Jemma Neville: Journey To Yes


On a recent journey, I read the historical romance ‘Winter in Madrid’ set in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 – 1939, where the central character, Bernie Piper, fights against fascism in the International Brigades. A chance conversation with my grandfather about the book revealed that three of my own ancestors – three brothers from Glasgow – also served in the International Brigade and all survived to tell the story. Except that their story wasn’t heard or retold down the generations because of the fear of association with perceived left-wing extremism in post-war Britain.

But here in Scotland in 2014, we aren’t shying away from our views. We’re starting to look around, at one another, and at ourselves and saying ‘Aye, yes’ a bit louder than ‘Aye, but’ or ‘I dinnae ken’. Aye to welcoming new people to Scotland, aye to living in harmony with our natural environment, aye to free childcare, aye to ending the gender pay gap, aye to rural land reform, aye to better mental and physical health, and aye to a rich and diverse expression of self through arts and culture.

Personal narratives are complex. We all have many. And feeling at home is an imagined construct of all these overlapping, interwoven and sometimes conflicting lived experiences. I want to live in a home country that welcomes multiculturalism, internationalism and generations of new Scots born of diverse heritage; not weighted down by the flag-waving, little-Scotlander tat of Brigadoon and Bannockburn.

My own journey to Yes has been one of slow, tentative steps. I went to my first National Collective session in April. An evening of poetry, beat-boxing and storytelling with young and old alike is my kind of politics. It is a creative, playful politics where 5 minute plays and Lady Gaga spoofs can attract those of us that are instinctively turned off by aggressive, masculine party politics and the debating chamber.

Yet this is serious stuff. Voting will be a head over heart decision. The Yes Scotland campaign momentum has won over the skeptical undecided like me to Yes with pragmatism over patriotism. It has been overtly Scottish in character – canny, cautious and creative. Contrary to how it is reported in the media, the Yes campaign is much broader than the SNP and a smug Alex Salmond, and includes the Green Party, many from Labour and those of no party political affiliation.

Among most declared ‘yes’ voters I know, the journey to get here has been a gradual one full of surprises and by no means a foregone destination. Scotland has changed forever in confidence, positivity and learning to let go since the start of the Referendum debate. But the Westminster bubble just doesn’t seem to get it.

It doesn’t get that devolution has brought internationally-recognised best in class policy making on human rights, climate justice and public health. The anti-immigrant, anti-disabled, anti-Europe blame culture of current UK politics that pits the poor against the prejudiced doesn’t resonate with our small, under-populated land of five million that famously boasts more pandas (2) than Tory MPs (1). And to northern England friends looking across the border with envy, you know that you’re welcome anytime.

It is time to recognise that small can be beautiful in a global, interconnected world. A new Scotland, free from the collective angst of democratic deficit could refocus its energies on the areas where we can truly make an impact – a socially just welfare state, universal education, sustainable energy – and to cut free of nuclear weapons, disproportionate military spend, and tax breaks for the privileged.

These are all things that I think Bernie Piper from the Winter in Madrid book would have agreed worth fighting for. As would my grandfather, but he’s voting no. And that’s another story.

Jemma Neville
National Collective

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