Keith McIvor (Optimo): Independence Offers The Possibility To Start Again


There have been endless pieces online about people’s “journey” from being a No voter to becoming a Yes voter. The internet probably doesn’t need any more but I’m going to write one anyway as my journey was perhaps longer than most and took around 30 years.

I have never been in favour of nationalism and I made my mind up that I would vote No to independence pretty early on. It was probably some time in the mid 1980s. Since then i have had countless, usually good natured, but on occasion very heated arguments about it. As I got older my dislike of nationalism only grew, until it is probably fair to say I could be described as ultra anti-nationalist and i would have been very happy to appear in any imagined “top 5 Scots least likely to vote Yes” list. I still think of myself as opposed to nationalism. I think the notion of nations is an outdated historical anomaly that seems out of step with the the world we live in and the world I spend a large part of my working life travelling around and experiencing. However, a bit over year ago, after much thought, soul searching and engaging with the debate I did a u-turn and am now very much a Yes supporter. In fact I find it very hard to come up with a single reason why voting no makes any sense to me anymore. I managed to overcome being blinded by nationalism. I still don’t like the SNP but I no longer scream abuse at the television any time Alex Salmond appears and have developed a very grudging respect for him. I will however almost certainly not be voting for his party in an independent Scotland.

Having lofty ideals is all very well but perhaps the one benefit I have accrued from getting older is being less dogmatic and more pragmatic in my view points. To some my views (which seem very tame and benign to me) might seem extreme; I’m of a federalist persuasion and believe central govt. is inefficient, doesn’t address the needs of the people, is wide open to corruption and abuse of power and is ultimately undemocratic. I believe that communities know how best to look after the interests of the people who live in them and thus government should be decentralised as much as possible (in this regard, independence doesn’t go far enough for my liking but is at least a step in the right direction). I am opposed to our current voting system and was very disappointed when the (flawed) UK Alternative Vote referendum failed in 2011.

For me, independence offers the possibility to start again with a new, more democratic, decentralised govt. that does away with the first past the post voting system and the totally undemocratic House of Lords. I’m not naive enough to think it is going to be perfect and I will probably remain cynical of politicians motives for all my days. But again, it is a start and a move in the right direction which for me has absolutely nothing to do with nationalism, flag waving or Scotland vs. England. I love England and the English and we will always have a shared history and culture. To me it is like people who have shared a flat together for a long time wanting to live in their own place but still remaining great friends.

I actually have to give thanks to the Better Together campaign for helping me get to this point. Their very name is what made me really think about this all on a completely different level. Are we better together? If so, why doesn’t it feel as if anything is getting better, or even vaguely feel that it might possibly get better somewhere down the line? It seems fairly bad to me. Our present government is at war with the poor, at war with the very idea of a welfare state, we are becoming increasingly xenophobic and insular and we have the rise of the anti-multi cultural UKIP with their false nostalgia for a Britain that never really existed to begin with. I used to argue that independence was a short term solution to this but really, how long am I expected to wait for a good government? The vast majority of my life has seen terrible government I didn’t vote for in power. My vote in UK elections just feels worthless.

Politicians and the media do their utmost to instill in us a sense of dread and fear at every turn. Better Together have used fear as their primary weapon of choice. They have tried to make us think that we Scots aren’t smart or capable enough to look after our own affairs; a nonsense! They have tried to convince us an economic maelstrom is potentially just around the corner. I’m not an economist but I do have an economics degree, so am able to appreciate that a lot of what they say in this regard is pure speculation. Nobody knows what the future will hold. There will always be completely unpredictable forces at play and it is thus also impossible to predict what possible economic maelstroms might also hit us if we remain in the UK.

I believe independence will be good for the Scottish economy. At present we have one of the lowest levels of entrepreneurial activity in Europe. Independence will hopefully bolster our self confidence and lead to a huge increase with that regard. It will also hopefully help stem the brain drain to London which sucks out so much of our talent. We are a smart people with one of the most highly educated populations on the planet. Modern economics was born here along with a host of world changing philosophies, ideas and technologies. The very idea that we are not capable of doing this is laughable.

The EU issue was also instrumental in winning me over. Again, I have issues with any form of central govt. that has a one shoe fits all policy for hundreds of millions of people in different places. But, despite its flaws i am a fervent supporter of the EU, in large part for historical reasons. For me, the most important reason for having the EU is one of the very reasons it exists; to prevent war. Europe has the bloodiest history of any continent and while it seems unimaginable that we could have conflict on our doorstep again, history tells us it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility and of course we are currently seeing it on the fringes of Europe. Countries in economic union tend not to go to war with each other.  That seems like a fairly simple and good enough reason to remain in the EU. It is very possible the UK will vote in a few years to leave the EU and the idea of living in an isolationist UK outside the EU is not somewhere i would be happy to be.

I also don’t want to live somewhere that has nuclear weapons on my doorstep. I don’t want convoys of nuclear weapons sneakily driving through the streets of Glasgow in the wee small hours. These weapons are abhorrent, mind-blowingly expensive and unnecessary. We do not need a nuclear deterrent. The vast majority of countries on this planet and indeed most of our European neighbours manage just fine without such a deterrent. They have to go. I hope getting rid of them leads to debate in England and they stand up and refuse to have them on their doorstep too. I also don’t want to live in a country that partakes in illegal wars against the will of the people. The UK is a small country and in this era is a minor player that feels compelled to punch above its own weight and have a seat at the top tables. That time is past but the powers that be are not prepared to grasp that fact and are happy to kowtow to whatever US policy dictates.

I have always despaired at the short term thinking of our leaders who never think much beyond the next election.  We need to think what legacy we are going to leave to future generations. We are at the dawn of the post-oil age and Scotland is ideally placed to take full advantage of renewable energy. Renewable energy has to be the way ahead and we have 25% of the potential European wind and wave capacity right here in Scotland. It might seem a pipe dream to some but this could easily become a vast part of our future economy, something we could lead the world in and be a positive legacy for the planet and future generations. Our descendants will thank us.

Solidarity with people in the rest of the UK who also seek change was a major sticking point for me too. However, I don’t believe the rest of the UK is destined to eternal Tory rule and think that what happens in Scotland will have a seismic and positive effect on the political landscape in the rest of the UK. Hopefully the notion of regional assemblies (but with actual powers) will come to the fore again and England will see power devolved to the regions. Hopefully what happens here will help shake people out of the understandable apathy they have to engendering change.

Most of all though, there are two words that make me believe this is the right way forward. I was a great admirer of the late Donald Dewar and he never stopped saying these words. They are of course “Social Justice”. Put together those two words form one of the most beautiful things in the English language. I believe that the majority of Scottish people, no matter what their political persuasion feel strongly that those two words are an important thing, worth fighting for. Our current system acts like they are dirty words worth expunging. We don’t know what our future holds. We may be a little worse off, we may be a little better off, we might not notice any difference, but for me social justice is more important than how many consumer goods I will be able to afford to buy. It is something I’d be happy to pay for as i believe it is beyond any monetary value.

There are mere days left to the referendum. I absolutely think it is possible for Yes to win but I don’t think anyone devoting their time to point scoring or bickering with those on the No side is going to help in any way. How many thousands of hours have been devoted to pointless arguing that isn’t going to make an iota of difference to the outcome of this referendum that could instead have been devoted to the more positive endeavour of informing undecideds of all the facts and perhaps persuading them to vote Yes? If I can persuade even one person to vote Yes between now and the 18th it will have been time well spent. Positivity should always win the day.

This has been an incredible time to live in Scotland. The media may be full of horror stories about how the debate has been conducted but for the vast majority of Scots it has been conducted with great decorum and an incredible vibrancy. Passions have been high but people have had a genuine thirst to be informed like never before. So many people with no previous interest in politics are now deeply knowledgeable about all sorts of issues. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle in Scotland now and it can never be the same again, no matter what the result is and there is a palpable sense that something has changed here, permanently. It can be felt in the pubs, in the clubs, in the shops and in the streets. Even more exciting times are just around the corner.

Keith McIvor (JD Twitch)
National Collective


About Keith McIvor

Keith McIvor (aka JD Twitch) is one half of Optimo. He is a dj, producer, record label owner and former Labour Party supporter.

There are 6 comments

  1. Gettin Oot

    Well put, Keith! I can’t vote, but will be watching with interest over here. I’m taking it you never made it to Venezuela? Moved on now (but not too far…) – would be good to catch up next time I’m home 🙂

  2. elainesk

    Great piece! As 40 years a Labour voter but last 3 as Yes supporter, I related a lot to what you said. I could only describe my last 10/20 years in Labour as being conditioned and I think our hatred of Alex Salmond/SNP stemmed from the obsessive hatred ScotLabour had for them. When I stepped out box I had to put my hand up and recognise SNP in the ScotGov were doing a pretty good job and I too stopped looking at him as the devil himself. I actually have respect for him as a leader now,when I listen to my party leader or any other party leader in UK they all bumble through what they say and just don’t come across as trusting or believing in anything they say. I want a grassroots Labour leader with socialism at its heart and a person of principles. I think John Smith was the last of that kind in Labour.

  3. Jason Grinstead

    Multiculturalism is a quick tonic to political instability, but I like the general message of the article. Cultural liberals tend to deny human nature on a cultural level, because they cant think beyond a personal level. Its easy to do.

  4. Rodger Barnes

    You seem to have given this a lot of thought over a long period but I’m amazed at some of your conclusions. I have been a No voter and probably still am but I’m still listening and there to be swayed. However…

    …so instead of having one Central Government in this small island of ours, lets have 2. Or would you see local councils ultimately having some control over welfare and taxation? Devo Max seems to go a long way to provide power in Edinburgh.

    What “seems fairly bad to you”? We’ve just come through hopefully the worst global recession most of us will see in our lifetimes. So, yes, there has been austerity but would an independent Scotland have prospered during the last 6 years? Or would we have been sound and financially secure that we would have been immune to it. Our banks had a lot to do with the implosion and could we have saved them outwith the UK?

    “Your vote in the UK elections just feels worthless”. But unless you vote for the party who forms an independent Scottish Government your vote will seem equally useless.

    So we have the lowest levels of entrepreneurial activity in Europe. Surprises me but what on earth makes you think the Scots who are lacking that drive will come out of their shells in hordes with greater confidence and vigour?

    I dont want nuclear weapons on my doorstep but have they had any impact over the last several decades in keeping our island safe? We may not need a nuclear deterrent any more but I’m not so sure. Pakistan. Korea, Iran. Are these countries we can trust not to turn on us or do we just call on the US should we need a protector against them?

    The UK is a small country. Great Britain is even smaller but together we are punching above our weight and I think there can be pride in that. I really dont think an independent Scotland or England on it’s own will have much say in the global community.

    I could go on ranting about the costs of a renewables programme and the investment required for wind and wave to replace fossil and nuclear.

    Or what you see as a lack of ‘social justice’ when we have free education; free prescriptions; free travel for senior citizens; and soon to have free child care that I cannot understand how we can afford.

    I do believe this debate has empowered Scots and the genie is truly out of the bottle but I certainly feel the UK overall has taken notice of any grievances we feel and with more powers to our elected government in Edinburgh, more exciting times are just around the corner. But I think it should be together – as one island

    1. JD Twitch

      Rodger, thanks for the reply.

      I’ll try to address all your points.

      No, I wouldn’t like to see several governments in Scotland but there is no reason why more powers for certain key decisions couldn’t be devolved to the regions of Scotland. As an example, i don’t necessarily think Holyrood is best placed to have the optimum understanding of what say the Western Isles transport needs might be, and some decisions that are currently made at a national level would be better devolved to a regional level, in my opinion. As I say, I am a federalist at heart so think devolving as much power as possible to regions is a positive thing. How far that devolution would go (i.e. relating to welfare and taxation), only time would tell but all of this is of course at present idle chatter completely dependent on who was in power in an independent Scottish govt. and what their policies might be.

      What seems fairly bad to me? Well, rather than write a long tirade you may completely disagree with, I’ll ask you to take 4 minutes and watch this short film about Maryhill Foodbank –

      I am fortunate. Things aren’t bad for me, but I find it very hard to live in a country where such massive differences in wealth exist and where the poor are often belittled or treated like pariahs. Of course I don’t think we are going to see an instant transformation where food banks no longer exist but I think we have a greater chance of reaching a point where we have a society without them in an independent Scotland.

      Regarding my vote being worthless in an independent Scotland if the person i vote for doesn’t form an independent Scottish Government; i disagree. With proportional representation there is far more likelihood the party I vote for would be represented. Say I was to vote Green. In a UK election, there is almost certainly zero chance (at present) that my vote would result in any Green MPs, but with PR there is a strong chance I would see some Green representation in a Scottish Parliament. PR is also more likely to lead to coalition govts. where even a marginal party is more likely to have some influence if it is making up part of that coalition.

      I believe that is correct about the level of entrepreneurial activity. I think there would be an increased confidence in an independent Scotland that would lead to more people taking a risk with a new business. It has certainly happened in Slovakia and I’ll put my money where my mouth is and add that I intend to start a new business here post independence. Of course nothing is ever certain and it would be a fool’s errand to say “This WILL happen” but i feel a strong confidence about it.

      With regard to nuclear weapons, as i say in my piece, the vast majority of countries (95%) manage just fine without them. Of all our European neighbours, only one has them. We seem to have them as a matter of some misguided prestige so we can be in an elite club I personally want no part in. Taken to the level of a simple cost-benefit analysis, I’d also add that I simply don’t feel we can afford them.

      Yes, huge investment over a long period will be required for a renewable programme but we will reap the rewards of that investment. It is something that will have to be invested in one day whatever (unless there is a miracle breakthrough with nuclear fusion), so why not start investing now?

      On some points, I don’t think there is any point arguing. Punching above our weight in the global community when that involves being in illegal wars will never make sense to me and regarding how we can afford more social justice, well again, I mention in my piece that that is more important to me than my personal wealth and is something I’d be prepared to pay for. I completely respect if you feel you wouldn’t be prepared to do that. But, I am also pragmatic and some things that are currently free I don’t think should be. I don’t understand why I should get free prescriptions. I can (at least currently) afford to pay for them and think I should pay, and that the subsidy I am thus receiving would be better deployed elsewhere.

      Anyway, it was good discussing with you in a civilised manner. I’m sure I haven’t swayed your view but i appreciate that you took the time to read my piece and articulate an intelligent and thought provoking response. May this kind of discourse continue long after Thursday, no matter what the result!

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