A blow to the British class system; look who is on each side (40 reasons to support Scottish independence, 35 & 36)

The British class system is built around Britain, and the most marginalised seem largely to support a yes vote: reasons 35 and 36 of 40 to support Scottish independence.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
3 July 2014

35) A blow to the British Class system


Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester in Eton school uniform, 1914/Wikimedia

VI. Every gentleman or yeoman in the Islands possessing 'thriescore kye,' and having children, to send at least his eldest son, or, failing sons, his eldest daughter, to some school in the Lowlands, there to be kept and brought up 'quhill they may be found able sufficientlie to speik, reid, and wryte Inglische.!'” - from the Statues of Iona, 24th August, 1609

There are two kinds of class system in operation in Britain, and they are so intwined as to be almost indistinguishable. One is defined through wealth, or, if you prefer, through economic relations to the means of production. This system is in operation across most of the world in one form or another and there is little reason to believe that it would be abolished in an independent Scotland, though hopefully the balance of power would shift.

The other class system, bound up with the first, helping hold it together, but distinguishable from it, is that for which Britain is famous the world over. It is a system of accents and culture and education and birth: the difference (in most of the UK) between rugby and football, “received pronunciation” and regional accents, tea first and milk first – or, in fact, what the word 'tea' implies at all. It is also the difference which allows a tiny elite from a handful of schools to cling on to so much power.

The upper class of this system is not so much Scottish, or Irish, or Welsh or even English. Though it leans from Norman roots, to an Anglicised exterior and its branches bend for each of the national identities on these islands, it is at core profoundly British. The 17th Century Statutes of Iona (see above) were but one small step in the careful construction of that archipelagic elite, along with Ireland's protestant ascendency and the Balmoralty's romanticisation of Scotland in the eyes of England's ruling class.

The upper classes in Scotland, Wales and each of England's regions speak the same, dress the same and have the same set of interests and cultural cues. They include amongst them the families that have sent their children to Oxbridge for 800 years and still own a third of the land in Britain – and an even more disproportionate share in Scotland. They have a class solidarity which dates back hundreds of years and through which they end up with a vast portion of the power in our economy and our politics to this day. I say “they”. Perhaps, I should say “we”, for it is into this class that I was born.

This very specific British class system has grown up around a particular constitutional framework and the imperial then post-imperial culture of this specific United Kingdom. It's entwined with a set of national narratives which encourage a sense not just that Britain rules the waves, but that Britain's upper classes are born to rule: from public school boy national heroes to Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton, it's no wonder that British politics looks at Brown and Miliband and Cameron, and declares the one who went to school in a white tie and tails is the one who isn't weird.

One constitutional change won't end elitism in the UK. But the demise of the political unit that is Britain will be a blow to that specific British class system, and about time too.

36) “Look at the forces standing behind no. Look at the forces standing behind yes”

the rich are voting No” - Radical Independence Campaign

In the battle of the Davids, I think Grohl trumps Bowie any day of the week. But then, I'm a drummer. And to be honest, I don't really care. I am a little more likely to be swayed by Chomsky and Stiglitz's arguments for yes than by Obama and Rowling supporting no, but I hope it's at least mostly what they say that holds weight, rather than who they are.

That's not always 100% true though. I will tend to care more for the opinions of the Political Director at Greenpeace International or the current and two former CEOs of Friends of the Earth Scotland (all supporting independence) – or, in fact, the workers on the oil rigs (most of whom say they are voting yes) – than I do for the thoughts of the bosses of Shell or BP. Sometimes, it is important who says something, because of the perspective they bring and what they want for the world.

Likewise, I'm more predisposed to trust the motives of a movement made up of CND, artists, the Green Party, almost all of the various socialist parties and life long activists for democracy, civil liberties, equality and peace than I am one whose grassroots seem too often to be PR company astro-turf, and which is backed by the Lib Dems, Tories and the CBI.

If I'm honest, even if we look at the biggest parties on each side – Labour and the SNP, it seems pretty clear which I'd have more faith in. For their faults, the SNP have consistently opposed tuition fees, austerity, the Iraq war, NHS privatisation and immigrant scapegoating. The same cannot be said for Labour. John Swinney, though he's right to promise borrowing to end austerity, is wrong to want to cut corporation tax by 3%. Labour's howls on the matter ring hollow, though. When they were in charge, they cut it by 5%.

Such arguments from authority however, only get so far. What I find more persuasive than the endorsement of any one person is this: polls suggest that unemployed people and people in the lowest income groups are more likely to vote yes than no. Certainly, support for the union is strongest amongst the richest. There seems reasonable evidence that members of Scotland's biggest ethnic minority – Scots Asians – are more likely to vote yes than no. There are significant voices from the disability rights movement, including the Black Triangle campaign, supporting independence.

If we care about communities of people who are marginalised and discriminated against, it is important to listen to them. It would be untrue to say that all such groups are speaking with one voice – women are still more likely to vote no. But across the board, those with the least to lose and the most to gain are the most likely to be voting yes. I'd need a good reason not to want to add my voice to theirs.

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