Urte Macikenaite, Student: I Believe In A Society Where People Are Empowered


When people ask me where I’m from, the answer always takes at least a couple of minutes. I’m from Lithuania, where I was born. I’m from a number of cities and small towns in the US where I was raised. I’m from Edinburgh, where I’ve spent four years and now feel most at home, and from North Berwick, where my family now lives. I also hope to wake up on September 19th and know that I’m from the independent country of Scotland.

My status as an international student has put me £20,000 pounds in debt, and that’s in addition to working all through university and all the help my family could give me. Still, studying here made much more financial sense than staying in the US for university, where I would have been charged fees of up to £40,000/year. Last year, my family moved to Scotland, and my sister, who has three years left of school, will get the “privilege” of free education when she graduates in two years time. But that’s just it, I don’t believe education is a privilege. Education is a public good which benefits all of society, and everyone should pay for it. Access to education opens countless doors of economic opportunity, decreases overall levels of poverty, and helps minimize the race, class, and sexual divides which still pervade every aspect of our society. Free education is not an abstract idea, it is one which exists and has been proven successful in much of Europe. I’m voting Yes because I believe education is a right, not a privilege.

As an American, I’m used to the mixture of surprised and occasionally concerned looks on people’s faces when I tell them I get my healthcare for free. Despite its lack of a public healthcare system, the American government spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, and its citizens are no healthier as a result. Under the Affordable Care Act, private providers reap profits from health services while the government picks up the bill for administering the system. Why should we arbitrarily let private companies earn money for providing a social good, a human necessity, which can clearly be publicly funded and delivered? A universal system of public healthcare is a foundation stone of a functioning social democratic society, and the NHS is one of the best in the world. An independent Scotland will guarantee the security of our NHS. It will also provide us with an opportunity to re-negotiate the value of private versus public enterprise and condemn corporate profiteering, expand public services and crack down on tax loopholes.

I’ve grown up hearing stories from my family about how their culture and heritage were suppressed in the Soviet Union, and how they stood hand in hand with their neighbours in the Baltic Way, forming a human chain for independence across the Baltic countries. A democratic, independent Lithuania has only existed since just before I was born, but my cultural background has been singularly and undeniably Lithuanian for many centuries. While I would never venture to draw a comparison between the politics of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, I’ve always been sympathetic to the idea that a collective struggle for self-determination and local governance is positive and productive. There is something uniquely powerful about a group of people coming together around a vision of a society – this is the history of America and so many other successful, independent nations. That’s why an independent Scotland would be more effective at governing itself than Westminster is – a Scotland with a government its people have elected would have the ability to deliver the policies our constituencies want, not regressive austerity measures like the Bedroom Tax. I also want a government which trusts its people and puts as much power in the hands of communities who know better what they need than a parliament hundreds of miles away. Westminster will never willingly give us this – every bit of power devolved to Scotland is a concession, rather than a cause for celebration.

I’ve been in Scotland for almost four years, and my EU citizenship has given me the comforting knowledge that I can stay indefinitely. I’ve fallen in love with Scotland, and couldn’t imagine having to leave a few weeks after I graduate, but this is the prospect a lot of my friends face. An independent Scotland would not elect a Conservative government, and would likely expand availability of study and post-study visas. The education I’ve received, the people I have met here, the way I have engaged with politics, have made my life indescribably richer, and I want to live in a Scotland which gives people that experience willingly, not turn them away at the border. I also want a Scotland with a more humane and expanded system for asylum-seekers, which will lead the way in standing up to international oppression, not be complicit in it.

There are many practical reasons I’m voting yes, and the facts clearly show Scotland would be successful and prosperous. Most of all, though, I’m voting yes because I believe in a society which constantly engages its citizens in a conversation about how to govern themselves, where democracy is continually negotiated, not assumed, and where people are trusted and empowered rather than patronised and ruled over. There is uncertainty in an independent Scotland, but there is also an incredible opportunity to chuck the austerity-filled, privately-owned, profit-driven, unrepresentative status quo in favour of a compassionate, co-operative, and reflective social order. We will not get everything that’s been proposed or everything we want, and I wish we wouldn’t be stuck with some things, like the pound and the monarchy. Still, I can’t see that the opportunity to radically rethink and restructure government could lead to anything but a more progressive nation than we have today. I am certain that given the opportunity, the people of Scotland will come together to build a more just and fair society. 

Urte Macikenaite
National Collective


About Urte Macikenaite

Urte is a 4th year International Relations student at the University of Edinburgh. She is a Trustee at the Edinburgh University Students' Association and co-hosts a weekly Politics and IR show on Fresh Air Radio.

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