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Orkney Library receives a surprise visit

Pen and ink cartoon of JK Rowling riding a broomstick above the Orkney Library. She says she has rowled in to see if Orkney Library was a victim of Tory austerity, and references her statement against Scottish independence. An orangutan librarian shakes his fist at her.
Cartoon for The Orkney News column in the March 2018 edition of iScot magazine. Pen & ink, 2018.

 

Since 2012, as a result of the ideological austerity programme being pursued by the Conservative Government at Westminster, at least 449 public libraries have closed across the UK. Scotland did not vote for this. The Scottish Government has to spend valuable time and resources trying to mitigate Tory cuts within the limits of a budget set by Westminster.

105 libraries closed in the year following Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s much-publicised surprise visit to the Orkney Library in March 2016.

In her public statement on the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, published in the Telegraph, Rowling said

“I came to the question of independence with an open mind.”

 

However, according to the Guardian she had made clear to the BBC that she opposed independence in 2012.

Rowling’s statement is full of mischaracterisations, Better Together talking points, and dubious assertions.

She sets up a straw-man target in the fringe nationalist who judges her “insufficiently Scottish”. The pro-independence Yes campaign embraced anyone who was “Scots by choice”, regardless of where they were born. Everyone living in Scotland was permitted and encouraged to vote in the first indyref (in marked contrast to the Brexit referendum, from which EU nationals living in the UK, as well as 16-17 year olds, were excluded).

Another common fallacy, which Rowling repeats, is the conflation of Scottish independence with “Alex Salmond’s ambition.” A Yes vote would not have installed Salmond as dictator in perpetuity, but restored the sovereignty of a nation and its people. This transcends individual careers and party politics. Dislike of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, or anyone else, is not a valid reason to consign a country to the dustbin.

Rowling went on

“I’ve heard it said that ‘we’ve got to leave, because they’ll punish us if we don’t’, but my guess is that if we vote to stay, we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go. All the major political parties are currently wooing us with offers of extra powers, keen to keep Scotland happy so that it does not hold an independence referendum every ten years and cause uncertainty and turmoil all over again. I doubt whether we will ever have been more popular, or in a better position to dictate terms, than if we vote to stay.”

 

Since the No vote the following things have happened:

  • The infamous “Vow” was broken on the first day.
  • The British Government enacted English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) legislation in the British Parliament. MPs from Scotland were already out-numbered and out-voted 10 to 1 – now they have fewer voting rights as well (as do the Welsh). Everything the British Parliament does has ramifications for Scotland.
  • The Scotland Bill denied numerous new powers to the Scottish Government, falling far short of the promised “extensive new powers.”
  • The Brexit vote threatens to drag Scotland out of the EU despite every single part of the country voting against it. According to Better Together, voting No was the only way to guarantee Scotland’s place in Europe.
  • Scottish brand identity is under attack, as “One Nation” British nationalism leads to Scottish produce being rebranded, thereby losing its unique signifier of quality. #keepscotlandthebrand
  • With the Continuity Bill, the governments of Wales and Scotland are now fighting to prevent a power grab by Westminster upon exit from the EU. The existence of the Scottish Parliament itself looks increasingly under threat, as Unionist MSPs actively work to undermine it.

If Scotland were a spouse who decided to give things one last go, it has been betrayed, humiliated, and ignored. All promises made by the supposedly equal partner have been broken. An open mind might question whether or not staying in this relationship was the right decision.

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