I was born in Brasil to a Brasilian mother and American father. When I was 5 and my sister was in utero, we moved to the US so my dad could take care of his ailing mother. She wasn’t expected to last very long, so the plan was to stay a few years, then move back after she died. By the time she actually did die some 15 years later, it seemed a bit late to do that. Our move was our first encounter with the US healthcare system. As my mum was already pregnant when my dad got employer-sponsored health coverage, it counted as a pre-existing condition. Unable to afford a bill of tens of thousands of dollars, my mum flew back to Brasil for the birth. Further encounters with that vile system, including a $200 bill (after insurance) for a wound re-dressing and several thousand for a 2 night hospital stay (in which I was charged for the water jug, tissues, TV and telephone, whether I used them or not), made me despise it.
As we couldn’t move back to Brasil, my dad would send my mum, sister and me down there almost every summer for 3 whole months. Having only 2 weeks holiday every year, he could never join us. Only now that I’m married myself do I understand how hard that must have been for my parents. I missed my dad of course, but I was surrounded by my big, noisy family, loving grandparents, cousins my own age, a culture I loved, so I wasn’t as troubled as they must have been. Growing up so internationally meant I was not as immersed in the blind patriotism of the American midwest, and even at my most patriotic, I still saw the flaws of the US, particularly the cultural imperialism that was simultaneously adopted and resented. By the time I was halfway through uni and had made my first trip to Europe, I knew I had to get away. I came to Scotland for a summer research project at St. Andrews, and I loved it so much I decided to come back for my PhD. Four and a half years later I got that PhD and switched from a student visa to a highly skilled migrant visa. About a year later I switched again to an unmarried partner visa, as I had been living with my Scottish boyfriend for over 2 years by that point. I got my indefinite leave to remain in 2011 and applied for citizenship after our wedding. I offically became a citizen on Leap Day, 2012, after more than 8 years and several thousand pounds in visa fees. The next day I sent off my voter registration, and soon after, I joined the SNP.
For you see, in the 8+ years I’ve been here, I changed my mind about a few things. I was your typical Britophile (or as I would have called it then, Anglophile) back in the day. I loved tea and thought there were few problems it couldn’t solve. Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ made me a Shakespeare devotee. My love of Jane Austen was rivalled only by my love of ‘Jane Eyre’, and my favourite living authors were the very British Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett. I thought ‘Coupling’ was better than ‘Friends’, and my boyfriend knew that as much as I loved him, Colin Firth was top of my list. I referred to the American Revolution as the War of Ingratitude and wore Union Jack knickers on the 4th of July as a form of protest. I was so excited when I saw Prince William on the street in St. Andrews and thought the monarchy was charming. I thought ‘The Dambusters’ was the best war film ever. I was worldly enough to know that the UK was made up of 4 countries and was fairly careful not to conflate them (I wouldn’t have wanted anyone thoughtlessly calling me an Argentine!), but I also knew that they were all more similar to each other than any of them were to America, or Brasil, or France, so it seemed perfectly natural to refer to certain traits as British. I thought Westminster was a fine political institution, especially compared to the US Congress. And I thought Scotland was probably better off as part of the UK in the same way that Ohio was better off within the US.
Most of these things are still true. I still love tea, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Colin Firth, etc. I walked down the aisle to ‘The Dambusters March’. I still think that there is sufficient shared culture within these islands to call such traits British, but I have a significantly more nuanced view of these things. I am no longer so charmed by the monarchy, and it’s not just the growing bald patch that makes Prince William less appealing to me these days. I still call it the War of Ingratitude, but even if those Union Jack knickers still fit, I wouldn’t wear them. Most of all, however, I am no longer a believer either in the quality of the Westminster government or of the benefits of the union for Scotland. My reasons for this are many and complex, but I will try to give a brief summary of some of the main points. I will expound on these issues in further posts.
- I am a firm believer in small countries. The complexity of modern societies is leading to diminishing returns, and I think the best way to counteract that is to have countries that are smaller but cooperate more fully with each other on the global scale. Smaller populations can have more representative governments that are more in touch with the people they represent, and resources can be more effectively utilised. The perfect examples of this are the Nordic countries, which have populations of 5-10 million people, moderate levels of natural resources, and some of the most equal and least corrupt societies in the world; they also cooperate with each other extensively and have shared institutions. This is the sort of model I would like to see for the British Isles.
- Westminster has shown itself to be corrupt and beholden to a very select few in the upper echelons of the financial world. This is true of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Expenses scandal, Iraq war, financial deregulation, bailed out banks being allowed to give out millions of pounds in bonuses for failure, cruel benefits legislation, terrible immigration legislation, inappropriate media relationships, tuition fees, NHS privatisation – the list goes on and on. This is not the government I want representing me.
- If the union has been so great for Scotland, why does it have the lowest life expectancy and highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe? Why are the industries decimated? Why is there so much child poverty? How can a country with so much wealth in the form of natural resources seem to have such difficulty coping with these problems? And why have these things only started improving AFTER devolution, and particularly after the SNP, a party answering not to anyone in London but only to Scotland, came into power?
- By definition in Westminster, Scotland cannot have an equal voice. Some might say this is fair, because it is so much smaller in population than England, but being constantly run by a government that does not represent you is a sure way of building resentment. The framers of the US constitution recognised the danger in such inequality, and created a bicameral legislature with one house representative of population and the other giving equal representantion to each state. I’m not normally one to praise the US method of doing anything, but this basic idea is at least fair. Westminster’s second house is one of privilege and cronyism that does nothing to redress the balance of the UK’s smaller countries being at the mercy of England’s electorate, regardless of how different their views might be.
- The West Lothian question. Of course it is a problem that matters affecting only England and Wales can be voted on by MPs representing Scottish constituencies. This shows that the union as it stands is also not always fair to the rest of the UK, and not just Scotland.
- I want a society that is left-of-centre, socially liberal, equal, honest, with a strong emphasis on social justice and social welfare, that values education, intellectual endeavour, science, the arts, and people, takes care of its most vulnerable, and interacts with the rest of the world with respect. I do not believe Westminster is capable of delivering this society, but Scotland is much better placed to do so on its own.
That is why I will be voting yes in autumn 2014, and I hope all my fellow Scots will join me.
Lissa Rocha Herron