I’ve been writing steadily for about seven years now. Not for one second do I think I’m good, or even average at it. It can be hard to offer an honest, objective appraisal of one’s own work, and really, being good at it isn’t the point, not for me anyway. When you enjoy doing something, particularly a thing that requires creating something from scratch, it becomes an edifying process.
Repeating the process over and over again when writing, whether over the short form (articles, short stories, poems), or the long form (writing a novel, which is still ongoing, not that you were asking) now holds no fear. I always come up with something, or I believe that I can, whether it’s an idea, an angle, a sentence, a character, a character trait or a plot. There’s always an event, or a reaction to said event to comment on. There’s always another article to write after I’ve finished the last.
So I’ve framed this referendum on Scottish independence through my experience of the processes of writing. It’s probably why I’ve been predisposed to voting Yes from the start. The basic procedures of developing a story or crafting a paragraph are similar to those required in building a country’s constitution. Both will be based on ideas, a dialogue of many voices (I’m not schizophrenic, at least I think not), there’ll be some trial and error involved, there will be mistakes, you will learn from them, and ultimately you’ll weigh up the options and a series of decisions, informed decisions, will be made and things will proceed from there.
Of course it would be nice if it turns out I’m a good writer and that Scotland, the people of Scotland, and the government we elect in Holyrood are all capable of running an independent country that is ‘successful’, ‘fair’ and ‘serves our needs’.
I can recognise that the main argument against independence involves the uncertainty in the aftermath of a Yes vote. The Yes campaign is portrayed by its sceptics as idealistic, its plans underdeveloped and its proposals based on speculation. It’s a country that doesn’t have control over retaining its own GDP, or its budget, so of course its proposals are mostly speculative, as they are whenever any government proposes a new policy or a piece of legislation. This aversion to going from known circumstances, even if they are unsatisfactory, to the unknown, reminds of a scene from an episode in Mad Men. Don Draper finds out that Lane Price has been embezzling money from Sterling-Cooper. Don goes directly to Lane and tells him that he needs concoct a legitimate reason for his resignation, so Don can bury the evidence. Lane looks shell-shocked, when he realises what that means – starting over. Don, who permanently lives a lie of stolen identity, that’s required periodical reinvention to stay one step ahead, is used to starting over. He tells Lane that the worst is over, and that the contemplation of what lies ahead is often harder than the reality.
Here Lane Price and Don Draper are allegories of Yes and No voters in this referendum. Lane is fearful of change because he envisages the outcome of change being worse than what he currently has. While Don represents the Yes voters and Scotland’s capability to manage changing circumstances imposed by factors outwith its control, in this case Westminster’s austerity. Don’s fearlessness at the prospect of doing something new, as it has improved his station in life, mirrors the growing attitude of those moving to a Yes vote. Why can’t we, we shouldn’t we?
Which leads me onto the one argument against independence that I find most troubling, but, nonetheless, is pushing many people to Yes: it’s the belief held by some that we’re not good enough to be an independent country. Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that this assertion is fallacious. However, given its complete ineptitude, the tone and rhetoric of the awful Better Together campaign has become entirely beholden to, and as such reliant on, inculcating such a notion to succeed. How sad.
As a Scot it’s hard not to be insulted by the disingenuous strategy of Better Together’s campaign. It has somehow managed to misrepresent the psychology of the Scottish electorate; the motivations of Yes and No voters, and most egregiously of all it has piously attempted to present the intentions of its public leadership as synonymous with the intended altruism of its patronising slogan.
Take the evidence of this last week alone; we’ve been treated to Gordon Brown’s hypocritical attack on the ‘fanatical nationalism’ of the SNP (how many fucking times does it need to be pointed out that the Yes campaign isn’t the SNP?); the phantom new devo max offer/lie Gordy fronted only for William Hague to deny at PMQ’s that such an offer had been extended, and that ‘it wasn’t government policy’ to do so; Nigel Farage’s odd speech in Glasgow, an event that quickly and thankfully became an irrelevance due to complete disinterest; the ‘selfless’ jingoistic and xenophobic Orange Order marching through Edinburgh for Queen and country; another march, of Labour MP’s ‘our imperial masters’ through Glasgow city centre, at the taxpayers expense, just to see Ed Miliband, Labour leader, give a condescending speech at the top of Buchanan Street asking you to vote No and maintain a rancid LibCon coalition government nobody voted for; Ed Miliband’s equally condescending and risible border patrolling gaffe; we saw pitiful scaremongering attempts by BP, Asda, John Lewis, TSB and even RBS, that the prices of their products might rise in an independent Scotland, that businesses may move and jobs would be under threat (which the CEO of RBS refuted), all of them allegedly encouraged to do so by Number Ten and the Treasury, where there’s little doubt they have significant lobbying privileges; Nick Robinson of the impartial and thorough BBC shamelessly misreporting that Alex Salmond didn’t respond to his question, when he did, and then some; yet more currency union misnomers that need refuting daily; George Galloway making seven thousand plus teenagers, Ruth Davidson, and everyone watching at home, recoil (no, not for wearing that hat) for citing the defeat of the Nazis as a reason to vote No; and last but by no means least David Cameron bunkered away safely in Edinburgh speaking to an equally safe audience of sympathetic at best, apathetic at worst, financial workers.
It’s a shame these figures from Westminster, and the upper echelons of business and finance, have attempted to lower the tenor of democratic debate to the mudslinging levels we’ve become sadly accustomed to seeing in London. Worse yet it is wholly unrepresentative of a nuanced position held by a number of No voters. When devolved from my own viewpoint I can understand them wanting to eschew risk. The known may be unsatisfactory, but it is known. Policies are only proposals. Financial markets can shift unexpectedly. In the global market place jobs and operations often move. There are no certainties in the outcome of this referendum, whether it is a Yes or No vote, and that is a central truth.
Like me, many people will assess the landscape of this vote on terms that suit them and their intellectual and ideological station. I think now the difference is many, and I think the majority, especially after the last week’s events, even if they’re inclined towards retaining the Union based upon an emotional attachment, are now analysing the question again.
And if they’re looking, they’ll not fail to see the craven methodology of Better Together’s campaign strategy, particularly the contributions from the Labour party, as unforgivable, regardless of the referendum’s outcome. They’ve made Scotland look bad. They see its lies and smears about the Yes campaign, thinking you’ll fall for them, instead of adopting an analytical strategy that focused on the questions the Yes campaign cannot or will not answer. They will be cognisant that the Westminster hegemony continues to hang its hat on a trickle down economic model, based on the brazen myth of wealth creators. There’s the favouring of aspiration and privatisation, that hasn’t decreased the debt (still rising) and has furnished those at the bottom with foodbanks, zero hour contracts (if you’re lucky) and the other ghastly end results of welfare austerity. George Monbiot had it right, if you were part of an independent country, especially one that contributes more revenue per head than it receives from the UK treasury, would you choose to join a country with this political ideology that favours elitism and a highly insular concentration of wealth?
Unless you clearly benefit from any of these policies, and few do, all of it is bound to have an influence as people tend to cast their vote on the following criteria: their interpretation of the facts, being guided by self-interest (personal circumstances), altruism, pride, or a combination of all. And that cuts both ways. Look at the lowest common denominator and you’ll find Yes voters whose primary motivation is a desire to stick it to the English and their establishment, just as you’ll find, on the other side of the same coin, the hardline Unionists who also exhibit the self-loathing complex of inferiority. The only difference here is that their resentment at their supposed enslavement by imperialism is misplaced. To paraphrase Alan Bennett ‘they are in the grip of ideology, and ideology tends to drive out thought’.
Thankfully they will be in the minority this time, as this referendum has done something amazing: cured what seemed to be an apathy towards politics that was fast becoming terminally ingrained in British culture. The causes of this apathy are apparent and widely agreed upon.
And that’s my core reason for voting Yes – having generated this level of interest and debate, the kind of environment where political discourse inevitably foments activism, ideas and creativity, I don’t want to see it squandered, and consign it as a footnote in history where idealism and pragmatism met but were denied the opportunity to consummate a lasting legacy.
There’s more riding on this than just Scottish independence too, it’s the democratic idea that everyone feels legitimised to have a say, and that their say counts.
We’ve seen grassroots campaigning from the Yes side that has embraced the many ideologies, ideas and methods of its movement. It carries within it bespoke elements that can be tailored to engage any voter. This includes minor parties, and the Yes campaign has given them the platform to permeate the debate by getting their message across. The Greens see the opportunity for a country that can be based on sustainable energy and jobs, and they appeal to those who agree. Likewise the Scottish Socialists have the chance to bring people to Yes by calling for nationalised public services, education and health. Many Labour, Lib Dem and Tory members will seek to maintain the Union, but they’re also alive to the possibility that an independent Scotland would give them to the scope to reform their parties.
Add it all together and this critical mass allows for a myriad of perspectives to converge when discussing what an independent Scottish parliament, entirely in charge of the country’s finances, would be able to achieve. There are other questions, what kind of new political parties will form in the event of a Yes vote? How will the result of this referendum force the SNP to change? Will the process of writing a constitution create new laws, new forms of tax(es)? Will the welfare state, the NHS, and education be reformed? Will local councils be allowed greater autonomy with their budgets, or not? What voting system will decide future elections in an independent Scotland? I’d argue having come this far, where we feel everything is up for debate, we should take the next step and actually go from talking about these things in the hypothetical and abstract, to embracing the challenge of actually providing answers and solutions.
My fear is a No vote vindicates the formulaic modes of politicking that exists in Westminster, which, as we’ve seen, for the past decade and two different governments has provided no answers, no solutions for the people. There’s a good chance that a Yes vote puts that established order under pressure. For Scots in particular, whether you’re voting No or Yes, to go from this climate of engagement, to becoming a smaller percentage of a larger electorate, the majority of which is disengaged due the absence of a genuine alternative, lacks appeal. Instead of motivating change, a narrow defeat for Yes could deflate the movement in Scotland, and stymie any aspirations of a political movement in other parts of the UK, who have looked at what’s happening in Scotland with an appreciative jealousy. And just how will the legions of Yes voters feel about partaking in general election next year where our votes are rendered essentially meaningless? Not too enthusiastic I’d say, like much of the UK populace, which, lest we forget, got a government it didn’t even vote for last time.
Voting Yes won’t make me feel any less British, nor will it make me feel any more Scottish. And I don’t see it as abandoning the UK. The Yes movement for most isn’t about Nationalism, but us taking responsibility to demand change, for more control, for more say. That’s the bottom line, wherever you live, it’s up to you to do the same, and not rely on others to do it for you. If there’s a demand by enough people, be it in Wales and Northern Ireland for independence, or in the counties of England for greater autonomy, referendums will be held, and then you’ll have your say.
Which brings us to the most important question, why are we doing it? Why is this referendum happening? Because we can do better than this, and deep down I think most of us know it. The disagreement, if anything, is how to achieve it. With independence we have the chance to do so from a blank slate. That frightens some people, but that enough people care about it – with ninety-seven percent of the eligible electorate in Scotland now registered to vote, turnout is likely, in the context of recent European and UK general elections, to be abnormally high, probably above eighty percent – has shown me that we can take the next step. At the very least we’re prepared to decide. I’m ready to embrace the challenges ahead that independence will bring. The only remaining question is do enough of us want to write our future? I hope so.