Empowering the Scottish Imagination

Journalists and statisticians are keen to decipher who exactly supports Scottish independence by dividing people by gender, age group or class. We’re told men are more likely to vote Yes than women. The working classes are more likely than the middle classes. But I wonder if it’s a far more complex issue than these simple categories might suggest. Support or opposition to independence probably has more to do with a person’s emotions, life experiences and personality than any affiliation to gender, class or age groups.

There is the traditional analysis that people’s hearts say Yes but their heads say No. People are natural Scottish patriots at football and rugby matches but are prevented from taking it to a political level because of economic worries. This is perhaps the case for some people, but not all. In fact the reverse is true for many. People’s heads say Yes but their hearts say No. People like the logic of self-government but don’t want to abandon their family in Newcastle or betray the sacrifices of the wars. Unity is soft. Separation is harsh.

I was listening to the children’s writer Lari Don speaking at a meeting of artists this week. Her interpretation was that the idea of separation was a natural eventuality for children. We grow up and move away from our parents. It’s not because we hate them. It’s because it’s the natural thing to do. Not all separation is bad separation. Not all separation is ugly divorce. It’s about becoming your own person. It’s about finding your own voice.

“Devolution is just moving out but still taking your washing home,” she said.

There are some who will vote No just because they don’t want to step out of line. There are some who will vote No because they are frightened of the unfamiliar. There are others who will vote Yes just because they can’t deal with being patronised, or because they don’t like being underestimated. Some people are more adventurous than others. I wonder for example how many independence supporters are the eldest child, or the middle child or the youngest child. I wonder how many unionists would call themselves risk-takers. I wonder what it is about a life of writing that makes so many Scottish authors support self-government. These personality traits are probably more telling of people’s politics than any other social group categories.

The independence campaign thus far has been obsessed with economics. Of course, ask people what their concerns are and they’ll say money. But I’m not convinced this is really what’s underlying people’s resistance to independence. We need to give people confidence. When people get into the polling booths in 2014 the economic arguments will probably vanish and they’ll settle for their instincts. There’s nothing wrong with that. We have to turn people into instinctive independence supporters with culture, confidence and empowerment. Relentless talk about money and statistics will wear out our imaginations.

The emotion that gives us the fear of the unknown is the same emotion which gives us the excitement of the new. It’s two sides of the same coin. We just need to persuade people to adopt the more optimistic mind set. Our best hope of achieving this is to use emotion in culture and art. Some people in politics recoil at emotion because the modern world is run like a machine and emotion is seen as backwards or irrational. It isn’t.  It’s human.

This is the challenge for the creative campaign, and it’s a big one. There is an established notion in some areas of the Yes movement that the arts campaign should focus on the celebrities and the big names. But I think this is an unhelpful way of thinking about creativity. Elitism is the enemy of art. It is the responsibility of our campaign not to convince people of the creativity of celebrities, but to convince people of their own creativity. That is what will really empower people.

Empowerment will not come from bombarding people with economics, or bombarding people with big names. We need to let people empower themselves, instead of forcing empowerment upon them. Give people the arguments and give people the creative movement, but let them reach their own conclusions based on their own emotions and their own stories.

The cultural case for independence isn’t about taking Scotland beyond to patriotic extremes. It’s about taking Scotland up to a level of normality and self-respect. We haven’t quite reached it yet. But we’re getting there.

Andrew Redmond Barr
National Collective