Tomorrow morning (16th), renowned Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan will give a keynote speech at the Edinburgh Literary Festival in which he will change fundamentally his position on Scottish independence. Readers here will be able to follow this across the media. Andrew has kindly agreed to write what follows for Fromnotoyes.Scot and we publish this tonight with thanks to him. 

‘I have never seen myself as a spokesman,’ wrote the late American novelist James Baldwin. ‘I am a witness.’ Yet I noticed, for my own part, as a Scottish writer, something beginning to happen that didn’t happen when I was younger: I began not so much to build defences around my own arguments, as to awaken to their weaknesses.

It’s often a failure of intellectual curiosity that causes us to learn nothing form our own experience: we merely defend what we’ve said before, making a god of what we are known to believe, regardless of changes in the circumstances before us. It makes us feel better, and feel that we were right all along. But what happens if you try to understand the look in the eyes of my opponents? A writer’s job, after all, is not to defend what she believes, but to animate what she can barely imagine.

Many people in 2014 felt that the argument for Scottish independence had not yet been made. And perhaps it hadn’t, in some important respects. But it began to seem to me that the ground was shifting nonetheless, regardless of opinion, and that a re-constituted Scotland was already in process. Despite the seemingly looming defeat, the constant punditry and a comic debility of Westminster power, what if we were already in the early days of a better nation, with the idea carefully minted and the coin merely to follow?

I was at the count in Glasgow the night of the Referendum. As I walked among the tables, hour after hour, I realised something strange, especially strange to someone like me who had always believed these islands were better united. It hardly matters whether or not I wanted the Nationalists to win, it was more that it felt they already had. They would lose that night, but as I drove back to Ayrshire at 5 o’clock in the morning, passing down to the coast and a view of Arran in the early light, it seemed like a different country.

The unionist-led parties won the referendum but lost the future. And it was their fault and their myopia — Labour had dealt in fraudulent politics, and David Cameron, in playing the English card on the morning of the result, may have committed the most stupid and divisive political act in these lands since Margaret Thatcher introduced the Poll Tax.

As I drove away from the count in Glasgow in the middle of the night, I felt the Union wasn’t saved but was in fact over. And Michael Gove appearing on Jim Naughtie’s programme, playing on my car radio, convinced me that the main British parties had, for the time being, bankrupted themselves over Scotland. The fight over Brexit would only deepen the chasm. In fact: Brexit has transformed the chasm into a black hole of impertinence and impossibility. Now that the picture is clearing, we are left with an image of a belated Little England posing an existential threat to a Scotland that has seen itself for years as European.


Andrew O’Hagan, 15 August 2017