August 9, 2014

40 Days to Yes

Today marks forty days and nights until the independence referendum in Scotland.

Despite all the coverage, it still feels a little like it’s snuck up on us all, although the tireless Yes campaigners I’m following on Twitter (and no doubt a few of the No folk too) are probably feeling every minute of the campaign deep in their bones.

In my last two blog posts, I wrote a couple of lists explaining the multiple reasons I’m personally voting Yes. Some of them were explanations of things that independence would not be (a vote for Salmond, a vote for the SNP and so on) and others were more direct explorations of common areas of deep muddiness in the messaging of both campaigns.

Sadly, the televised debate’ we had last week was a further and distinctly unwelcome muddying of the waters by both of the official campaigns. I can quite clearly see how undecided voters and people who just want some clarity would have thrown up their hands at the whole mess. It was a triumph of PR-led soundbitery and wholly demonstrative of politicians terrified they’ll be caught saying the wrong thing. A deep disappointment in other words.

So for this blog post, I want to go beyond lists and soundbites and takedowns of poorly managed shouting contests masquerading as debate’. I want to tell you what it’s like living here, in the capital of Scotland, at the rising peak of fear and hope that is the independence campaign.

Wee signs, big changes

I walk a regular one and a half mile route to and from work through Edinburgh’s New Town. If you’re not from this city, you likely don’t know what that means, but it’s probably safe to say that if there is a place in Scotland likely to contain a majority of people who favour the Union, it’s the New Town. It’s a beautiful part of the city and one I personally live on the edge of and love to walk through every day, but it’s also an immense concentration of wealth and people heavily invested in finance and industry - the kind of people who hate uncertainty and likely have spent time working or living in England.

Which is why the twenty-plus and growing number of Yes signs I’ve seen in windows along my route to work has deeply surprised me.

They’re everywhere. I’ve made it a game to count them and notice new ones. I posted a big banner I saw to Instagram. Pretty soon I’ll stick a couple up in my own windows.

By contrast, I’ve seen precisely two No symbols - a badge on a woman I passed in the street a month ago, and a solitary beermat sized sticker in a window down the road from me.

I’m open to the idea that it’s selection bias, or that No voters don’t wish to advertise themselves or are just keeping their intentions secret for their own reasons, but the high visibility of Yes sentiment cheers me right up, so it does.

Too poor, too wee, too stupid

By contrast, I’m deeply, deeply tired of the monotonous tone of the Better Together campaign. Over and over again, we hear that Scotland’s different, it’s too small, we can’t manage our own affairs, we can’t afford to be independent, despite the apparently paradoxical existence of dozens of countries doing just that.

And there’s signs that the relentless, grinding negativity of Better Together is seriously annoying undecided voters too. I’ve lost count of the number of tweets, Facebook posts and instant messages I’ve seen that say people are tired of hearing nothing but denial and obfuscation from Alistair Darling and his team. Every attempt at a positive message is profoundly rooted in clumsy fearmongering. Figures are twisted (like comparing the Scottish public spending figures with the average of the entirety of England and Wales, conveniently cloaking the huge imbalance towards London and the South). Plus oil assets which would mysteriously be A-OK as a few pennies in the pot for the Union become the probable source of untold calamity when they’re the property of a much smaller group of people. I’m sick to the back teeth of it, and I’m honestly trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The debate’ this week was a classic nadir. But, astonishingly, it’s been beaten in teeth-grinding annoyance by this:

It’s almost like someone was tasked with writing a tweet that would perfectly encapsulate the last six months of unpleasant paternalism, snideness and smug presumption. Piers Morgan is an odious man, but he’s just saying out loud sentiments that have been implied and muttered and formed the basis of a very great deal of London media reporting of the last year or so, ever since it became clear that this would not be a complete shoe-in for No.

Sadly, the editorials of respected publications are often not a lot better. The Economist’s was a masterpiece of blithe dismissal. From putting a man in a See You Jimmy hat on the cover to describing the bedroom tax (that made one woman so anxious and desperate she killed herself, even though she was exempt from it) as trivial’, it epitomises everything that makes the Union an unbalanced, unhealthy relationship.

Powers devolved are powers retained

An interesting development last week was the last minute pre-debate pledge by all three UK parties to devolve further tax raising powers and legal powers to Scotland.

Putting aside the ridiculousness of believing any pledge Nick Clegg signs, this is essentially an underhand way of sort-of offering devo-max, which was left off the ballot at Cameron’s insistence in order to settle the question of independence once and for all’. Now, of course, they get to wave potential powers under our nose without the awkward business of actually being bound to deliver them by a devo-max vote. Potential powers, as opposed to the actual and irrevocable powers of a sovereign state. Never forget - the Scottish Parliament is a regional assembly, only permitted by the good graces of the Westminster government. If a power is devolved, it is retained by the power who permit it to be devolved. They can take it back, if they want to.

The No campaign like to mutter darkly about how independence would be forever, a terrible split which can never be reversed. They seem to miss that for people like me, sick of the way modern Britain is governed, that is entirely the point.

You’re not voting for the Great British Bake Off

The latest chuckle I’ve had has been at the #LetsStayTogether campaign’, in which a bunch of English household names implored us to not bother about all that social justice and self-determination claptrap and just stick with our chums in the South, all lovingly presented in a giant letter and, of course, displayed to the cameras in front of City Hall in…London. I mean. Come on. They didn’t even come to Scotland to deliver their letter?

I do find it interesting from another point of view though - the myth of cosy, Bake-Off Britain. The country where everything is fine and dandy and we’re all getting along swimmingly, where dehumanising, destabilising zero hour contracts don’t exist, where all the fifty and sixty somethings can kick back in the Great British summer sunshine and enjoy the fruits of their bulging pension pots and their private healthcare, where the most pressing thing we all have to worry about is whether Paul Hollywood thinks your bottom is sufficiently well-baked.

Because that’s the image that Better Together have frantically traded on, constantly changing the subject, avoiding the hard questions. I find it incredibly aggravating to read, over and over again, editorials and columns decrying the Yes campaign as emotional and nationalist, placing sentiment and ancient history over practicality and what it takes to actually run a country. Pretty much everything I’ve seen has been the precise opposite to that. The calls to a national spirit have come from the No side, not the Yes. The appeals to shared history (carefully airbrushed of course), the tugging at the heartstrings and the endless fucking open letters - those are all coming from No.

Crucially, they only ever talk about how the status quo is good for us, and how we should not be trying to change it. What they never do, and the main reason voting Yes has been such a clear decision for me, is acknowledge that there are real problems and thirty years of trying to resolve them within the Union has failed. There’s a word for continuing to do the same thing over and over again in the expectation of a different result - it’s madness. And continuing to bang our collective heads off the brick wall of Westminster is truly madness. I’ve seen some people say that independence is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, a waste of our time when we could be working within the established system.

But that’s simply not true. The system is the problem.

All you have to do to see the truth of this is look South. You can see the shape of a future Scotland in what is being done to England and Wales right now. They’re being hollowed out and privatised. A country run by Group4, Serco and First Group. A country where East Coast, a renationalised railway company that has put a billion pounds into the public treasury since 2009 and increased customer satisfaction to 91%, simply has to be reprivatised.

Because reasons. Because idealogy. Because this is not about what’s best for the country or whether some things are better owned by all of us and run for the benefit of the citizenry, this is about profit and a belief in the private market that disregards any evidence to the contrary.

Fuck that. Hardcore free market types are no better than hardcore Stalinists. If you’re not willing to consider evidence and do what’s best for the people paying your salary, you’re not fit to be a politician.

Things have changed

The No campaign would like you to imagine that you’re simply voting for back to business-as-usual’. We’ll say no more about it, as delightful Piers put it. We’ve had our fun. Back in your box, Jocks. We had the option to shut up, or to fuck off, and we chose to shut up.

But things will have changed in two key ways. Firstly, the Westminster government intends to make itself more visible’, according to the Scottish Secretary. Expect renegotiations of the Barnett formula and drastic cuts to funding. Expect us to get a full dose of Westminster’s austerity agenda (you know, the agenda that’s led to the slowest economic recovery since the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, 314 years ago. And definitely expect a lot of fucking gloating.

On the other side, the Yes campaign won’t just go away. You don’t awaken hundreds of thousands of people to the genuine chance of political change and true engagement and then just shut it all down. I have seen a widespread and deeply exciting surge in the body politic of Scotland, and that will not just wither on the vine, as much as David Cameron might wish it would.

Don’t wait to be spoonfed - make your own mind up

We’re going into the final stretch now. But don’t wait to be told the facts. They’re not going to come, certainly not from the official campaigns, not from Alec or Alistair or any of them.

Read widely. Read sources you’ve never read before. Read blog posts like this one, from both sides. Talk to friends and family. Seek out opposing opinions and make your own mind up. This is too important to be left to a guess or a gut feeling.

The morning of the 19th of September, 2014

However, I would ask you to do one thing.

I want you to imagine waking up on the morning of the 19th of September, just forty days from now. I want you to imagine boiling your kettle, turning on your radio or booting up your laptop, taking a sip of your hot beverage of choice and bracing yourself to find out the result of the overnight count.

I want you to imagine how you’ll feel. Will it be relief at a re-establishment of the old certainties? Or the stomach-flipping excitement of the unknown, full of potential? Imagine going out into the morning and looking around you, and taking a deep breath. What does the future look like? Because, for the first time in many, many years, it’s your choice.

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