Editorial: UK Establishment, I Am Your Failure

The system is broken. We know this. We’ve all known it our whole lives. Our politicians are stock material regularly referred to as clueless, corrupt, self-serving or all three. Evidence of why is repeated day after day. For some reason, now that the chance has come to radically change the system, some of us have either forgotten, or decided that we’re totally fine with it.

There was once a point when I wanted to vote No. I genuinely did my best to personally substantiate a vote for the Union. As hard as I tried though, the creeping positivity and total sense of the Yes case was hard to shake, and I continued to find nothing in a No vote worth voting for. What I aimed to do was explore the full meaning of both a Yes and a No vote. After all, both sides are not just defined by their political ramifications but sculpted by their campaigners and they are put into context when you examine where each draws its resources from. What I increasingly found hard to ignore was that there was a serious movement for Yes happening, and it was establishing a social and political narrative which could go down in history. No offered nothing even remotely close to such an opportunity.

As my slowly developing awareness of the diversity of the Yes movement started to grow, my faith in the No case dwindled at an even faster rate. Everything which I thought fleshed out the No argument had rotted away and what I was suddenly left with was a nightmarish vision of what is at the core of the Union and its efforts to squash the Yes vote: a superpower state seeking self-preservation, and a comfortable elite looking to maintain their positions and stabilise the neoliberal status quo. There is a reason there is no genuine grassroots movement for No, and there’s a reason Yes has seen an explosion in people power.

When I passionately rallied behind the Lib Dems in 2010 and watched their demise with a heavy heart, I didn’t put it down to the secret ulterior motives of Clegg and co. What I learned was that the system the UK operates by is so corrupt that at even the slightest possibility of positive reform it sucks up the perpetrator and spits them out into a buffered playdoll (complete with your own choice of tie).

I do believe that all of the major parties have honourable core attributes. Even the Conservatives. All of them however have become totally ingrained in a system which has regurgitated those attributes so repetitively that they now bear no passing resemblance to the social, political and economic values on which their support is formed. When I was young I watched the credibility of the Labour Party slowly disintegrate as they bent to the ideology of free market globalisation paved by their predecessors. I can understand the need for politicians to conform their acts to the various needs of the masses but that is a completely different thing to erasing all sense of unique political identity in favour of the politician brand as manufactured by global corporate interests. What this has produced is a singularly narrow field of political and economic ideology which, thanks to the institutionalised safeguards built around the electoral system, is nearly impossible to challenge.

This is the system which has so continually and so unfailingly detached itself from every aspect of the lives of ordinary people. The same system which has allowed one fifth of our children to fall below the poverty line. The one which has allowed the life expectancy of some areas to fall below those of warzones and sent thousands upon thousands of families to foodbanks, with the only proposed solution being a discussion panel. The same system vilifies multiculturalism and continues to let a failing war on drugs destroy communities and hold back meaningful scientific research. These are not acts of a single party or a single group of people, this is what our system does.

Regardless of who I’m speaking to about the referendum; Yes voters, No voters, undecideds, non-voters; the one thing everyone is without fail in agreement on is that Westminster and those who work there mean absolutely nothing to us. And when I say ‘us’, this has composed of all sorts of people from all sorts of different backgrounds. It’s all of us. It’s all of us who have had apathy instilled in us from an early age and, if the UK establishment has its way, this apathy is used as a means of non-participation. As playwright Kieran Hurley puts it:

“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.”

Those No voters who agree with this sentiment are often sceptical of a Yes vote because they see no reason that Salmond and the SNP won’t be exactly the same as the old guys. This is a very legitimate concern. To those of you with such a concern, remember that we can vote out the SNP the same year we go independent. Which is most likely to incur positive and engaging reform: a vote for a brand new era which actively discards the failed one and gives us the chance to establish new political narratives; or a vote which ultra-solidifies the status of the modern elite and guarantees the continuation of their failed system for another lifetime? There are so, so many in the Yes movement who share your concerns, and that is why the mass inclusion of Yes has so much potential. This is where we start to see not only how the Union has failed to grasp hold of those who genuinely hoped to defend it as a means of positive social change, but the success of the Yes movement in opening its arms to the disillusioned everywhere who have fallen hopeless.

What we need to determine is whether or not we are more able to make the possibilities which could build a better world a reality in a defunct, broken system, or in a new localised, proportional political model. If you’ve given up on politics because of how much it’s given up on you, why not take this chance to say that you matter, and that any chance of a system which might actually treat you with some respect is worth the effort?

The unfolding narrative of the Yes campaign has been fascinating to witness and life-changing to experience. It has become a movement of welcoming positivity, one which has unearthed the most buried away of hope. Those who continually but acceptingly suffered from the democratic deficit and the mega-globalised misgivings of the British state have suddenly found a way to express an immersive disappointment which they once accepted as inevitable. It has become such a regular occurrence of our daily lives that politicians and the system they perpetuate fail us that we have come to accept this mechanical, constantly reoccurring injustice to be as common and necessary as the sun rising. It doesn’t need to be this way.

If we take this once in a lifetime stand for our right to self-determination, then we have the chance to create and sustain a functioning democracy of mass participation. The success of Yestival and the Radical Independence Campaign is testament to Scotland’s ability to achieve this. If we don’t take this chance, we will be handing over our express-given rights to Westminster to mistreat us day after day, recession after recession, illegal war after illegal war. We will be saying that we accept the democratic deficit and the atrocities committed in its name, and that it can continue for as long as it likes because we’re afraid of what we might do without it.

The Yes movement is forming a platform for the most provoking, thoughtful and inspiring discussion over everything from national identity to the foundations of our political structures to mass explorations of our current selves in the global economic and political climate. Yestival is just nearing the end of a groundbreaking month long tour in which it has (entirely thanks to crowdfunding) taken the Yes movement to communities right across Scotland. It has individually reached out its hand throughout the nation and offered it to those who have felt their voice has been forgotten. It is a bastardisation of democracy that these communities have been forgotten amidst the global scramble for power and it is time we bring politics back to the local level and include all of Scotland’s voices. Yestival, and the grassroots efforts of the wider movement, is the first stage in this reclaiming of democracy. What this tour has achieved and what Yestival stands for is not only bold but it is the mark of a new era for Scottish politics, regardless of what happens on September 18th.

This is where the No campaign fail to offer such an inspiring option because it isn’t a campaign for anything. It is a wall built to hold back the tides of apathy, disillusionment and anger over centuries of mistreatment and political abandonment. Couple this passion for change with the socio-economic resources that Scotland has and we have the potential for something truly, truly, truly historic. This is not a regular election.

The UK establishment failed in offering a system which prioritises the good of the common people at home or abroad. I am not the only one who tried and failed to get behind a No vote. A Yes vote is a vote against the inward-trajectory of the current model which consistently bows to the mob mentality of far-right hatemongerers. It is a vote against the hideously skewed priorities of the establishment, and a vote for totally rethinking those priorities. It gives us the chance to favour the needs of the homeless, the poor, the single parents, the disabled, the weak, the young, the disillusioned, the refugees, the needy, and the rest of us, instead of making them the villains. Let’s not just offer charity to these people, let’s make them a crucial part of the rebuilding process. Turning down this chance so as to tame Alex Salmond’s ego (if that’s the angle we’re taking I’d be more focused on crushing David Cameron and Alistair Darling’s egos) or out of fear of how our Union partners might treat us otherwise would be a massive victory for the established elite. Voting No, even in the vague hope that the people who constantly betray us might offer ‘more powers’ in the future, would only consolidate the power of those who don’t give a shit about us. This consolidation of power wouldn’t just be damaging for Scotland, but for the rest of the UK who have also been forgotten about. It’s not just Scotland which needs change, it’s everyone.

Once I fully realised that a No vote was solely about preserving the power-over-welfare system of the UK, it was only a matter of time before I came to fully realise the wealth of Yes. Countless people of countless origins and beliefs and hopes uniting under a banner for something different from the usual monotony, coming together for the opportunity to create something new together, and recognising that whatever we end up producing, it has to be better than this. It can’t not be.

Hamish Gibson
National Collective


About Hamish Gibson

Hamish Gibson is an arts journalist studying English and Politics at Aberdeen University. National Collective Arts Editor and Scotland On Sunday new music columnist.

There are 2 comments

  1. Loki

    Good article. Obviously the root of the democratic malaise is privilege. Privilege is on a spectrum of sorts and works through all of us to the detriment of other people unless we become concious of it. To become concious means to stand as an ally with someone in their struggle by offering them the support they feel they need to amplify their message in whatever way they feel is appropriate. My experience for 15 years as an activist has given me valuable insights into how well meaning organisations can inadvertently dis-empower people by trying to manage or chaperone what they want to say about their own struggle. Very often organisations ward of charges of privilege by saying ‘If you don’t like what we do then do your own thing.’ Obviously though, this is another way of saying we are not as inclusive as we would like to be but we are not prepared to address it structurally. We see how privilege manifests in the media, who reflect life through a certain lens that most people do not see themselves in, same with arts and entertainment…and politics. This is what creates the feeling of people being out of touch. It’s the source of apathy and frustration but often we only perceive it when we are on the receiving end of it. It leads to movements issuing edicts to other movements about being out of touch while they themselves have house cleaning to do in order to fulfil the obligations they so passionately espouse. Privilege is about recognising you have assets and resources that could aid someone in their own struggle, who may lack the means to gain a voice in discussions dominated by the same perspectives I said earlier. A debate on the subject is something to be embraced and it can be profoundly transformational for all concerned. Many of the intellectuals I often see quoted regarding independence on various blogs also have much to say about the various subtle variants of privilege and how they manifest in movements dominated by certain perspectives. But this knowledge seems to fall on deaf ears at times which is worrying. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. These are the mechanics of imperial cultures and they are almost invisible to us until we are prepared to concede that they may in fact be working through us as well, despite all of our great intentions. We have a third sector based on this principle and it balloons every year as capacity in communities diminishes. I have had so many instances where I had to disentangle from groups which were designed to empower people like myself, because eventually they wanted to re-shape how I articulated my own struggle. They privately felt they knew better than I did about things I had experienced and they hadn’t. Not just around poverty but a whole manner of other things. It’s important to not only diverge from how things are conducted in the UK but also to be open to the fact all of our own structures emerged from the same British cultural soup, therefore can be prone to picking up some fundamentally unhelpful habits. I have been guilty in the past of not recognising, for example, my privilege over women and ethnic minorities. Disabled people and children. Now I try to be privilege concious and I make my values visible by using any platform I have, to articulate and relay the concerns of those I want to support…and I relay those concerns in the language of that particular struggle if those people cannot do it themselves. Class privilege is such a serious issue in culture up here but it’s difficult to have open discussion about it because those with the privilege are understandably defensive about accusations they are not upstanding and inclusive. Of course, nobody wants to get into personal attacks. But it’s difficult to watch some social movements be so critical of the privilege they can identify while being slow to respond positively to similar accusations being made against them. We can bring about real change by recognising we do not have to fear offering our platforms to those without voices or those who represent such communities. It makes for real, authentic, privilege concious activism which tackles the invisible forces at the very heart of the of the democratic crisis in Britain. I feel that any movement who has a national presence, also has a responsibility to demonstrate they are privilege concious by standing as an ally in a struggle they may not truly understand. For me the struggle has become the concept of privilege itself.

    1. Hamish Gibson

      Interesting post Loki. It is absolutely crucial that while we have these discussions, we continue to challenge the platforms on which these discussions are taking place and always hold any supposed ‘authorities’ to account. If anything we do is going to be part of a new radical democracy, it’s vital that no one gains a monopoly on discussion. We need to constantly refresh and reassess the grounds on which debate is taking place if we’re going to ensure that all voices are heard and included on a genuinely equal level (that is, not just asking for feedback from the usually undervalued but making them an equal part of the process).

      While I believe the discussions taking place now are great, I can’t even begin to imagine what might begin to unfold if a Yes vote transpires. Here’s to us all working together to make that happen.

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