Growing up to be independent


For me, deciding to support independence has been part of a process of growing up. Devolution has existed since I was 7. Scottish self-governance has always been noticeable yet unremarkable to my generation. It wasn’t until after my first Scottish vote – May of 2011 – that my thoughts were firmly focused upon Scotland’s constitution. During the following year, as the question of independence became real & I approached my final year at university, a number of ideas coalesced. Making decisions for yourself is the essence of growing up and it is the same for Scotland.

My ideas were personal and political. In policy terms, it became clear to me that the best current model (the Nordics), best parties (Greens, SNP, Scottish Labour) and best outcomes (democratic reform, action on inequality, global disarmament) were most likely to be empowered through independence. But my move towards voting ‘Yes’ was more than that.

I’ve noticed a common personal feature among independence advocates. It isn’t national identity. It’s a mindset.

Independence represents a state of confidence, ambition and hope. Confidence: that independence can be achieved through our collective talent, resources and solidarity. Ambition: that we aim to change the country, not merely the flag. Hope: that against the odds, the set-backs and the cynicism, a better Scotland can be built.

To myself this is a mindset of youthfulness. These are the feelings of a new opportunity, a new relationship or when you’re leaving home to join the world. It’s an idealism we have all felt personally at our highest points. While this optimistic desire for social change drives so many supporters of independence we can have confidence in Scotland’s future, however ill-defined the grounds for optimism remain.

I was split by that dichotomy of hope and evidence for hope. When I decided to support independence I called it “the greatest opportunity for political change in our lifetime.” Yet then and now that commitment and aspiration was built upon a fragile consensus. The Scottish Parliament had defended the NHS, education and social care from the worst disruptions of Westminster politics. Holyrood remains most confident when rejecting Westminster attacks on social security, rejecting tax cuts or rejecting tax rises. It is defensive. Yet there is also a steady progress in our political culture towards maturity: being defined by our solutions and not Westminster’s failures.

This is a great and lasting change. The Common Weal, Radical Independence, and most recently Scotland International represent Scotland growing up. The Common Weal has come closest to articulating the type of society that most Scots want. Its organisers have gathered wide public support (successfully crowd-sourcing £25,000 from small donations) and have achieved the improbable task of crossing fractious party political divides. Their policy work is thought-out and their messaging is accessible.

Radical Independence represents a new political force. That it has organised those on the left of centre, and done so on a positive platform, is perhaps a success in itself. With a focus on the referendum campaigning their slogans, sentiments and suggestions may take precedent over crucial detail. That is a challenge for the future. However, the democratic engagement and energy that it has provoked is cause for optimism.

A third fresh initiative is the think-tank Scotland International. With a broad range of academic supporters, SI will consider Scotland’s position within foreign affairs and global institutions. Could this have arrived at a more crucial time? Scotland may soon become an equal, independent nation and countless areas of international research remain open to new interpretations. Information from a non-party source will be extremely valuable in the months ahead.

In a similar way National Collective, this very grouping, represents an invigoration of Scottish politics. Phil Miller in The Herald wondered whether National Collective “represents the foundation of something new in Scotland, and long-needed, a collective, grassroots voice for and from the artistic world not tethered to existing institutions.”

The top of Scottish Labour remain strangely resistant to any form of change or free thinking; yet Mair nor a roch wind and Labour for Independence indicate a change from below.

I mentioned these organisations as they represent the growing confidence, diversity and stature of Scotland’s political community. They stand contrary to previous shallow political traditions of Scotland as a region or an infantile victim of Thatcherism. Constitutional developments do match this article’s metaphor. It is like growing up.

Like a child, Scotland’s status was recently one of dependence – on the Scotland Office and Westminster. In 1999 childhood’s curfew was lifted. Scotland, like a student, had some autonomy and money of its own. But let’s be honest – we still came home to do the laundry. Devolution, in many ways, is a student flat. It’s empowering and progressive, but ultimately temporary.

Now Scotland sits on the precipice of leaving paternalism behind. Before moving out and becoming an adult, there are doubts. It would, I hesitate, be easier to stay under the same warm blanket with steady cooked meals and rides to the train station. It would avoid the chaos, concern and uncertainty of change.

Yet with such stagnation you lose the opportunities to make you own decisions. Leaving adolescence should be a time for constructing your own bed, learning to cook and making your own way in the world. Independence is no different.

Whether Scotland has the confidence to take this decision remains to be seen. The medium to long term future is perhaps more enlivening.

Under the surface of the media headlines, public polling and party political posturing, Scotland is changing dramatically. A generational shift is occurring where many, many new voices share the desire for responsibility and self-governance in Scotland.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the impact of these organisations will be long lasting. That all the new intellectual and democratic energy, all the confidence, ambition and hope, all the new thinkers, writers and artists are on one side of the constitutional debate is an important signal. It’s a sign that Scotland is growing up. It’s a sign of the Scotland yet to come.

Michael Gray
National Collective



About Michael Gray

Michael studies politics at the University of Glasgow. He admires creativity, optimism and education. He desires peace, social justice and good parties.