Therefore, as our First Minister lays out her plan for the next path to victory for Scottish independence I must learn from the last experience how to be more effective in convincing my fellow Scots that liberty and freedom are not to be feared. Rather they should be embraced with both hands to further guarantee the personal freedoms and boundless future that we and all human beings rightly deserve.
As I prepare to return to the streets and public meetings rooms to argue on behalf of Scottish independence, I believe my new pitch will be more similar to that of my fellow countryman Patrick Henry who spoke these words nearly 250 years ago. I will tell the citizens of Scotland that Mr Henry believed “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of others in the past ten years that has given us hope for our future?” Henry and his fellow patriots chose to create a better future for their nation through independence and despite all of the historic challenges and travails that continue unto this day, most Americans would agree that he was correct in his judgement.
Therefore, I too shall now consider myself a patriot of a new Scottish independence movement and follow in the footsteps of Patrick Henry and others by politely asking my fellow citizens to choose a future that is markedly different from our past and embrace one that is paved with the greater possibility of hopefulness, confidence, economic and social success along with renewed respect from the other nations of the world who I believe will welcome us with their admiration and wide open arms.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Queen Margaret University and is a supporter of Scottish independence. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot