I was recently invited by Jenny Lindsay of National Collective to come along to one of their open Edinburgh Sessions and present a talk for five to ten minutes on my Journey to Yes.
I was delighted to be asked, but I didn’t really have a clear journey as such, more a whole host of reasons. Some of these reasons are more long standing, others are newer, and have grown through engaging with this debate we’ve been having, bringing my own doubts, concerns, hopes, and anxieties into dialogue with other people’s points of view and with the information that is available. I started to jot down these reasons, and finished the job on the train to Edinburgh for the event. I came up with 25. They’re in no particular order, I’m sure there are others, I’ve certainly paraphrased other people I admire here, but here they are. My 25 reasons for voting Yes.
1. Because there is nothing inherently isolationist or inward looking about choosing to elect your own government.
2. Because if Labour or any of the other unionist parties were really serious about wanting to see more devolution within the UK, they wouldn’t have united to remove this option from the ballot paper.
3. Because people say there are more artists voting yes because artists tend towards imagination, hope, and possibility rather than a kind of level-headed rational pragmatism.
Because that’s supposed to mean we don’t really know what we’re talking about, not like proper grown ups. But I say if the outcome of this so-called pragmatism of yours is the brutalising logic of failed austerity then maybe it’s time to listen to the artists.
4. Because we’re not going anywhere.
5. Because sure, I like David Bowie, but not that much.
6. Because the Radical Independence Conferences have been the biggest, most hopeful, most active gatherings of the organised and unaffiliated left in Scotland in my lifetime.
7. Because the NHS is important. Because defending working class gains of all kinds is vital and urgent.
Independence should be viewed as a first line of defence against the relentless advance of twenty-first century neoliberalism.
8. Because solidarity with the rest of the UK does not necessitate outsourcing democracy.
There will be many who tell you that independence amounts to us turning on our backs on the rest of the UK. That it is selfish. That it is an act of abandonment. That there is more that unites us than divides us. That ordinary people in Edinburgh and Glasgow have more in common with ordinary people in Liverpool than we do with the Duke of Buccleuch. Well on that last point they’re right. And we also have more in common with ordinary people in Dublin, Madrid, Chicago, Malmo, Auckland, than we do with the Duke of Rothesay, or Argyle, or Devonshire, or the Duke of frankly anywhere for that matter. Because what kind of genuine internationalism can be based upon the idea that the people you have most in common with are those you share a border with? People living in Scotland will still bolster pickets in England, we will still support movements for social justice in the rest of the UK after independence. There is nothing at all about solidarity that demands lasting political union. There is a better way for us to be neighbours, and it’s within our reach.
9. Because what’s so precious about a centuries old undemocratic political agreement made in the interests of Empire, capital, and war anyway?
10. Because I’m not a nationalist.
Okay, here’s an anecdote I once heard about Basque anarchists. In this anarchist community there was a clear division on the issue of Basque separatism. One large faction simply could not fathom why their comrades were willing to ally themselves to the cause of nationalism, the idea of a nation state being in their minds inherently oppressive and utterly contrary to their no borders ethos. The other group explained that they were siding with the Basque separatists because it represented a clear, material stepping stone towards localising democracy and reforming the political system to better empower communities, and also because any attempt to maintain and preserve the imperialist capitalist monarchist Spanish state in its current form has to be viewed with the utmost suspicion. This describes my feelings towards Scottish independence and the British state almost exactly.
11. Because I’m uncomfortable with using the word “evil” but if there is one place it can probably be accurately applied it is in describing weapons of mass destruction.
Because justifying their existence anywhere and on any terms is disgusting, but justifying keeping them an hour’s drive from my flat because it is “suitably remote” is nothing short of a personal insult.
12. Because so much of the worst of what has been inflicted on the people who live in Scotland has been done so by governments that they did not vote for.
Someone explain to me how this is okay again? Someone please explain to me how, even in the hyper accelerated idiocy of the current state of global affairs this is to be considered normal and right in a so-called democracy.
13. Because if it does lead to more autonomy for Shetland and for Orkney then that’s obviously a good thing. Because localising democracy is a great thing to do.
14. Because I’m not a patriot.
Because there is nothing about the accident of birth of being Scottish that I think I can be particularly proud of. We’re not somehow better than people who are born in or who live in any other geographically and politically defined population of people. But we’re not any worse either.
15. Because it just might be the best thing to happen to the English left.
Because what are the alternatives here? Reform Labour so that it functions as a genuine party of socialism? Seriously consider the chances of that. Honestly weigh that up. The current system serves no-one well, allowing a complacent Labour party to continually capitulate to a Tory agenda in order win votes in England, in the belief that its Scottish votes are safe. An independent Scotland could influence the political paradigm in the rest of the U.K. much more positively than it currently can within a union in which it has had a more or less negligible influence on the make-up of government since the war. It seems to me that more and more people in England are coming round to this idea. As one Londoner friend recently said to me, “let’s face it, something has to shift, right?”
16. Because climate change is so urgent that any opportunity we might have of voting in a government that might even remotely take this fact seriously should basically outweigh everything else on its own.
17. Because you probably need to take a long difficult look at yourself if you think that carrying a different passport from someone will be a barrier to your closeness.
18. Because we’re not drawing a new border, it’s already there.
Okay, so ideally we wouldn’t have borders at all. Borders are inherently oppressive and nation states are not really a mode of organising that I’m all that gung-ho about to be perfectly honest. But the choice we make in September is not between independence and a borderless global community. It’s between independence and an increasingly isolationist British state which is out of step with feeling in Scotland, and in which all the main parties adopt a line on immigration that is a response, on some level, to an agenda being forced by racists in UKIP.
19. Because if you pick up the White Paper and turn to page 271, in the section on immigration policy you’ll find these words: “in an independent Scotland we will close Dungavel.”
20. Because fuck the Tory Party. Because fuck New Labour, because fuck the Liberal Democrats, and fuck Westminster.
There. That’s a reason. Because the thought of David Cameron crying in to his cornflakes makes me happy. Because it would have made Thatcher furious. Because all the hereditary landowning peers in the House of Lords can go to hell. This might sound like childish and petulant reasoning for such a hugely important decision, but it’s not. When a political system has alienated you and the people around you so thoroughly and for so long, wanting to rip it up and start again is a perfectly reasonable response. The super-rich are voting No, and that should tell us all something about whose interests this union serves. Hit the reset button folks, the game has crashed.
Roch the win i the clear day’s dawin
Blaws the clouds heilster-gowdie ower the bay
But thair’s mair nor a roch win blawin
Thro the Great Glen o the warl the day
22. Because Lord George Robertson says it would be the collapse of the western world.
He’s wrong of course, but looking at his priorities as an imperialist capitalist Lord who was secretary general of Nato, if he were right I can’t help but think I’d possibly even be quite pleased.
23. Because UK politics is trapped inside its own sense of helplessness.
We have a task of engaging in massive democratic renewal at a time of deep political skepticism. It’s exciting. For the first time in my life it’s actually exciting.
24. Because nothing of what I’ve said here is idealistic pie in the sky. Because everything I’ve said here is based on real material possibility.
Of course nothing is given, of course it all needs to be fought for, of course a mere constitutional shift, however major, is not going to bring about the answers in and of itself. Of course in many ways it involves compromise, of course, like anything worth doing, it is a risk. Not all of the stuff that I hope independence can help bring about will be brought about. But some of it will, if we’re willing to work for it. Yes at times it will be messy, uncertain, perhaps even ugly. But isn’t that how the current political system feels anyway? For the first time in many of our lives there is an actual reasonable chance of implementing some of the changes we might want to see, an opportunity that frankly isn’t on offer in the current set up. There are no guarantees, the future is always an unknown quantity, and yes, unionists will tell us that “there is no magic porridge pot.” But to build even a marginally better society, we don’t need a magic porridge pot when we have something closer to a democracy that enables the will of the people. Which brings me to my final point…
25. Because I am a realist.
Photograph by David Wilson Clarke