Thursday, 18 September 2014

Loving and leaving Phnom Penh

It seems appropriate to start our last blog talking about the birth place of Phnom Penh, our home for the last two and a half years.

Wat Phnom is a pagoda standing on a mound that is meant to be the founding spot of Phnom Penh. It stands 27 metres tall and its lit-up pristine whiteness ensures it stands out as a landmark at night. A decade ago, no building in Phnom Penh was allowed to be higher than the top of Wat Phnom. A friend described how you could look out across the skyline of Phnom Penh and see a canopy of trees only punctuated by the spires of pagoda. Phnom Penh was a pearl of South East Asia.

Wat Phnom. The stark white stone against the night sky is quite majestic. You don't have to be tall to stand out from the crowd.
From our rooftop (our building has ground to second floor) I can see 18 tall buildings being constructed. These are easy to spot because of the green mesh netting they have around them to stop debris falling into other properties. I would probably be able to see more if it were not for two already constructed apartment towers on the other side of the street blocking part of my view.

If you're living next to it, the noise of construction can continue seven days a week, starting early in the morning. The doors and windows, open to let cool air into the house, also let in the noise of grinders and machines. Foreigners, particularly, are irked by this but as a Cambodian friend replied, Cambodia is a developing country so what else would you expect but for development to be happening. Development appears as concrete, lifts and air-conditioned apartments.

The planning laws were changed and apartment towers have replaced the pagodas as the highest thing in the sky. These buildings replace old wooden houses on stilts, and rather than shade being provided by trees in the garden, it is provided by even taller buildings close by. The wooden houses seem romantic and more in tune with nature’s environment, but the reality for one friend living in a wooden house was termites, creaking wood and a dodgy roof (not to mention rats in the floorboards and mice in the cupboards!) She has recently moved into a modern apartment and is wondering why it took her three years to do so.

Trees and golden spires. How Phnom Penh used to look?
Cambodians are also moving en masse as suburbs and gated communities spread into Phnom Penh. I visited one recently which is called “New World” and saw rows of buildings ignoring the cooling virtues of wooden houses or even of ceiling fans, preferring concrete and air conditioning units instead. However, it was also a more open community with fewer gates barricading houses in and children were out roaming the streets.

Phnom Penh is a noticeably different city now to the one we arrived in on 13th February 2012. If we come back in the future, it will have changed again. The streets will have changed, and the street sellers changed with them, and maybe some of the attractive French colonial buildings will have vanished too. Our hearts may fall, but why would Cambodians care about preserving the memories of a foreign, colonial rule?

As a sentimentalist, there is a part of me that hopes Phnom Penh will remain the same as I know it. But this is a selfish and harmful wish.


This is the view from the back of my roof, which may not last very long. The one in the distance is the unfinished tower and the one to the left has just been finished. The one away in the distance in the back right is the tallest of the lot. 
When counting the towers being built from my rooftop, I can actually see a 19th building that has green mesh and the look of being constructed about it. However, if you look again tomorrow or the day after, or even if you had looked at it on 13th February 2012, you will notice that nothing has changed in years. This unfinished, giant concrete tower of 34 storeys stands in the middle of Phnom Penh at the junction of two of the main roads. It is an unchanging scar on the city.

A city that is not changing is a city that is not living or breathing. Phnom Penh is an exhilarating city because it is living and breathing, and changing. The Phnom Penh that we have known, and will leave today, will exist tomorrow only in our hearts and memories. For tomorrow it will have changed again and other people will be falling in love with it.


Last sunrise over the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers in Phnom Penh this morning.
Goodbye, from your Phnom Penh Pals

Claire and Gordon

Monday, 15 September 2014

A fearless life in the White Building (Bo ding)

I originally wrote this piece on 25th February 2012 before I had been back to the White Building after that first time. I had forgotten about it until recently and it seems a symbol of how Claire and I built a life as part of Phnom Penh. 

The White Building is the longest building in Cambodia. The claustrophobic flats cram hundreds of families into a series of concrete blocks connected by unlit walkways and stairwells. The White Building is notorious rather than desirable.

Anna in the blue shorts was the fearless adventurer who took us here. Ellen in the pink was equally at ease. I am sitting at the edge, unsure of how to join in I think.
On our first weekend in Phnom Penh, a fellow VSO volunteer took a few of us to an arts exhibition being held there. We struggled to find it as in Khmer it's called Bo Ding (which doesn't translate as White Building) and were a little nervous as we tried to find the safety of the exhibition amidst the dark clamour of normal White Building life.


The exhibition was called The White Night and showed the work of local residents who had received eight weeks of teaching in photography, visual and audio art and other "mixed media". The first art piece that caught my eye was a sculpture made up of random household objects like clocks, a lamp and a turtle.

I ended up speaking to the artists - 8 teenagers - who lived in wealthier areas but had created this art by asking inhabitants of the White Building for stuff. They used to be afraid of the White Building but could not believe how generous its inhabitants were in giving them stuff for their sculpture. They now viewed the people and the building differently.

This was one of Claire's favourite pieces and it really is amazing the skills and patience this woman must have.
Below is the description of the piece. 

The exhibition was spread out in disused flats, corridors and back alleys. And it was whilst winding our way through this warren that we passed a flat, which like many, had its doors wide open so you could see the main living area.Staring at me from over the dinner table was a blackboard with the present perfect tense at the top and various English phrases written underneath. Scrawled in chalk on the outside of the house's concrete wall were a list of English words and grammatical rules.


I could not help but stare. I never saw any of the family but I began to imagine what kind of people give their whole house over to helping their kids learn. Were these the type of people who would live in a building that deserved notoriety?

I then began to feel slightly fraudulent. The exhibition seemed to give a sense of pride to some of the White Building's inhabitants. They were no longer pariahs, heck even wealthy white foreigners were coming to their homes. Despite only meeting friendliness and character, I still felt uncomfortable there, uncertain if I was enjoying this forced experience or just surviving it. I wasn't sure that I would ever go back and felt shameful to be this kind of voyeur.

Claire and Boramy, who works for Amrita and dances for Khmer Ensemble Arts
It took a while, but we did go back. Claire worked for Amrita right beside it and made friends with many dancers who live there. There's been further arts exhibitions and dance performances that we've attended, and I've enjoyed the odd meal there recently. $1 for pork, rice and a fried egg is pretty hard value to beat.

Me getting food before going to see Boramy dance. Taken by Isabelle who read about the White Night Exhibition just before coming to Cambodia and now lives close to the White Building. 
Whilst I am now a lover of the White Building, others love the prime city centre location it sits on. There were rumours that a company were secretly buying flats one by one and then the Government recently announced that the building is unsafe and everybody will have to leave. A similar building nearby was violently evicted five years ago and the owner of the food stall above wasn't happy at that prospect or the low price being offered. Maybe the more we go, the safer it will be.

Gordon




Monday, 8 September 2014

Cambodia: A Kingdom of Wonder

I had previously done research that showed that schools received 65% of what they expected and that because of ring-fencing rules, they received money for things that they didn’t need and no money for things that they did. For example, schools may receive money for electricity even if that school didn’t have electricity. I had created a budget planning and disbursement tool that would help provincial offices of education (POEs) avoid these problems.

In March and April, I travelled around 10 of Cambodia’s 25 provinces, some of which are not renowned for their beauty. Each one though provided me with moments of curiosity and awe that could justify the proclamation that this is a Kingdom of Wonder, and not just a Siem Reap of temples.


My two colleagues Vutha and Nipun sitting at the River Mekong in Kratie. Kratie may have the best sunsets I've ever seen. Either Vutha or Nipun did all of the training with me. Absolute stars
I started in Kampot, which is one of my favourite places. It’s a town on the river, has beautiful rice fields set against sharp, jutted hills, and sunsets that leave you at peace with the world. It also had two young female teacher trainees sitting all day at the entrance gate to the teacher training centre. 

People often joke that Cambodia really is the Kingdom of Wonder, because you can only wonder at some of the ridiculous things that happen here. 
Judging by their polite smiles as I entered and again when I left, they had obviously not been ejected from their class for bad behavior so I asked them what they were doing sitting outside all day. They told me that they were the guards for that day. My face must have conveyed slight astonishment as they reassured me that it was ok because they didn't do it every day; tomorrow it would be the turn of two other students.

How can you not love Banteay Meanchey, when this is the view from the Provincial Office of Education?
Cambodia has their own currency (the riel) which is used interchangeably with the US dollar. If something is 5000 riel, I can give $1 and 1000 riel to equal 5000 riel. Banteay Meanchey near the Thai border threw me a little as they began quoting prices at me in Thai Baht. It also surprised me with its love gardens. These lush manicured gardens were where people went for wedding pictures, romantic walks and just for general hanging out. Which this concrete little dwarf seemed to be doing.




More excitedly Banteay Meanchey also had a pop concert and fayre when I was there. I threw darts which bounced back off the balloon without bursting them, and was hung onto, for a full ten minutes, by a drunk woman who didn’t seem to be speaking Khmer or understanding my desire to keep my arm attached to my body. 

Battambang is famous for its cultural heritage, fertile land and beautiful women. But for those in the know (my colleague Nipun), it also has a famous place for duck noodle soup. The reason that it is only for those in the know is that it doesn’t have a name. It is simply called ‘three buildings’ because it has expanded to be housed in three consecutive buildings from its original one. Battambang also has various temples atop hills and one has a cave out of which millions of bats fly out every sunset darkening the sky immediately above you and drawing a weaving black line through the sky as they all fly in formation.

Another wonderful thing in Battambang is the bamboo train. Get two axles, put a bamboo flat bed on it attach a motor and zoom down a train track. The problem is that there is only one line, so when another person comes in the opposite direction, one train has to be dismounted from the tracks - as we did here. 
A cave at another temple is where there used to be an escape route to Thailand during the Khmer Rouge regime. There was also a drip of water being collected in a bucket in the ice cool underground cauldron. Many times in Cambodia, we have found ourselves unsure of what do when given something but aware that you are expected to do something. So, imagining that I was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I gently put the cup to my lips before being shouted at to stop. I had not chosen wisely - it was not for drinking but washing my face with.

In Ratanakkiri, Vutha and I had a weekend to explore and had our own guide, the wonderful Kagna - a friend of Vutha's. We swam in waterfalls, picked fruit at her family's farm and even drank a little of her father's potent home brew, which did wonders for my ability to follow conversations in Khmer.

Yeak Loum - a volcanic lake for a refreshing dip
Vutha, Kagna and me

Just before we jumped in for swim
Vutha and I had a guesthouse with a bar that overlooks a lake that the sun rises onto. In the evenings, we drank cocktails and played Khmer chess, which is slightly different to the international version. My record at Khmer chess is nearly unblemished - I drew the first game I ever played and have lost every one since. The magic of Ratanakkiri is the colours though. The red dirt, mixed with a setting sun and green hills casts a haze over your senses that Mark Rothko has never done.                                                                                                      


Sunrise in Ratanakkiri, and me getting beaten chess. Again. 
I was in Stung Treng for less than 24 hours. The training with the POE went well although the Director of Finance was unable to stay for the whole time. We understood why after returning to our guest house at lunch time to find her, as the owner of it, sitting in the reception area. 


Sekong Bridge and the River Sekong, Stung Treng. Vutha will leave Cambodia the day after me to study in Japan. 
Before going to Stung Treng, the thought of being there for such a short time would not have displeased me but that was before I saw the river and sunset from the Sekong Bridge. Stung Treng, a place that was previously so bad that it was characterized by requiring you to travel 3 hours to Kratie for a good breakfast suddenly became a place that made me so happy that I became sad to realize that I may never be back.


Cambodia: a Kingdom of Wonder, and that was only half of it.
Gordon

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Can garment factories be a liberator for women?

In Cambodia, there is literally one rule for girls and a different one for boys. When they are pre or early teens, girls will be taught the Ch’bap Srey – the women’s law, which prescribes ideal female behaviour and their subservience to men. 

The rules for boys are much more lenient and they generally enjoy a higher status in society. There is a saying that boys are like a bar of gold and girls are like a white, linen cloth. A bar of gold can be bashed around and still retain its value, but when a white, linen cloth receives even just a tiny stain, it is forever ruined.

The discrimination between boys and girls is evident in education levels of adult women. The literacy rates of women aged 65+ is 25% compared to a male rate of 75%. Seventy percent of women aged over 25 have not completed primary school compared to only 47% for men. However, these women are suffering from discrimination of the past and there are signs that girls of today are getting an equal chance. Literacy rates for girls aged between 7 and 24 are virtually the same as for boys (1 percentage point different) and net enrolment rates in primary school is equal to that of boys.

There are still gender roles and expectations of appropriate female behavior but the rise of something usually considered negative may challenge these. Those exploitative, faint inducing garment factories are creating a huge demand for employed labour, something new for Cambodia, and that demand is being filled by women.

Every morning, you can see trucks crammed with standing women, being taken to the factories. When a shift ends, you see a mass exodus of women in pyjamas.  While their husbands may be picking up work here and there, the women are earning a regular wage. The effect of this is important even if the wage is low. Women hold the money in Cambodia but it is men who control what it is spent on, and how much is given to her in the first place. With women now earning a wage, that control of how much the woman receives may diminish.

Traditionally, women would not leave the home, and even after marriage the husband would move into the in-laws house. Women may grow up, marry, parent and grow old in the same place. But garment factories are pulling young women from their rural homes and moving them into a new world; a new world with new rules.

Unmarried, young women are moving into urban areas where garment factories are and leaving behind their parents. They may still be living with relatives - brothers, uncles, aunts etc - but they are far enough away that the rules parents may impose lose their strength. This extends to escaping from the pressure of an arranged marriage, something still common in Cambodia. Girls can have the chance to find somebody themselves (with parental approval) and a happy couple find their own place to live together, as it would be impossible to live with the in-laws hundreds of miles away from work in Phnom Penh.

As this new industry may challenge traditions, there is an older industry that also pulls girls from their homes and draws them into labour. The sex industry is rife throughout Cambodia, driven by Cambodians rather than expatriates. Some young girls, not finding jobs or income in their villages, may follow the dirt path to Phnom Penh and find themselves in karaoke clubs or massage parlours, rather than garment factories. In all of these workplaces, young girls will be working and sending money home, but unless it is the latter, they are probably having to lie about where they get it from. The boys who gave them the money in the first place are still gold though.

Gordon






Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Old culture, young people

Men in Cambodia, and throughout Asia, like to dye their hair to hide any grey hairs. I may be a little odd having youthful face matched with grey hair, but the dyeing of hair could also be considered a little strange given the respect for age in Cambodia and throughout Asia.

Respect for elders is probably something that many people would associate with Asian culture more than Western culture. However, one hundred years ago, Western culture was also marked by a deference to age but we have changed over time and there are signs that the same changes will happen in Asia too.

At the time of the Cambodian census in 2008, 58% of the population was aged 25 or under. In the UK, it's 32%. In Asia, people are talking about a youth bulge where there are lots of young people about to enter the market place for jobs, for love and for their future. And as they begin to seek these things, they will begin to assume roles in society that may disrupt traditional hierarchies of age.

Education is still very poor here, but there are more opportunities for young people leaving school and university now to have learnt skills and knowledge that their predecessors growing up in the 1980's and '90s would not have had. It is not just a gap between older people in their 60s and young 20 year olds, but even people in their 30s and 40s are feeling as though they are being left behind.

One Cambodian woman in her early 30s who has studied abroad (a very big thing to have done), told me that she feels that she is having to run just to keep ahead of the youngsters coming at her back. She sees their ability to question and to speak in front of audiences and recognises the difference from her day. This is how one of the most educated people of her age feels and behind her are many, many more people. In Cambodia, once you've passed school age, there is very little support for you to catch the train of progress as it whistles past taking the young ahead of you.

Last year during the elections, colleagues told me that it was no longer the father or older man of the house who influenced how people should vote. They told me that it was often an adult child who had gone to work in Phnom Penh and was sending money back home who could be the most influential. As well as money, they would bring back a smart phone and use it access to information that the elderly, with high levels of illiteracy, could not access. I think everybody believes that the influence of young voters was what caused country-changing shifts at the last election.

The rise of the youth are not just affecting places of work and politics, but they are also affecting places of home. After a few months here, my Cambodian boss (mid-40s) said something that made me ask whether he, his wife and their daughter still lived with his wife's parents. With a slightly bemused look he answered that of course he did - that is the tradition. Last Sunday, he showed me the house that he will live in with his wife and daughter only. Of two other colleagues who recently married, one couple has their own house already and another couple are building their's.

As these young people move out of their parent's house, they will also move out of their control. Parents will no longer be able to instruct young people that as long as they are under their roof, they have to follow their rules. Young people will be making their own rules in their own house.

These changes are happening more in Phnom Penh, but the rural provinces are being affected as young people leave to come to Phnom Penh and work. Not only are they outside of their parents' house, they are outside of their parents' sight. The future will be determined by what young people do when out of sight, even if not out of mind. The times, they are a changin'.

Youthfully yours
Gordon

















Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cambodia's Olympic Games

For Claire and I, the jewel in the crown of Phnom Penh is the optimistically named Olympic Stadium. It was actually built for the South East Asian games in 1964 which were then staged elsewhere because the stadium hadn’t been completed in time. For Cambodians, the word Olympic does not really mean anything other than being a reference to multiple sports. And since there are multiple sports played at the stadium, the Olympic Stadium sounds like a fine name.

A glorious place for sunsets. This view has changed now; large apartment blocks half built are already towering over the stand opposite. 
It was designed by the iconic Vann Molyvann whose architecture you can see throughout the city and harks of a Cambodia moving from colonialism to a modern era. Such is his fame that there are architectural tours of various buildings and areas that he has designed. The indoor stadium is cleverly built into the main stand with hundreds of vents allowing air to circulate and light to burst in, and has a water system where rain water is transported around the walls and floor acting as a cooling system.

The indoor stadium where people play badminton in the evenings
Every day, over a thousand people use the stadium as their place for exercise and for hanging out. There will be people running or gently ambling around the track having a natter, whilst on the pitch in the middle, two teams from the Cambodian professional football league might be playing; running back and forth in an often fruitless manner. Where shot putters and long jumpers would be, there will be couples swatting a shuttle cock back and forth – no net is needed.

The stars of the show, however, are the throngs of dancers who rim the top of the stadium. They move en masse dutifully following the aerobic dance class leader as large loudspeakers belt out the music. As the evening progresses, the music moves from Korean pop, to traditional Khmer, to Bollywood and on until the music and dancers drift away into the night. The eclectic mix of music, always involving a jazzed up version of Hotel California though, is matched by the range of ages taking part. And even the odd white person can sometimes be spotted.  

This happens every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset. It is mostly women who do it, but of all ages. When running around the track and looking up at them dance traditionally Khmer, the mass, moving together to a slow rhythm can be a little hypnotic. In the morning, there are also Chinese sword martial art type rhythmic thing. Those pics are on the computer in Oz with Claire though. Sorry!
Below the dancers on the steps of the terracing are those who like to sit, gossip and look at the life that is happening around them. They see people running up and down the terracing or doing press ups and sit ups on the steps. The slightly older male and female walkers, flinging their arms in the air, will weave in and out of those sitting as they make their way around the stadium and back again.

After all of this exercise, you would be right to expect that Cambodians will be hungry. So of course there are snack stalls selling corn on the cob, meat on a stick, noodles and fried bananas. The healthy addition is the freshly squeezed orange juice, which is undoubtedly the best I've ever tasted.

It is behind these food stalls that the Olympic Stadium’s secret lies. Walk through a door in the wall and laid out before you are the Olympic swimming and diving pools. On a weekday after 5pm, you may be privileged to see swimmers who are missing limbs power up and down the pool and at any time you will be entertained by fearless Cambodian youths diving off the 10m board – often more than one at a time. Amazing pics here.

50m pool with a separate diving pool at the far end. One length of the front crawl and I'm done for. 
This is all just within the actual Olympic Stadium. The immediate grounds surrounding the stadium is where you will see old men playing petanque, young bucks playing basketball, children learning tae kwon do, wealthier types serving double faults and footballers scuffling about in the grit and concrete. The largest crowds watch the volleyball though, where a nation of small people defy gravity to slam the ball down with force. As ever, the crowd’s interest is encouraged by the amounts that they have bet.

They are seriously skilled at petanque. If you throw it close, without fail the next guy will just whack it away. 
It is here that the life of Phnom Penh can be felt and one of the few places where the various people of Phnom Penh, rich – poor, young – old, male – female, participant – spectator, share a space and an experience. It is free and open to all. The opportunity to be together is maybe the most valuable thing there could be in a society where division and strains continue.


This all may not be enough to save the Olympic Stadium though. It is prime real estate situated right in the middle of the city, and huge developments already engulf and tower over one side of the Stadium. Last year plans announced to develop a modern, multi-purpose sports centre on the outskirts of Phnom Penh were met with fears for what it would mean for the Olympic Stadium, especially given that the government actually sold the stadium to a Taiwanese company in 2000.

When I was young, the tennis courts of the local school would be swamped with kids itching to dive around like Boris Becker or volley like Navratilova. Every evening for a few glorious weeks in summer, there would be about 20 kids whacking balls about. The gate was sometimes left open and other times, you could crawl under the fence that nobody seriously thought about repairing to keep people out. The fence was more there to keep balls in.

Now, the courts have been resurfaced and improved and, because of the investment, was deemed valuable enough to be locked up. There are no kids whacking balls about during a summer’s evening anymore. It is pristine and empty. In the UK, there was a huge focus on how to create a legacy after the Olympics but they couldn’t even work out what to do with the stadium. In Phnom Penh, they may not have had an Olympics but the stadium has created a legacy, just by opening it up for the people to use.

Strange people even have bread, cheese and prosecco to celebrate birthdays. Thanks Nicole!
Olympic Stadium, we raise a glass to you.
Gordon

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Why should Scotland be in the Union?

I wrote a previous blog discussing Cambodia’s relationship with Viet Nam and suggested that the best way for Cambodia to find peace and security was through ASEAN. When writing that, I realised that this argument could also be applied to Scotland remaining part of the UK, and indeed Claire's wise (cracking) father picked up on this.

Most of the independence discussion has focused on money. How much will it cost? How much extra will we get? The consideration is not irrelevant but the questions themselves will not help you. Firstly, economic prosperity will depend on what policies are taken by whatever government is ruling Scotland, whether independent or not. And those policies are as unknown in a UK setting as they are in a Scottish setting because of democracy and elections.

Secondly, whatever economic conditions may exist today may not exist in the future, even just in five or ten years time (2007 - boom, 2008 - global collapse). It has been over 300 years since Scotland became part of the UK and the economic conditions that existed then do not now. We are talking of a similar timescale for the decision about independence; this is a decision for centuries not for the equivalent of primary school.

Thirdly, the track record of economists in predicting the very near future is absolutely dismal and there is no reason to trust that their judgments over time spans of centuries will be any better. 

There are some people who are crying out for objective facts that will tell them whether Scotland will be better off or not. They criticize people for not making these available, but do not appear to realise that these objective facts do not exist. They do not exist because the decisions that will determine future economic prosperity, and other things, will occur after the referendum and are currently somewhat unknown. We don't even know who would make these decisions; an independent Scotland would have an election, and the UK will have an election in 2015. This makes it impossible to say whether we will be richer or poorer.

For me the question of independence is not about the economy or, at a more base level, whether I'll be a few quid better off. A great consideration should be war and peace. Scotland and England had many years of wars before joining in union and have enjoyed many years of peace since. Some may think it is inconceivable that Scotland and England could ever war with each other in the future so we should not worry about it if there is independence. I don't think that we can be so complacent, because the long-term future is so uncertain.

However, neighbouring countries need not go to war with one another. USA and Canada have certainly not been doing too much warring against each other recently as they enjoy a semi-union of culture, and of economy through NAFTA. Scotland and England are of course culturally similar and there is the possibility of economic or even monetary union.

Some warn that if Scotland uses Sterling, Scotland would suffer because monetary policy for Sterling would be decided by the government in London, predominantly considering the needs of England. This is exactly what happens now so it would appear to be an argument for Scottish independence having its own currency, rather than an argument for Scotland to be in the Union.

It is also unlikely that England could prevent people in Scotland using Sterling if they wanted to. The only way to stop it would be for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish Government to completely ban the movement of Sterling out of their country; a policy which would make you delighted to be independent from any government that thought it a good one.

One concern is that Scotland might not be able to join the EU and if it does it will have to use the Euro. On this second part, I don't know. However, regarding the first, people in England are more likely to want to leave the EU than those in Scotland. With growing enmity towards the EU, particularly in the rest of the UK, there might be a greater risk of Scotland being outside the EU if it remains within the UK.

As I read or hear arguments against independence, I find myself being less convinced of the need to stay in the Union so I have begun asking a different question. Scotland was an independent country before it joined the Union and joined it as a matter of convenience - because it suited us to do so. The questions I'm now considering are:

  1. Do the conditions that brought Scotland benefits from being part of the Union still exist today? 
  2. If they don't, then why should Scotland be a part of the Union?

Scotland has never become independent from the UK before, so there are many things that are unknown and it is understandable for people to fear such uncertainty. But uncertainty about Europe, about the economy, about the BBC, even about the weather, will exist if Scotland remains within the UK. The real question to be decided is who do you want to be responsible for dealing with that uncertainty.

Do you want a government voted only by people living in Scotland or a government voted by people living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well?

Gordon

Some other little thoughts

PS: The question about whether Scotland should still be a part of the Union if there is no benefit to us, is admittedly selfish. I think there are real issues about the impact on the rest of the world if the UK was to be dis-united. Would the UK successor still have a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council? Would it be good or bad for the rest of the world if the UK didn't?

PPS: The charge of being anti-English if you vote yes is a bit inflammatory. Why are we not being anti-Welsh? Are the Brits being anti-French by not wanting join in Union with them? However, it does cut at something real in two ways.

Firstly, maybe it is a vote against "England". "Scotland" could want to be seen as being something different. In the 80s, the English were perceived as being football hooligans so the Scots decided to become the complete opposite at international football games. This could be translated into policy too.

Secondly, many Scots have close relationships with many English. What would separation do for these personal relationships? I have thought about this and do have a fear that my English friends may stop liking me. Then I think about the friends I have from Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Cambodia and realise that we are friends without having the same government. Nevertheless, if we were to separate, would there be a separation of the bonds between the two peoples? (if you accept that the Scots and English are indeed two peoples and not just one whole British people) If yes, will we have lost something there? Will independence enable closer bonds with other people? Will we gain something there?