Callum Baird: Westminster Has Failed Us Too Many Times To Trust Them Now


Reader, we have been underestimated. “One week to save the Union!” cried three different newspapers. “Nothing else matters in British politics,” blustered the Guardian’s front-page comment piece. A dusty-looking Gordon Brown has been wheeled creaking out of his Fife shed. The three amigos have crossed the Rio Grande.

Well, hello there. At last, it seems, we have your attention. But are you listening?

I suspect not. On the paper review show of one of the rolling news channels on Saturday night, the panel – no Scots – struggled to dissect the 51-49 YouGov poll. “Why is this happening?” the baffled presenter asked. The pundit tried to explain to him, in a roundabout way, that the nation has been hoodwinked. Madness has taken over! Unable to comprehend why would we possibly want to go it alone, the experts floundered. Their reasoning became wilder and wilder, until it slipped past parody.

The presenter brought up the subject of young voters. “What we need to be wary of,” declared the male pundit – and I’m paraphrasing here – “is that all these youngsters think this whole thing is a bit of fun, a bit of a laugh, and not realising that independence is for good.”

Ah, it was enough to drive anyone to anger. Putting aside that Yes appeared to be ahead in nearly every age group, it could not simply comprehend that our youth – and I do still cling to it myself – is invigorated, the fire put in their belly. No, it must be ignorance the fuel, the folly of the young – surely we will grow out of it. From a distance, it seems, the scope of our marvellous political and cultural surge is still difficult to grasp.

Now, the full force of London’s economic might is being thrown at us, urging us to take a backwards step. “We will move our headquarters!” the bankers shout from beneath bowler hats. “Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.” To listen to some newspapers, we will be cast back hundreds of years – we built this kingdom together, you know! – and all that will be left once the ballot papers settle is to take the dirt track south each spring, gape at the shiny motorcar and trade our beads and tartan wool for the secret of gunpowder.

Some tactics work better than others. A friend of a friend – a Scot – works in politics, in the capital. He despairs; he cannot understand why we would ‘abandon’ them. The only way we can fix the union, he pleads, is from within. Many people have lost faith in this government, he says, but there is a general election coming: things will change.

His is perhaps the argument that Better Together – or Labour, at least – should have made from the start. Perhaps they could have been straight with us, explained that by taking for ourselves the oil revenues, we would abandon our neighbours in the working-class towns of the northern south to the grip of fiercer austerity. It might have better appealed to our sensibility. Instead, we were to be cowed, and the price is being paid.

Westminster has failed us too many times. No matter how many promises they make about things changing, old speeches that grew into lies have proven that they won’t. It is said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, fear must surely be doing the same thing over and over again, expecting the same poor results, just grateful that things haven’t got any worse. Except that they have.

And people, unexpectedly and suddenly, are coming round. Every day, emerges a new variant of the same story. “I couldn’t believe it,” someone will smile. “My mum/dad/aunt is now voting yes, he/she was always a no!” Remember, nobody is beyond changing their mind. The last few weeks have been filled with so many wonderful surprises, as some of the most hardened, staunch, everyday opponents of independence swing over to the other side.

The referendum will not be lost on the front pages. It will be won on the high street, on a rainy doorstep, out the back of work on a cigarette break, on the phone to an old friend, in the queue at the self-checkout – unexpected Yes in bagging area – at lunch in your parents’ house, on the five-a-side pitch; at a kitchen party in the early hours.

If there is one thing that has stood out, in this past few weeks, it is this: the conversion to Yes does not come as a whisper, but as a roar. Scots are discovering that once they’ve made the decision, they wanted to make it all along. This is not a shift in attitude, a swither from one party to another, a plump for the better option.

It is the firm, joyful choice of hope over fear.

Yes is an awakening. It is a click; it is emerging from a grey dream. There is no going back; once you leap, you can only land somewhere else. But we cannot be complacent, and nor will we be. We must have too much energy, too much enthusiasm, to suffer the downfall of our opponents.

I was never a No voter. There was no Eureka moment, no leap up out of the bath. Just the slow realisation that a world I once thought closed – politics, or society, even – was open to be explored. A small difference, suddenly, was there to be made.

For some, this movement has been a long-running battle, through dark and drawn-out years. “For decades they’ve looked down their noses,” a friend admitted, sensing that an end might be near. I cannot imagine that feeling, though I do envy it.

This isn’t something that I have fought for my whole life. I’ve done my best, of late, like others, like hundreds of thousands. It might, just might, be enough. We must make sure of it.

Callum Baird
National Collective