March 24, 2014

Five Reasons I’m voting Yes in September

It’s Reason Day, the date that the National Collective campaign has nominated as a good day to explain some reasons why voting for independence is a great choice.

So, I figure I’ll chip in with not one, but five. First, a little context. I’m a middle class Edinburgh guy in my early thirties. I work in web design. I lived in London for six years, Aberdeen for four and I served in an Officers Training Corps while I was up north. I’m socially liberal and broadly left-wing, but I have friends and relatives across the political spectrum. And, indeed, I’m a case study in how political opinion can change.

I was reflexively nationalist as a kid - in the cheer for the national football/rugby teams’ sense. I gained a sense of British identity through my time in uniform and living in London and I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the United Kingdom and Scotland’s place within it as I’ve lived through two recessions and the slow but steady abandonment of the post-war consensus. So I’m pretty sure my reasons will apply to a lot of people who are unsure about the whole thing, who may have similar influences and friendship groups as me. I hope you enjoy reading them, even if you disagree with me. And I hope whatever your vote is in September, you do go out and actually vote - more than most elections, this referendum does present a genuine choice and I for one would kick myself if I didn’t get involved.

Reason 1 - A vote for independence is not a vote for Alec Salmond

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. There’s a lot of people who seem to genuinely detest Alec Salmond and want no part of him or his party. I don’t really get the hate, personally, and I find the ad hominem attacks on him as a person to be incredibly distasteful. I’ve had otherwise entirely rational people tell me, apparently seriously, that Salmond means to set himself up as Dictator for Life of a neo-marxist one party state. The thing is, Alec Salmond is just a man. He’s a dedicated politician who has welded together a strong enough party to bring us to this moment, but that does not mean that independence and Alec Salmond are a package deal. He can be voted out. It would be entirely possible to vote for independence and then vote for the Scottish Tories - there is no contradiction. Claims otherwise, that an independent Scotland would suddenly become incapable of holding free and fair elections, are ludicrous.

Reason 2 - A vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP

Imagine for a second what the politics of an independent Scotland might look like. Unmoored from the priorities and preoccupations of Westminster, we might get Scottish versions of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and even the Tories that are worth a damn. Maybe you disagree with the premise that Scotland is a broadly left-of-centre country and you want to work to change that? Great! Free of the deadlock of Westminster vs Scotland, you might actually be able to do that. You can vote for independence, then get excited about the potential for exciting change and evolution of our political parties. Or, we can spend the next thirty years re-fighting the same battles. Your choice.

Reason 3 - A vote for independence is a vote to become a normal Northern European country

I’ve been struggling to articulate this particular point to many of my friends for quite a long time. My contention has always been that the world is literally stuffed with small countries that do just fine for themselves, not least in Northern Europe, which often seems to consist of nothing but that. But for some reason, because Scotland is considering detaching itself from a fading global power (more on that in a second), there seems to be a massive question about how or why we can do such a thing. Somehow these questions are never asked of Finland, or the Netherlands, or Norway. But they are being asked of us.

So it was with great relief that I saw this fantastic article that summed up my point for me quite beautifully. You should read the whole thing, it’s excellent. Here you go, go and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, read it? Good. It’s a great article, whose central thesis is that the legacy of empire has made the United Kingdom a deeply strange, unhealthy country with imperial preoccupations and a deep-seated need to punch above its weight’, but that most Northern European countries are nothing like that. Here’s a great, lengthy quote that sums it up:

There is a trope I hear a lot at the moment: Scotland is different”. Left to lie, on its own, with no explanation, it’s a sort of petty nationalism. The idea that any one group of people is intrinsically unlike any other strikes me as a perverse way to understand humanity.

The context, usually, is political. Scotland has free education because it’s different”. Scotland hasn’t privatised its NHS, because it’s different”. It’s utter bunkum. The truth is that Scotland is, basically, a very normal Northern European country.

Across Northern Europe, university education is either free (in Germany and the Nordic countries) or costs only a few hundred Euros (in the Netherlands and France, for example). Most of Europe has much lower levels of income inequality than the UK. Apart from the Benelux countries and Cyprus, all of Europe’s countries use more renewable energy than the UK, despite Britain having more potential than almost any of them.

In most of Europe, in fact, in most of the world, the idea that significant portions of your economy would be publicly owned is quite standard. In Northern Europe, it’s not abnormal to have decent childcare provision, to work a sensible number of hours a day, and to be more productive in total as a result.

No, when people say that Scotland is different, that the social democratic aspirations of Scots are an anomaly, they are missing the point entirely. The social attitudes of Scots, and the policies of the Scottish Parliament, are pretty much standard for a European country. Scotland isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? We can make a positive choice to be something other than a province of a country that spends billions of pounds every year to pretend it still has an empire and global weight it has not had for the better part of a human lifetime. We can choose to become boringly and pleasantly Northern European. Sounds lovely to me.

Reason 4: An end to self-hatred

Have you ever noticed a peculiar thing about Scots? We hold two versions of our self image in our heads at once. We’re fiercely proud of our country and its status as the home of many of the innovations that make the modern world what it is. But many of us think huge numbers of our fellow citizens are wasters, or scumbags, or corrupt, venal and untrustworthy. Somehow we manage to both love and hate ourselves in equal measure. I think Alan Bissett does a brilliant job of capturing this internal contradiction in his Independence Poem. Here’s a video:

Reason 5: Because false dichotomies are ridiculous

We’re being sold an increasingly silly false narrative that, come independence, there would be a bunch of Scots out on the border with chisels, ready to break up these British isles’.

Let’s get this straight.

Great Britain” is a physical landmass, not a political entity. That’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland you’re thinking of.

I have several identities. I’m Scottish, British, European. What we’re talking about is swapping our current intra-national identity (Scottish) with our current international identity (British). I would still consider myself British - I will still live on the island of Great Britain, much as Canadians are still on the landmass of North America.

The difference is that I would no longer be a citizen of the unitary constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That would become the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And I’d still be Scottish, British and European, only the identity which carries legal weight and status would have changed.

So, what now?

I’ll close by saying a couple of things. The first is that I have no wish to lose friends over the independence debate. Regardless of the outcome, we all have to live here afterward. Some of my friends and family disagree with me vigorously, and I respect their opinions. I think many of them are wrong, I think some of them are the results of patently false and exceptionally biased reporting of the issues by a range of outlets. But a lot of their points have merit. There is a long way to go and a lot still to be talked about.

But I’d ask you to think hard about this. Look for sources outside of your normal reading habits. Read blogs, check out the Yes campaign and the Better Together campaign. Spend some time on places like National Collective, Bella Caledonia and Common Weal.

Then spend some time thinking about this. Imagine yourself waking up the day after the referendum. Then imagine the result going for the union, or going for independence. Think hard about how you would feel. Does the union staying together genuinely fill you with optimism and excitement for the future? Or merely a sense of resigned comfort? Ask yourself what kind of country you really want to live in and whether continuing to be part of the United Kingdom can give you that.

Then vote. Either way. This is a genuine chance to change our country for the better. It’s down to all of us to seize it.

politics independence

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