(From Doom Patrol #63, ‘The Empire of Chairs’, by Grant Morrison and Richard Case)
I’ve been holding off on writing post like this for a while now because I thought it was better not to say anything at all than to say something stupid, but I’m speaking up now for two reasons:
(1) Because it currently seems possible that Scotland, as a nation, might vote for independence,
(2) Because it still doesn’t seem likely.
If I didn’t think there was any chance of a YES vote there’d be no reason to climb up on my soapbox, but since it seems as though it won’t happen the next few weeks are my last chance to say why I think it should. You are of course welcome to breeze by me as quickly as you would any other Buchanan Street barker but if you fancy hearing me out, here we go!
1. THERE IS ANOTHER WORLD. THERE IS A BETTER WORLD. WELL, THERE MUST BE.
As I see it, the big lie that both mainstream campaigns are peddling is that if you vote their way everything will be fine. Better Together have operated a campaign based on fear and the Yes Scotland campaign has obliged them by running one of reassurance and continuity.
Neither side can actually promise you that the future will smell of roses if you line up behind them, of course, but while there are more unknowns facing an independent Scotland, I still resent the implication that we know what’s in store if we vote NO in September. The UK’s long term status in the European Union is questionable, given the anti-European influence of an ascendant UKIP and the anti-EU sentiments espoused by parts of the Tory party. What’s more, the arc of public funding cuts is nowhere near complete, the future of public services as we know them is in doubt, and there are grumblings about reworking the Barnett formula in a NO future.
Some of this is dependant on who gets elected in the future, what platform they’re running on, and on a million unforeseen factors, but then the same can be said about the future of an independent Scotland. What’s even more aggravating than this is the implicit (and occasionally explicit!) argument that things are okay as they are.
(Buzzfeed: 20 People Explain Why They’re Voting Against Scottish Independence – my response to this particular argument would be close to Robin McAlpine’s here.)
Britain in 2014 is a startlingly unequal country that has chosen to react to the financial collapse of 2008 by doubling down on the causes while scapegoating poor people and immigrants. It is a small country that is determined to act as though it is still a world power, which leads to us spending an obscene amount of money waging illegal, barbaric wars and hosting nuclear weapons on Scottish soil. This pervasive nationalism extends to domestic politics, with UKIP winning the largest share of the vote in the recent European elections and the opposition Labour party “outflanking” the Tories by adopting an even tougher stance on immigration.
Lest we forget, the United Kingdom is also a country of stagnant wages, high energy bills, and pricey private housing, a country where people are being hustled onto the property ladder with little regard to whether they’re going to end up trapped in a mortgage they can’t afford. Our ruling class appear to live in close proximity to endemic child sex abuse, and they’re just a little bit too friendly with media barons who think the have the right to listen to your voicemails.
(From ‘The Empire of Chairs’ again – you can tell this post on Scottish Independence is desperate to generate a sense of intellectual authority by the fact that it contains 100% more superhero comics than its competitors!)
Closer to home, unemployment in Glasgow is higher than it is anywhere else in the UK, and in poorer parts of the city life expectancy for men is lower than it is in Iraq. You may not think that this sounds like a “broken” society, but if so I’d hate to see the dystopias that haunt your dreams at night. For my part, if I didn’t think we could do better than this I would have taken a dive under a bus long ago. The question is, how can we do better?
2. PAUPER’S CLAY
In the absence of certainty as to what the future holds, what we have with the referendum on Scottish Independence is a clash of possibilities.
I wish I could see an opportunity for improvement for the whole United Kingdom, but for all their foundational differences, there’s little dispute between the main UK parties regarding the overall direction of the country. The mantra of TINA (There Is No Alternative) dominates the conversation in the Labour and Tory parties, the Liberal Democrats grass roots are willing to fight some battles but their leadership are seemingly unable to challenge the terms on which the war is being fought, and UKIP’s agenda is….not for the faint of heart. Or, apparently, for their own leader.
Much has been made of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which shows that Scottish people do not widely diverge from the UK norm, particularly in their negative perceptions of immigrants, benefits claimants and the European Union. As Gerry Hassan has noted, supporters of independence would do well not to lean too heavily on the myth of civic Scotland, but the curious thing is that the Scottish public don’t seem to vote as punitively as the Attitudes Survey suggests they should. For all the disappointments of the Scottish Labour party, our politics are less toxic than those in the UK – Johann Lamont made a stand out of her party’s opposition to universal services, but in general the Scottish parliamentary elections haven’t turned into a race to see who can look toughest on shifty foreigners or the much maligned “scroungers”.
Perhaps, having been protected from the worst of the UK’s current situation, the Scottish public hasn’t felt the need to lash out with its vote? Of course, the balance of power in Holyrood might simply be the result of complex shifts in voter loyalty, or it might simply reflects the way the people in the UK as a whole would vote if they had the option. Regardless of the causes, the results justify a cautious sort of hope for those who are socially minded. My dad had to retire early because of his multiple sclerosis, and my mum is a call centre worker who recently recovered from cancer: the gratitude they have for the health care, social work provision and free prescriptions they’ve received is testament enough for me to what we have worked to preserve in our devolved government. Looking beyond my parents’ front door, I find the Scottish Government’s response to everything from welfare reform to the horrors that are currently being inflicted on Gaza to be preferable to the reactions to the same from the UK government.
If we have been able to preserve this sense of kindness, openness and possibility in our devolved politics, what could independence do for Scotland as a nation?
(The fact that I’m about to hit post on this on the day where I found out that FSWL soundtracker King Creosote is against independence adds a pleasing layer of confusion to proceedings.)
This isn’t just about me and my enthusiasm for the Common Weal project, much as I think their proposals represent a far reaching and intellectually honest model for a Scotland that puts its people first. It’s not all about the SNP and their white paper either – that’s every bit as much of a mixed bag as you’d expect. This is about listening to Loki when he talks about the experience of working class Scots frozen out of the debate. It’s about trying to talk to the “Missing Scotland”, and finding out why they think our political class doesn’t understand and isn’t interested in them (*SPOILERS*: they might be right!). It’s aboutAnum Qaisar from Muslim Friends of Labour holding a debate on independence and finding herself converting to YES in the aftermath.
If we take the opportunity to work together with all of these people, is there any doubt that we could make Scotland more responsive to our needs?
This is about people who disagree with me too, of course. People who have nothing in common with anyone I’ve mentioned, and who oppose the direction of the Scottish Government. People who are against independence, whose dissenting voices will at least count for more in this referendum than it does in your average Westminister election. This referendum is about all of us in Scotland, coming together to work out our own story rather than accepting the one we’re told about ourselves. We already have a more representative government thanks to our partially proportional voting system and the absence of an archaic, unelected House of Lords, but this only shows the bare edge of what we could demand in the event of a YES vote.
The responsibility to make our voices heard and hold those in charge to account would belong to everyone; make no mistake, power isn’t known to relinquish itself easily so the real work would start on the 19th of September.
(Regardless of his opinions on Scottish Independence, some of the music King Creosote wrote for From Scotland With Love is still hugely applicable here.)
The dominant story that emerges in an independent Scotland might not be to my liking, of course. There’s also the chance that we might make a total arse of it, proving the scaremongers right about everything. While I don’t think we’d all be living in caves and swapping broken glass for sexual favours in the event of a YES vote, I’m not convinced that we’re all going to be coughing up fivers or trading magic beans either. Nothing will be easy as we try to find our way as a small European country in a harsh global climate. Even areas that are full of possibility – energy, for example – are also fraught with difficulty. The point remains: there is an alternative to what we have now, and that alternative is what we make of it.
The Better Together folks want you to think that a YES vote is suicide, but given the opportunity to break free of the dying model we’re currently bound to, I can’t refuse the chance to work towards a better world.