In his column on March 14, Geoffrey Alderman said that, as a Jew, he knew how he would cast his vote if he had one in Scotland’s independence referendum — with the clear implication that he would be a No.
Well, I am a Scottish Jew — and I am wholeheartedly voting Yes on September 18, and so are others of my acquaintance. Professor Alderman is perfectly entitled to his opinion, but it seems to be based on a series of misapprehensions about the Scottish National Party government and indeed the country of Scotland, past and present. In particular, his remarks about the SNP leadership in the 1930s and 1940s are baseless and unworthy.
Scotland’s strength is the diversity of the many cultures and faiths that thrive in our communities. Each culture brings with it values, ideas and innovations that enrich our arts, our language and our lives.
It is fewer than 200 years since Jews first came to Scotland in significant numbers. Since then, Jewish workers and entrepreneurs have helped to grow Scotland’s economy, while Jewish writers, artists and performers have contributed to our culture.
Our community may be a relatively small one, but we have been shown every courtesy and respect by First Minister Alex Salmond and his team of ministers since they came to office in 2007.
Indeed, one of Mr Salmond’s early acts as First Minister was to visit Scotland’s only Jewish school at the start of Chanucah, and to meet representatives from the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities.
In 2009, the Jewish community was, rightly, included in the first meeting to take place between the Scottish government cabinet and faith group leaders in Scotland.
And I was proud when the SNP government became the first administration in Scotland to directly fund visits by school children to Auschwitz-Birkenau, under the Lessons from Auschwitz project run by the Holocaust Educational Trust — with an additional £500,000 funding announced just last year to secure the future of this vital project.
These are just some examples of the interaction that takes place between Jewish representatives and the Scottish government, with positive outcomes on virtually every occasion. I would hazard that it is a rather closer relationship with the leading ministers in Scotland than our fellow Jews south of the border enjoy with Westminster — and one which is replicated by other communities and interest groups in Scotland, whether that be other faiths, business organisations, trade unions, and so on.
I do not claim that Scotland is perfect, with no problems of intolerance or prejudice.
But our history is at least unstained by anti-Jewish discrimination, rare among European nations, and our 14th century independence Declaration of Arbroath contains the statement: “There is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.”
These are ancient words, but they still seem a fine sentiment to usher in a new Scotland in the 21st century.
As we look forward to the referendum, there is a wave of optimism, and people across Scotland are realising that we now have a chance to make our country better for all who live here, and reshape the way we are regarded by the rest of the world.
I want independence, and I also want the common ground across all the strands that make up our Scottish tartan to be the foundation for the new Scotland. I want Scotland to embrace the future as an independent country — and I believe that we will do so with conviction and tolerance.