It’s easy to be wound into the intellectual badminton that the Independence Referendum has thrown up. Facts are batted back and forth like shuttlecocks, and all too often for observers outside of the political spectrum bubble, all that can be seen is petty debates over minutiae. It’s hard to be inspired to vote yes based on the fact that Scotland contributes 9.9% of tax revenue but only receives about 9.3% as a percentage of Government expenditure. So what? What does that mean? What impact does this have on the street-sweeper, doctor, nurse or secretary?
What both sides of the debate seem to completely miss is the fact that this debate is not just about the abstract notion of “further powers” for Holyrood or fiscal injustices. It’s hard to get people to vote Yes if we allow the narrative to be about the idea of separation and Scottish self-interest.
As a socialist I believe wholeheartedly in the idea of people coming together under a common cause. Shared prosperity in good times, and shared sacrifice during lean times is a cornerstone of what I believe. This idea is not mutually exclusive with independence and we in the Yes camp cannot allow this idea to take root. I do not want independence at the expense of the North of England, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. If we believe that Scotland contributes more to the UK as it receives, then we have to be careful that this is not conflated with the idea that we selfishly want to take back our money at the expense of the Yorkshireman, Londoner or Ulsterman.
Independence is, at its core, simply about taking power from London and giving it back to the people of Scotland. It has nothing to do with not wanting to pay to help fund a hospital in Cardiff or Londonderry. It is the people of Scotland being governed by the governments the people of Scotland choose. I share no less compassion with those in England than I do people in Oslo, Sydney or Dublin. Shared values do not end at the cliffs of Dover. Globalisation of the economy means that no country in the world is on its own. Even if we no longer share a central government with the RUK, we are no less connected to them. A vibrant, successful Scotland on the border with England would be no less helpful or compassionate than one which shared a central government. Money moves more easily than people do and a prosperous Scotland would no less see its gold trickle into England than it would the rest of the world – it would simply be the case that our wealth no longer poured straight into the economic black hole of London.
How, then, can we communicate this to people? These are ideas which seem completely esoteric from day-to-day life. What the debate needs is to be brought down to a human level. The debate needs to address issues that affect people in their everyday life – it needs human faces and real stories.
And so now I will speak a little of one of the reasons I, myself, will be voting Yes. This is not based on numbers, flag-waving or party-politics, it is about issues in my life which are profoundly affected by politics and which affect thousands of other people like myself.
My grandfather recently had a terrible fall, which resulted in a pretty severe head injury. Without divulging too much information, which I am not at liberty to do so, he now requires 24 hour care from professionals, because he is no longer capable of looking after himself due to dementia any physical ill health. I do not come from a wealthy family. We could never afford to pay for a private care home or private carers. We could never afford private healthcare to look after my grandfather and treat him when he fell. We could never afford to support him financially after he retired. Yet, when he fell, the NHS was there to treat him. When his dementia set in and he could no longer look after himself, thanks to the Scottish Government’s introduction of free personal care for the elderly, my grandfather was cared for. When he retired, the state helped support him so he could retire with dignity.
When people speak of government cuts, NHS cuts and pension cuts, these do not happen to faeries. They happen to people like my grandfather. People who have worked all their lives and deserve to be treated with dignity in their old age. People who are hurt and vulnerable, and in need of care and treatment.
It is easy to ignore statistics but we need to remember there are always victims behind these numbers, people like my grandfather. We in Scotland completely rejected austerity, and thanks to devolution we have been able to mitigate the suffering of our most vulnerable. However, with Westminster’s continuing privatisation, the Barnett formula will be directly affected and our block grant, with which we pay for all of the wonderful services we offer in Scotland, will have to be slashed in line with Westminster’s brutal austerity. This means people like my grandfather being kept in hospital beds because there aren’t available carers to treat him at home, or waiting in A&E for hours because there aren’t enough nurses or doctors. It means people having to choose between eating and heating in the winter because of cuts to pensions. It means our brightest minds being burdened with debt to pay for tertiary education which, in turn, will almost certainly mean people from backgrounds like mine will be put off chasing their dreams for fear of fiscal chains in later life. More often than not, this will mean people abandoning the arts in favour of more profitable ventures. To quote Sören Faika, president of the Asta student union at Hamburg , “if Germany cannot afford to let its students study Egyptology or Hungarian literature – then where can?” The street-sweeper, nurse and state-employed secretary will face redundancy as councils make cutbacks. The unemployed man will have to stretch his meagre allowance even further and the disabled will continue to be stigmatised and bled dry.
This is what the referendum debate needs to be addressing. We need to tell people that it affects each and every one of us in profound ways. We need human faces and stories just as much as we need the facts and figures to justify what we are all trying to achieve. We did not vote for this government but its actions threaten the well-being of every single person in this country – you, me and my grandfather – who in 50 years could be any one of us. Unless we have control over our own resources and complete power over our own affairs we cannot guarantee that money will not be spent building redundant nuclear weapons instead of hospitals and schools. Yes, independence might be difficult, and yes, things might go wrong. We can’t guarantee everything will turn out well – but we can guarantee that, whatever happens, it will be our choices that shape the future of our country, and nobody else’s.
Magnus Rory Jamieson