Personally speaking I’ve never been one for New Year. With all its nauseatingly earnest celebratory stuff, and what it’s supposed to entail and or mean. Just why do we celebrate what is but an arbitrary end date that’s in essence no different from any other day?
Now I confess to being a curmudgeon who’s inclined to pedantry, and I don’t like being told how important something should be because it is to most others, or that it just is, especially when it’s propped up by something as immanently frivolous as tradition, designed tradition at that.
My suspicion has always been that events which masquerade as cultural holidays, if I can use such a term holistically, are partly intended to make us reflect introspectively about the past, the present and the future within an externally imposed structure. Therefore annual festivities become another method of ensuring we’re accustomed to immuring ourselves into observing familiar social constructs. If we celebrate the same days we’re supposed to, the same ways, that’s another way of showing and accepting that we know our place.
Such actions betray the knowledge that the need to evolve and change is necessary. There’s comfort in conformity, as it’s the easy choice. Challenging it means the need to use your imagination to provide a reason for change, which means not only convincing yourself of the validity of an alternative, but likely others too. Those that accept this challenge tend to be those that are able to separate themselves from any form of mediocrity.
So, what does this have to do with the referendum on Scottish independence, which takes place on the 18th of September 2014? Well our ability to count from an arbitrary starting point, by using equally arbitrary metrics, such as seconds, hours, days, months and years, to sub-divide ‘time’, brings us to the year 2014. This year contains the opportunity for Scottish residents to choose to live in an independent country for this first time since the 1st of May 1707. So that’s 112, 259 days.
The arrival of a New Year, for as long as I can recall, has retained a familiar feel. I’m faced with an uncomfortable emptiness as the clock strikes twelve. It’s one of my weaker moments when I eschew rationality and believe that intellectually my circumstances are exactly as they were the year before. Only now I’m a year older, none the wiser. Just drifting, like deadwood from one day to the next, waiting to rot and fragment. It’s followed by the inalienable hopelessness that this is it, the inevitability that you’ll be in the same place at the same time next year and you’ll feel exactly the same way.
When that passes it becomes a recognition of the innate motivation for self enhancement that nearly all of us exhibit. While the arrival of 2014 didn’t make that sense of dread any more distant than it had been on Hogmanay, it did bring us closer, even if it was only technically by a day, to the referendum. In my own mind the number 2014 has become synonymous with the prospect of change, the opportunity to do something different, perhaps drastically. Life and time are transitory human constructs no matter what importance we seek within their boundaries, but because, because we’re an intellectual species, to survive, we need to look beyond dates and milestones and find things that interest us and effect the way we live. Without that we have nothing.
For many personal reasons I was glad to see the back of 2013. This is of course, given what I said above, me pathetically falling victim to an illogical and daft rationale. Things just happen, and often they happen to be random and or beyond our control. To take a measure of control we tend to place events into periods of time, usually a year, which allows a crude synonymising of a number with that event. Once compartmentalised, the further we are distanced from that date or year, the greater our sense of perspective.
As we get closer to September the 18th the thought of going through that process, in the aftermath of a No vote, crossed my mind. What if we blow it? It does of course cut both ways. If we vote Yes, the day and year will instantly become memorable, if we vote No, it will live in infamy, and I believe it will haunt generations to come, consigning them to conformity and relegating them to living in a ‘country’ whose status in reality is perpetually that of an infirm region.
Sadly, though understandably, the immediate concern for many in the wake of a No vote is how it would damage our economy and prosperity. That’s bad enough, but I believe it would cause, in the longer term, much greater psychological damage to those staunch Unionists, who in most cases have been betrayed and failed the most by decades of Westminster rule. It would further vindicate, propagate and entrench the insipid, destructive, cynical, exasperating inferiority complex born of conformity displayed by many. It would crystallise the impression that we shouldn’t think beyond our station. All of it based on the unfounded assumption that Scotland is too small, a place that can only handle devolved powers, and or a province of the United Kingdom that needs the guiding hand of Westminster to survive. Of course we should remain as one of the few remnants of an Empire which has long since crumbled, and whose former constituents have largely prospered since gaining their independence. In our case it’s different though, somehow, and will continue to be in the face of reason and evidence.
Perhaps if we fail I’ll be able to tell myself that ultimately it won’t matter, and I’ll be able to devolve myself to the solemn truth of existentialism, that our existence is both transitory and conceptual. But with the passing of 2013 I’m no longer convinced by that, even in my overarching agnosticism I have an ethos of living day to day, of not concerning myself with what doesn’t yet exist and may not. Even so that requires the acknowledgement of there possibly being a tomorrow, and if part of that doesn’t include the notion of tomorrow being better than today, then I believe nothing. That’s what the year 2014 means to those of us who live in Scotland and have the inclination to vote Yes – it’s the chance to choose something better. Nothing is certain in life, but in this referendum there is a certainty, we can decide to control our own future.
Perhaps that’s why I’m a staunch Yes voter. Even though the arguments in favour are overwhelming my main motivation is that I don’t fear the unknown. I probably should fear where I’ll be, where Scotland will be in five years if we vote Yes. That’s the feeble mode of thinking they tried to drum into me at school – think as we tell you to think (nothing) about the subject matter we want you to think about (nothing interesting) otherwise you’ll turn out to be nothing. So I did as I was told and did. It’s hugely appropriate that the No campaign want you to follow a similar patronising, degrading thought process in the build up to September. Don’t think, and if you do, think what we tell you to. By voting No we can continue to rely on tradition, as observing tradition(s) doesn’t require us to think.
Here’s a nail that the Yes campaign should be hitting into the hardwood daily – we can create a country that foments imagination. And that’ll start with us deciding what country we want Scotland to be. Imagination is an intrinsic human gift that fills the void of the unknown, of what once didn’t exist.
The Better Together campaign has been sarcastically dubbed ‘Project Fear’ by many pro independence supporters. In the context of the independence debate it elides the most important phrasing of the Independence question. Surely the fear of continuing the unsatisfactory limbo of the known, should transcend the fear of having to think, and use our imagination of what we want our country to be?
There is a more practical angle. Most people in Scotland hate Tories, and they have good reasons to. By voting No you’re voting Yes to remaining under control of this Tory government, a flagrantly racist, xenophobic, insular, greedy, opportunistic, laissez-faire capitalist institution that has no interest in decency, diversity, fairness or progressiveness.
It’s ironic, but if Scotland does vote No, that same Tory government may remove any of the devolved powers given to Holyrood. That means we cede even more control to those who have little regard for us, other than our ability to provide a tax revenue to investment surplus. In such an outcome I wonder if those staunch No Unionists who want to remain in the Union, but with Scotland retaining the devo-max, would finally see the hypocrisy of their position? Never mind though, there’ll be plenty for them and us to look forward to, such as no more safeguarding of the NHS in Scotland. So that means more privatisation, staff cuts and hospital closures. There’ll be strangled investment in public services across the board, less housing being built. Maybe we’ll see the slow insidious encroachment of the dreadful Michael Gove education plan, which includes school closures and the opening of ghastly Community Schools. University Tuition fees anyone? Agriculture, that’s a euphemism for farming, will be hit hard. But don’t worry, culling a few badgers and relaxing the restrictions on fox hunting will placate them, because they’re all the same, aren’t they?
That’s how Westminster views most sections of the British public, and Scotland, through a prism of contemptuous clichéd detachment. Why on earth wouldn’t we return the favour?