Scottish Independence Part 4: Why I Will Vote YES
I will vote Yes in this week’s Scottish independence referendum.
I remember the first time I ever got really excited by politics. It was 1997 and Tony Blair’s labour party had just swept aside a Conservative government that had ruled the UK for 18 consecutive years. I was 16 and I vividly remember watching Blair enter Downing Street as the crowds cheered around him. Although I was too young to have participated in the vote myself, I still felt an enormous sense of hope and exhilaration as I watched events unfold. That year also brought the referendum to establish the current Scottish Parliament, a procedure in which an astonishing 74% of voters agreed that the Parliament should exist. The next few years seemed like a whirlwind of political positivity, culminating in the opening of the Parliament. It was a pretty romantic introduction to the world of politics.
I wish it had lasted.
The world changed in 2001. The UK government went to war alongside the USA, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq in 2003. Tony Blair’s Labour government led the country into a conflict that many people, myself included, viewed as illegal and immoral. I travelled to London, along with one million other people, to protest the UK’s involvement. We filled the streets of the nation’s capital and we were so sure that our voices would be heard. The idea of protest on such an immense scale, backed up by another five million people across the world, going unanswered seemed ridiculous. But we were ignored. The war took place, Saddam was ousted, and Iraq still burns today.
Any credibility that Blair’s Labour government still held after this crumbled under the revelation that MPs across all parties, government and opposition, had been taking part in what amounted to massive organised fraud and theft from the taxpayer for years. The MPs’ expenses scandal shook UK politics to its core and ruined public confidence. The 2010 UK General Election, perhaps unsurprisingly, resulted in a hung parliament. No one party commanded the confidence of the electorate. The Liberal Democrats, a party which I once viewed as the one remaining truly liberal and genuinely positive major political force in the UK, entered into a coalition government with the Conservatives. David Cameron became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. His government, with the heartbreaking assistance of the Liberal Democrats, has embarked on a programme of “austerity” that has butchered the UK public sector and has made it government policy to punish the country’s poorest for the excesses of its richest.
I used to be proud of being British. When I lived in the USA for a year in 2001, I loved to tell people that I was both Scottish and British. I probably bored my American friends to tears with tales of how this was different in Britain or how that was how we did things in Britain. I loved it.
I’m not proud of being British any more. I’m not proud of a country where irresponsible millionaires are allowed to bring the world to the brink of ruin, only to be rewarded with annual bonuses larger than the sum total of all the money I will ever possess because it’s “in the best interests of British business”. I’m not proud of a country which tore up the very rules it professed to love when the opportunity to cosy in with a warmongering US president presented itself, even as a million citizens screamed their opposition. I’m not proud of a country where the most vulnerable in society are literally driven to suicide because of a government which forces terminal cancer patients to prove that they are unable to work. I’m not proud of a country which has become xenophobic and insular to the extent that a party like the vile UKIP has actually become a serious political force.
Scottish Independence is an alternative to this.
The once-fringe idea of breaking away from the rest of the UK, of becoming a true nation in our own right, has become the single most thrilling and all-encompassing political event I have ever experienced. The last year has seen frantic and often acrimonious campaigning from both sides across every inch of the country. Arguments have been provided and picked apart. Debates have been held, speeches have been made and celebrities have been courted by both sides. Polls which initially showed a strong lead for the No side have narrowed to the point that it is literally impossible to predict what the result will be. Each side hovers at or around 50%, with some individual polls placing Yes in the lead by a few points and some saying the same about No. As of today, three days before the vote, 97% of the eligible Scottish population is registered to vote – many of them having done so in the last few weeks. Just to be clear: there is the potential for this vote to have a turnout close to 100%.
I wasn’t always an ardent Yes-voter. I placed myself more on the No side at first, in fact. As the campaigns progressed, however, it became clear to me that the No side, represented by Better Together, were simply asking me to agree to the maintenance of a status-quo that I had already become disgusted with. All of their arguments were based around instilling a fear of what might go wrong if Scotland were to choose independence. They told us how our economy would collapse, how we would be thrown out of the EU, how business and talent would flood out of the country, how we would be vulnerable to all sorts of attacks from terrible foes. They painted a picture of a Scotland that would crash and burn without the protection of the United Kingdom. They reminded us of Greece and of Iceland and the calamities that had befallen those poor, tiny countries.
They did not, however, offer what people throughout Scotland desperately wanted after decades of disillusionment under an increasingly distant Westminster government: hope. The problem with a fear-based campaign is that when those tactics fail, when counterpoints emerge to temper the horror stories, there is little left. I don’t believe that an independent Scotland will be a perfectly socially just utopia. I don’t expect to see suffering and inequality wiped out overnight. The people on the Yes side who put forward those sorts of views are of no help at all. What an independent Scotland would offer, however, is the chance to take our country in a different direction. A better, fairer direction. It will be exceedingly difficult and I am sure that many mistakes will be made along the way, but I believe that the UK’s current direction means that the risks inherent in breaking away will be worth it.
And risks there will be, I have no doubt. Any Yes voter would be a fool to assume that the No camp is wrong about everything, just as any No voter would be a fool to assume the same about the Yes side. There will be financial risks, social and economic risks, political risks. We have to accept that in the event of independence, we will be entering uncharted and potentially dangerous waters. I have seen nothing, however, to convince me that we would be incapable of navigation. The polls are even for a reason, after all. If one side or the other could truly provide unarguable, decisive facts to prove that their side was categorically and unambiguously right, then I don’t believe that fifty percent of the entire country’s population would disagree. There would always be people who would stick to their views regardless, but the absolutely even split in the polls is the best indication to me that independence is at the very least a viable choice.
Last week a poll was released which placed Yes slightly ahead of No for the first time. It was met with jubilation and celebration by the Yes side, especially given that the No side had been leading by a considerable margin a few months ago. It was met with horror and utter panic by the No camp. Political leaders from all Better Together parties, including Prime Minister David Cameron, dropped everything to rush up to Scotland. They all embarked on pointedly separate tours in an effort to convince the Scottish people that the Westminster government was on their side. The speed and suddenness of their reactions represented something that I’ve believed for a long time: this referendum hasn’t been taken seriously by the Westminster elite up until now. The possibility that the Scottish people might actually choose to walk away from their City of London masters hasn’t really been seriously considered by some of the people at the very heart of the No campaign. From the bustling capital, the centre of power and influence and financial dominance, Scotland is viewed as a Pesky Northern Issue. We aren’t taken seriously.
A perfect example of this comes in the form of a now-infamous video which Better Together released last month. “The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind” became an instant viral hit due to its unbelievably ham-fisted attempt to appeal to undecided women voters via the mediums of patronisation and abject sexism. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it then please do check it out. Or even better, try this annotated version that appeared soon after the release of the original. Remember, however, that this is real. It’s not a joke or a parody. This is a serious political video with a serious purpose. The clip has been mocked and torn to shreds since the moment it was released (the hashtag #patronisingBTlady trended worldwide), but there is a more serious and disturbing message behind it. This video is professionally produced. It’s been scripted, storyboarded, cast, rehearsed, filmed, edited, and polished. At no point during any of those processes did anyone with any degree of influence say “stop – maybe this is a bad idea”. The video was released. This is how at least some of the upper echelons of Better Together see us – as simpletons who will be won over by the type of basic manipulation that would make a ten year old blush. People, lots of people, really truly thought that this would work. This video is what they think of us.
I know that independence will be a challenge if we achieve it. I know that there is the distinct possibility of an independent Scotland facing severe challenges over the next few years. While many of Better Together’s most aggressive warnings about the perils of independence have been either disproven outright or at least shown to be severely exaggerated, there are still some that I find myself unable to respond to satisfactorily. The level of work and effort put into the Yes campaign so far is nothing compared to the amount of work that will need to be done to make an independent Scotland succeed. However, I believe that the country is in the best possible position to do that work. I have never experienced a Scotland like this: the entire country is alive with passion and activity to the point where I still can’t quite believe it’s real. We will be able to make independence work.
I’ve had a really, truly good life and I am grateful for it beyond words. I’ve been cared for and provided for with unconditional love and kindness. I’ve had experiences that many people will never have and I’ve never experienced real poverty or need. I’ve never had to justify my right to be able to afford food to a disinterested government contractor across a hostile desk. I’ve never had to rely on the kindness of those who donate to food banks in order to feed my infant daughter. I’ve never been threatened with forced eviction because a millionaire in London has decided that my dilapidated Glasgow council flat is too extravagant for me. I’m far, far luckier than many of my fellow Scots, so many of whom have faced exactly these things thanks to the brutally unfair policies of the Westminster government.
Independence is about having the opportunity to show that there is a better way. It’s not an instant solution or a road to paradise. It’s an opportunity to take control of our own future, to make our own mistakes, to solve our own problems. Independence will change Scotland in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine. Some will be positive, some will be negative. When I look at what is happening across the UK right now, today, I know that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. We cannot let this opportunity to forge a better future for ourselves pass us by.