Saturday, 4 August 2012

David Steel's wife supports Scottish independence

Judy Steel, wife of former Liberal leader David Steel, and announced her support for Scottish independence, according to today's Daily Record

She is reported as saying: "“I have always believed in Scotland as an independent country. It’s an emotional thing.  I suppose it’s tied up with my admiration for the Scandinavian countries and the influence of my parents, who were very disillusioned by the trappings of post-imperial Britain.  It may be good for Britain as a whole and give it the chance to find a level where it can shake off that very grandiose and rather pompous history.”  That’s a very timely intervention given the interpretation and presentation of British history at the Olympics opening ceremony but what is more telling is her use of the word “always”. 

The implication is obvious – she has held this belief for as long as she remembers but until now it has never been possible to be public about it.  Perhaps it is because her husband is no longer the high profile figure he once was, or maybe it’s because she feels that the momentum is firmly behind the “Yes” campaign, but she evidently feels she now has the freedom to be intellectually honest to her beliefs. 

That she should support independence is not particularly surprising to me.  Judy Steel has been around politics for many years.  She’s experienced the highs and lows of the 70s and 80s and seen how the federalism espoused by the Liberals and later the Liberal Democrats has been replaced by a turgid devolutionism.  She’s seen the more ambitious aims of her husband’s Commission of 2006 fall by the wayside.  Moreover she’s been married to a Scottish MP who, whatever one thinks of him, has a history of advocating greater freedom for Scotland and Scots.  Such ambitions have been consistently frustrated by the failure of Westminster and the Liberal Democrats to deliver anything resembling a real federalism, let alone the kind of increased freedoms most Scots seem to want.

Given this, I don’t find it at all unusual for someone like Judy Steel to be independence-inclined.  However, it appears that her convictions go back several decades and pre-date her marriage to David.  What is surprising, therefore, is that she’s been able to successfully keep her views to herself for so long.

Lady Steel believes that being pro-Scotland and advocating independence as a means to achieving a brighter future is not synonymous with being pro-SNP.   In this I am in agreement with her.  The intellectual arguments for independence – in fact the fundamentally liberal reasons to support independence – are by no means the sole property of Mr Salmond’s party.

Where I disagree with Lady Steel is her description of her support for independence as “an emotional thing”.  For me, it is not, and never can be, an emotional thing.  It instead stems from an intellectual reasoning and a pragmatic desire to achieve the kind of liberal Scottish society I desire so strongly

What we are seeing is that a number of Liberal Democrats, whose adherence to liberal principles cannot be questioned, are beginning to either express support for Scottish independence or at least indicate that they will vote “Yes” in 2014 in preference to the status quo.  These include Lady Steel, the Earl of Mar and Kellie and several other party activists.

There must be recognition within the party that, as a broad church, we should accept that there is a range of opinion within the party on the question of Scotland’s constitutional future.  We are after all, Liberals.  (Not to mention that we’re Democrats.)  We should respect the views of all party members and allow them to freely campaign as they feel fit.  I certainly don’t want any other Judy Steels within the party to feel silenced by an imposed conformity and be pressured to keep their opinions to themselves.  Neither do I want to see others defecting to the SNP simply to obtain the freedom to campaign in favour of a “Yes” vote.

Having been in conversation with a number of other independence-minded Liberal Democrats (many of whom have approached me after reading my blog), we feel the time has arrived to establish an internal grouping within the party to campaign for independence.  What we will not be is anti-liberal or even intrinsically anti-leadership: we merely wish to positively campaign for what we believe will facilitate a better Scotland, a more liberal Scotland, a freer Scotland. 

Lady Steel is of course welcome to join us.  It is early days yet and the proposed grouping is as yet unestablished; news of future developments will appear on this blog as well as via other channels as determined by the group.  What is clear is that liberalism is not defined by attitudes towards Scottish independence and that the same should apply to the Liberal Democrats. 

Anyone interested in being involved with a potential Lib Dems for Independence group can contact me, in the first instance, via twitter (@scottishliberal)


Anonymous said...

I think I can see what Mrs Steel is saying, Andrew. Of course it has to be an intellectual "thing", if it is going to work, but for many people, for whom "country" is more that rocks, soil and trees, I can see the "emotional" thing that she speaks of. I can even vaguely feel it as part of a much bigger intellectual drive, which involves economics, political directions and morality, vision, etc.

The "feeling" that you belong to your country may be more important to some. And many in Scotland (and probably other parts of the union) don't really "feel" British, or particularly that they belong to the image, or brand of the UK.

They feel Scottish whilst accepting that they are geographically British and European.

What is perhaps strange is that someone in Mrs Steel's position should feel it. Presumably, as the wife of an MP, MSP, Presiding Officer, Knight and Peer, at different times, but over a very long period, Mrs Steel could be said to move in high places in British society; places where she might reasonably, at least by now, expect to feel at home.

And yet emotionally she still doesn't feel that she is quite the British person she is expected to be.

I think that her "coming out" may encourage other people to rethink their own attitudes.

It is interesting to see that there is now a Labour Facebook community for Independence and a similar page has recently been started for Liberal Democrats.

I am delighted to see this. Independence and the debate about it does not belong to the SNP. Already the Green Party and Scottish Socialists are pro independence, but it is cheering to see people with other political allegiances speak out.

It is very important that Scottish voters understand that it is not a one man band.

Bravo to Mrs Steel for leading. I wonder how her husband feels about it.

Andrew said...

Thanks for your comment Tris.

I can see the "emotional" aspect Lady Steel speaks of too, but ultimately it isn't what drives me or has forged my attitudes towards Scotland's future. Perhaps, as you suggest, there is some emotional element to my thinking, but a negative one - of not easily identifying with popular concepts of "Britishness". I am far more comfortable with defining myself as either "Scottish" or "European".

Given the story of the tattoo that the Record also referred to I suspect Lady Steel either doesn't care too much what her husband thinks or they understand each other so well and respect each other's views that he's not overly concerned by her "coming out". I agree this could be a catalyst for others to reconsider their views, but I also think from the party's perspective and feel it would be less damaging for the Lib Dems to recognise the multiplicity of views within its ranks and allow individuals to campaign as they wish rather than be embarrassed by a string of revelations or defections. It's why having an internal group is better than a rabble of frustrated uncoordinated voices.

I am a member of the facebook page and it's got around 70 members or so which is an indication that there's a decent minority of us who want to positively campaign for independence. As you rightly state, independence is not a one man band; neither is it about the political agenda of one particular party. It is about the fundamental questions that affect us all.

Dan Falchikov said...

Hi Andrew - good article. I've referenced it in my blog:

Richard Cain said...

This an excellent development. So far, it has been far too easy for the Unionists and their press to dismiss independence as an "SNP thing" or, as it has especially been in the last few months, as an "Alec Salmond thing".

Groups like Labour For Independence and LibDems For Independence will hopefully demonstrate that this is a popular movement, across all strata of Scottish society. I wish you every success. It is the truly liberal and democratic path.