It’s not just the Referendum.

Can Scotland learn from Africa?

In Africa, we’re usually considered to be outside the purview of global debate. People assume that we have our own problems.  And they believe we have everything to learn from developed markets. That’s a paradigm we’re all working to shift.scottish-ref

But, looking at the Scottish Referendum debate from a healthy five thousand miles away, I wonder if they haven’t learned something from Africa. And whether they could learn more.

As in Africa, their Independence cause has been promoted by a small group of individuals for decades. And over that time they have become increasing accomplished in their politicking. They’ve negotiated concessions that have given them the power to structure the parameters of the Referendum to their advantage.

They have disenfranchised groups who might not align to their cause, most notably their Diaspora. Scots abroad are estimated to number 18 million in the British Commonwealth and US alone. One might assume that most of them have created careers and lifestyles through their own efforts. In domestic Scotland, the Nationalists have managed to enfranchise a total electorate of 4 million by extending the vote to sixteen year olds and foreign university students.Of these the majority are either government workers, employees of government-contract companies or unemployed. Selective representation; at the very least.They have also chosen a leader who is entirely focused on the matter in hand. He in turn has understood that he doesn’t have to be universally loved, because he is promoting something much stronger than his own substantial ego. He’s promoting a well-loved brand: Scotland. And he has coupled that brand strength to a positive message.

Against this, the anti-Independence campaign has ranged an unimpressive set of assets.

  • A UK Government of a political colour abhorrent to the majority of the target audience.
  • A Scottish former Prime Minister who, when he ran Finance, damaged the united economy very badly.(It is said that when the incoming PS to the Treasury took over his office, he found a note saying ‘Sorry, there’s no money. We’ve spent it.’)
  • Then there’s another former Minister, only notable for having white hair and black eyebrows.
  • Oh, and a metrosexual Socialist leader who could not be more distant from the traditional socialism of the Scottish middle majority.

Then, to top it all, they chose to market their argument through negativity. Wagging their collective finger at a nation that leads the world at finger in the chest’ debate. The gist of ‘No’ marketing campaign is ‘You’re doomed.’

Now, who in their right mind thought that would work with Scots?

By contrast the Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has realised that positive momentum can carry the day. In this way he resembles many Independence leaders in African history. Never mind the reality that faces a post-Independence Scotland. Few African leaders were able to be specific about the post-Independence future. But they didn’t have to be. They had the overwhelming support of their new electorate.

Post-Independence leaders in Africa have enjoyed success and failure, and not in equal measure. Fifty years on, much has been achieved, though no one would ever say it has been planned. But one thing has never changed: African people have never regretted becoming Independent.

Immediately post-Independence, African leaders set about the task of nation building. In Kenya we had ‘Harambee’ (pull together). In Tanzania there was ‘Ujamaa’ (family-hood), which may have crippled productivity but it did eradicate tribal rivalry.

Simple concepts, easy to express and repeat. They were used to great effect to align human effort behind the national brand. In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was even able to breakdown the class system and ban religious assembly – to remove distractions. He then put Ghanaians to work building infrastructure, and provided proper education for their children.

The Scottish referendum takes place on 18th September. The likely outcome will be a majority for the winning side of no more than 5%. If the Independence vote prevails, the immediate task will be nation building.

With a negligible majority this will be a challenge harder than anything African leaders have had to address. Unlike any African country, Scotland is a place where the means of everyday survival have been provided for generations.  Does the will exist to unite and make personal sacrifices for the common good? Or will that be left to the political class?

I’m not sure Scots can learn any more from Africa. It’s a different Independence challenge entirely. But we can wish them well.


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