But where will they arrive with all, boat, city, earth, like them, afloat?’
Edwin Morgan, Sonnets From Scotland
As the outgoing president of the Scottish Literature Society at Glasgow University, I have witnessed some inspiring conversations about Scottish independence. While I would never suggest that our society is in any way united on the issue of independence, quite the opposite in fact, I do strongly believe in the importance of creating a safe space where we can have the independence conversation, which I feel is too often ‘off limits’ due to fears of offending or alienating our peers. I am currently a third year student of Scottish Literature MA(Hons) at Glasgow with a particular interest in sixteenth century Scottish poetry, and gender issues in modern Scottish fiction. I believe that literature and language are absolutely central to the issue of Scottish independence, and my most recent project analysed the use of positive and negative language in the independence debate. I have worked as an editor for my colleagues on the MFA programme at the Glasgow School of Art proofing and editing their blog entries and projects that deal with text. Passionate about all creative pursuits, I have also worked as an assistant to a number of community art initiatives overseas.
I am keen to join National Collective because I want to play an active role in exploding many of the myths against Scottish independence that often arise from a general attitude of suspicion towards it. I hear many people say that they would not vote for Scottish independence because they do not like the SNP or Alex Salmond. The good news for them is a vote for independence is neither a vote for the SNP nor a vote for Alex Salmond. It is a vote for democracy. If the Scottish electorate wish to vote for independence, we may later choose to elect a Labour, Liberal or even a Conservative government. That is what a democracy is. Democracy is not being ruled by a remote government that doesn’t reflect the preferences of the voters.
The Scottish Parliament has been a fantastic step towards achieving democracy in Scotland, but I believe we need to be independent, if we are to achieve a fairer society. Despite the fact that we currently have a parliament whose existence is overwhelmingly supported, many voted against Scottish devolution in 1979 and 1997 as many politicians actively campaigned against it. The most challenging thing is envisaging changes to our society, but after those changes take place it will be hard to imagine it any other way. Would anyone argue now that we should hand the decision making powers of Holyrood back to Westminster? I doubt it. Does anyone argue that the Irish, Americans or Australians shouldn’t have independence? No. Does Westminster waste any time claiming that the Republic of Ireland would have been better off if they had stayed in the Union? No. They are simply allowed to get own with running their own affairs.
In the UK at the moment we are in a situation where the needs of the Scottish people are not being met by Westminster. Democracy is when a people may elect the government that they choose, but the Scots did not vote for the current coalition.
We are sold the myth that we are a nation of scroungers, whose subsidised higher education and free prescriptions are a drain on the UK economy. It is attitudes such as these that tighten Westminster’s grip on the Scottish electorate, by convincing us that we are dependent on the UK state for economic stability. But the argument for independence should not simply be an economic one. As time goes on I am realising more and more that the differences between the needs of the Scottish electorate and the rest of the UK are becoming more nuanced. Since the autonomy of decision making that devolution has afforded us; it has become more apparent that we are a different society with different needs. The Scots choose to invest in their greatest commodity: people, and if that means providing them with free prescriptions and subsidised education, then it is nobody else’s business.
Like any partnership, it is ok to say that the UK has worked for us. It is also ok to say that it is not working for us anymore and we can all walk away, no hard feelings. We have long since passed the era of empire building, and I believe that an independent Scotland will be able to focus on providing local solutions to local problems, whilst still remaining a progressive partner in the EU and indeed the Commonwealth.
A concept that the Better Together campaign strongly promotes is the idea that the UK as a whole represents a ‘family’ and that we are more secure as a family unit, under one metaphorical roof. But there are many types of family, and a break in the Union of Parliaments does not mean that we will no longer be related. After all, we will still remain under the British monarchy. Despite the fact that we will no longer live under the same ‘roof’, we may still respect and support each other. If we applied Better Together’s notions of security to our own lives, we would be grown adults still living under our parents roofs, not exactly appealing to most. The kind of anxieties that crop up in the discussion of Scottish independence are parallel with the kind of anxieties that arise when we take the first steps to moving out of our parents homes: ‘Will I be able to manage on my own?’ ‘Will I be able to cope financially?’ Despite these anxieties we do not let them hold us back from taking a step our personal freedom, so why should the question of Scottish independence be any different? It should not. We should not be governed by fear.
That brings me to the problem of optimism. It seems like a rare trait in my peers. While I am glad that I do not belong to a generation of naïves, I do feel that there is a tendency toward and unhealthy scepticism. Whilst it is important to be sceptical to an extent, I feel that cynicism is not only the easy option for our generation, but also the fashionable one. A sense of ‘Why should I try and make a change, when it won’t make any difference anyway?’ is pervasive. This time, it can, it will. I’m joining National Collective, because, to use Nicola Sturgeon’s phrase, I don’t want to wake up and wish I had ‘done more’.
A vote No for independence is a vote of confidence for Westminster. It is a vote that says: ‘I like things the way they are, I don’t want them to change.’ I will be voting YES because I believe that things are not fine the way they are there, and that there is much to be gained from change.