During final exams at university, or during that blissful post-exam period when you move home and are in limbo before the next adventure begins, I found it easy to become distracted and feel distant from the Independence movement – especially when your home is a wee English village on the Welsh border. A quick update of Newsnetscotland, Bella Caledonia, National Collective and a perusal of Twitter soon put that to rights, and actually, I find I’ve come back to the debate with a clearer mind.
I saw a tweet today that read: “Is Scotland a real place? Is democracy the best form of government? Answer “Yes” to both of these questions? Then you have to vote Yes.” I like this way of thinking about the question of independence, so far removed from the cinema adverts tugging at people’s heartstrings, begging for Scotland to stay with the vague promise that we are ‘better together’, and just as far removed from the once dominant but no longer proffered economic arguments, with even David Cameron and Alistair Darling saying respectively, ”It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country” and “The question is not whether Scotland can survive as a separate state. Of course it could.”
The tweet says simply, if Scotland is real, and we think democracy is best, isn’t it obvious that Scotland should have the democratic right to govern itself that other countries have? Even other small countries like Luxembourg, (Scotland is about 30 times bigger than Luxembourg) haven’t vanished in an eggy-smelling puff of self-governing existential smoke. And it begs the question, if illegal wars are the means that justify the ends of exporting our version of democracy to nations who haven’t asked for it, why the huge backlash against a country on its own democratic quest for democracy? Are we real? Do we want to govern ourselves the way the people who live here want?
Because the people are asking for something different. Wikipedia’s handy diagram shows how in Westminster, the number of Conservative seats representing Scotland has decreased since 1951 from 35 seats to 0 in 1997 and has stayed at one ever since, a clear sign of Scotland’s differing politics to the rest of the UK. Scotland appears to be trying to move politically to the left, and still stands firmly behind the principles of a welfare state that takes care of its citizens, abolishing prescription fees in 2011. England is currently the only country in the UK to charge for prescriptions, although they were free when the NHS was founded in 1948.
With hindsight, it is possible to see how the arguments against Scottish independence have been recycled, first heard opposing the creation of a Scottish Parliament; Scotland certainly can’t afford it, for example, and yet the Scottish Parliament, (re)convened in 1998 after the referendum the year before, remains happily in existence. Closer to our referendum date in 2014, the argument that Scotland cannot afford independence appears to be running out of steam and has been neglected recently by the media. I had trouble with this point, not being an economist, or in any way aware of how much money is required to run a country, and understand the confusion when faced with two opposing panels of economists who each claim to be right (although the Yes side has Nobel prize winning economists!), one side saying Scotland can’t afford independence, and the other saying they can. Making the assumption that one side must be mistaken (or deliberately misleading), I tried to simplify matters. Would the SNP deliberately launch a campaign for independence and try to remain in power to govern Scotland, if there was no money? What on earth would they do if the country voted a resounding Yes and then the country had to be run – is Alex Salmond or another politician going to run Scotland out of their own pocket? Why on earth would they do that?
On the other hand, would the rest of the UK attempt to convince everyone there wasn’t enough money for Scotland to be independent, in order to ‘keep’ Scotland, so rUK can continue to profit from Scotland’s GDP contribution per person, which is larger than that of England, when oil and gas revenues are included? There is only motivation for one side to lie to the public, and that’s the No side.
And talking about oil and exploitation, there is certainly motivation enough to try to ‘keep’ Scotland in the United Kingdom for financial gain that has already been exposed in the McCrone report, in which economist Gavin McCrone showed in 1975 that Scotland’s North Sea oil could have made an independent Scotland “as prosperous as Switzerland.” To avoid fuelling Scottish independence in the seventies, the report was hidden for thirty years. A tactical suppression of an economic report in order to manipulate the outcome of a democratic referendum is not acceptable, in my opinion. It shows we are governed by people willing to resort to dystopian manipulation in order to benefit fiscally and to act despite a detriment to democracy.
I almost don’t want to go into any more arguments because I think acting with such woeful disregard for democracy whilst proclaiming to be a democratic nation undermines anything the No campaign could put forward. I don’t think these are the people to be delivering a fair society in the future, or even any society I would like to live in. I think there is a lot of straw-grabbing going on, with arguments against independence becoming even more ridiculous, like ‘in an independent Scotland, you wouldn’t be able to watch Dr Who’, all of which serve only to distract from the real questions: who has Scotland’s best interests at heart and is best placed to govern it? Should the Scottish government have limited or full powers over Scottish matters in order to deliver the society that those resident in Scotland are voting for? I really think the answer is obvious. And this desire for self-governance has nothing to do with hating the English or throwing off an oppressive English yoke. The intelligent people I have spoken to about Scottish independence rarely mention ‘the English’, and some clearly state that the Union of 1707 was beneficial to both nations. The developments over the last 100 years have come about because economically and politically the two nations no longer mesh as well as they used to. In fact, in the few lively debates I’ve attended in my university town, the only speaker to bring up ‘the English’ and nationalism was a harried, flapping speaker for the No campaign in response to a question from a pro-independence visitor, who hadn’t even mentioned the English at all.
And that sums up the No campaign for me: Johann Lamont losing her cool during debates, people talking about uncertainty and wanting predictions from clairvoyants about what will be available on Channel 2 in an independent Scotland in December 2015, people afraid of the future, of change, of making things worse. I understand fear of the future, but that’s not what you tell your children, is it? Don’t aspire for a better life, this one will do, won’t it? No, you can’t do that, you’re just not capable. You’re just not genetically programmed for that. Don’t try. There is another reason why we are being told we are ‘better together’, and I don’t believe our societies will be. If the better alternative to independence set out sketchily (and with no direct promises) by everyone other than the SNP is more devolution…surely by extension going all the way to full independence would be more…better.
I believe we are being bullied towards the decision to ‘stay together’, and I believe the people who ought to have full powers over every aspect of life for residents in Scotland should be in Holyrood, not Westminster. As a friend once pointed out, transpose the situation: in a big university with a big Maths department and a small Languages department…would you get the Maths department to order your language textbooks, or let them do it themselves?
Like I said, I understand fear of the future and I know how resistant people are to any change. Most people’s default setting is to reject change because it means effort and relearning a new process or adapting to a new situation. Quite frankly, with regards to most change, it’s easier not to. But the Scottish people must stop viewing the referendum as a change to be afraid of and see it for what it is; a gift, a chance, an opportunity that in other circumstances, people would leap at. In a job situation- more responsibility and more power to make a difference? Yes please, that’s called a promotion. This isn’t a political kerfuffle, this is a gift into the hands of the Scottish people; their chance to pick a government after the referendum that will actually be able to improve futures, keep promises and create a political society that correctly reflects the voting tendencies of those who live and vote in Scotland. And if the elected government doesn’t deliver, vote them out. Hold them accountable, in a way that is not possible at the moment. You could say it’s too easy for a Scottish government to blame lack of progress on their lack of power- “In this matter, our hands are tied!” They could say. Give the Scottish government all the power, and if they can’t deliver, vote them out and vote again. That’s democracy- it’s not perfect, it will always be a work in progress. But at least Scotland’s people will get the government they vote for after the referendum.
At the risk of sounding naive and blasé, people living, working and voting in Scotland shouldn’t worry about the nit-picky bits. Those will sort themselves out. East and West Germany, anyone? The reunification of Germany, European membership? Also without precedent and Germany didn’t implode or choke to death on its own borders. These are the issues Westminster will try to distract you with (the Pound? It’s ours!), so you don’t realise your country can look after itself. So you feel like you can’t change anything and don’t vote Yes. Bring it back to democracy. Can Westminster make policies that benefit equally the 83% of the population resident in England and the 8% that live in Scotland, or is one of them likely to get disregarded? I think England is best placed to know what its 83% of the population want, and Scotland is best placed to serve its 8%.
It’s time for Scotland to become 100%. And I’m almost 100% sure we’ll both be ok.
#YES to Indyref.
PS Scotland, you’re closer than you think. I was recently on holiday in Marrakech and climbing in the Ourika mountains with a girlfriend and a Moroccan friend, loitering on the path while my friend made the agonising choice between two key rings, and two girls passed us on the path down the mountain. A snatch of song (was it Flower of Scotland?) settled in my consciousness and I turned to them, already receding in the distance, the words swelling with happiness and hope fluttering around my ears.
“Whooo, was that for Scottish independence?!” I called out, waving.
“Yeah!! Oh my God, yeah! You voting?!” She danced back.
“Oh my GOD yes, hell yes, I’m voting YES!” I called back, barely comprehensible, also jumping madly with joy to be on another continent, miles away from home and yet face to face with someone filled with the same beautiful hope and confidence in Scotland and its inhabitants.
The mad jumping said it all for me; exuberance, hope, determination, community.
Together with all her resources and full powers, like any other country, Scotland can make the future beautiful.