This is a transcript of the speech Julia gave at the national Collective Edinburgh Session, Circus Café, on Weds 18 June
My vote on September the 18th this year, as with every decision in anyone’s life, is connected to all previous decisions, experiences, events and relationships that have come before. And so, what follows is a personal history of sorts.
Let’s begin on this day in 1979 when I was born to a woman, who had left the Isle of Lewis in 1963 at the age of 17 to begin her life’s work as a teacher journeying from Glasgow to Zambia and beyond. She gave birth to me thirty five years ago today in Adelaide, Australia, where her sister was raising her own family, and two weeks later, my mother flew me and my older brother to Papua New Guinea to join my father, an Australian of French and English ancestry.
Four years later, my father’s work moved us to Jakarta, Indonesia, which would be my main home for the next fourteen years. Jakarta, Indonesia, where our family, as most expatriate families do, employed a pembantu. A helper. An additional member of the family. A member of staff. A servant. A man called Tarsid. A man with a family of 12 living eleven or so hours away by train. A man who was available to feed me and care for me seven days a week, 24 hours a day. A man whose surname I never knew.
Most summers my mum would take my brother and me to the Isle of Lewis to stay with her parents. We would trample across the Barbhas moor, climb over the Callanais stones, and the Carloway broch, race over the Bhaltos dunes, convinced that Viking Ships would land any minute to take me captive, and at night we would drive home to Stornoway where the swings were chained on Sundays, and I would wake up at 4am missing the sound of the Mosque call to prayer.
As a child, my nightly routine often involved a makeshift Hindu Shrine, praying to God and to Allah, crossing myself multiple times, chanting Om and blowing kisses to the air above and around me just in case.
In 1988 my mother, brother and I spent a year in rural Queensland where us kids lined up outside school every morning to sing
“Australian’s all let us rejoice for we are young and free…”
followed promptly by
“God save our gracious…”
A few years later, back at the British International school in Jakarta, I remember a classroom teacher holding a mock election.
“Which colour do you like? Blue, Red or Yellow?”
“Why can’t I choose Green?”
“Green isn’t an option.”
“But Indonesians can choose green.”
“That is an Islamic party. We’re British, we don’t have parties like that, we have blue, red or yellow. Which colour do you like?”
“I like the colour Green.”
In 1996 my dad took an aid job in East Timor, still then a part of Indonesia, but with an active separatist guerrilla movement. My brother and I visited him there, driving through its napalmed landscape:
“But why did they bomb them?”
“Because they wanted to be independent.”
“So why do they want to be independent again?”
“Well, some people have never not wanted to be independent, and so I suppose this time they’re hoping it will be different.”
“Because Indonesia is diverse, it holds many different peoples with many different languages, beliefs, religions and cultures. Because one single government located in the most populous area cannot make decisions in the best interests of everyone in such a diverse nation. And because the government is corrupt, nepotistic and elitist.”
“So is that why they bomb them?”
“I suppose so.”
“Do they hate them?”
“No, I think they think they love them.”
“They’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
And in 1997, at almost 18, I left home in Indonesia and moved out on my own to London and, in 2001, I campaigned and marched against an illegal war for oil under the guise of weapons of mass destruction.
A year later in 2002, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia and my brother went on first of many UN missions there aiding their long journey to becoming a sustainable new nation.
“Why does it take so long? When are you going to come back to visit?”
“Independence isn’t just something that happens over night, it’s a long and complicated process.”
“Is that normal?”
“Yes. It’s completely normal. Chill the fuck out.”
And in 2006 I began my continuing relationship with an ever changing community of people living in Glasgow under the asylum system. People who became some of my dearest friends, people who have been detained, dawn raided, evicted and made homeless, people who have been deported, who have jumped from windows to avoid deportation, people who have made their homes here, who have fallen in love here, who have had children here, who have been welcomed by their surrounding communities, people who have welcomed me into their homes and their hearts.
And in 2007 I moved to Scotland, which is now my home, and which now, in 2014, has the opportunity to vote for independence.
And, yes, I consider myself a Scottish person voting in this referendum. But I also consider myself Australian. And French. And English. I am a child of the British Empire, formed and moulded by the cultures, religions and languages of Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and many other places and cultures besides. And I am voting yes. And that yes is not informed by an idea of patriotism to the nation of Scotland, it is informed instead by every single moment, experience, event and relationship that has come before.
So I am saying yes. Yes for my mother.
Yes for my mother, who, as a little Laodhasach, along with her sister and friends, arrived at school one term to discover that Gaelic was no longer the language of the classroom and they would have to catch up fast. Because an independent Scotland could be a step towards greater cultural confidence for all our minority cultures.
I am saying yes for Tarsid, my pembantu, my helper, my servant, who I love and miss, who I wish I could tell that I feel deeply ashamed of the inequality in our relationship. And Scotland has its own colonial shame to come to terms with and the clearest way we can begin that is by dismantling the institution of Empire.
I am saying yes for the land I played on during my summer holidays in Lewis where the wind whipped my hair and the sea lashed the coast because in an independent Scotland we have more of a chance of seeing Green and climate aware policies at the heart of government than we do with the current set up.
Yes for the wee girl praying to everyone, to whom the idea of multiple cultures living together seemed entirely normal because an independent Scotland could be internationalist, outward looking, multicultural, diverse and welcoming of difference.
Yes for the little kids wondering why they had to sing God Save The Queen.
Yes because there are other options than Blue, Red or Yellow.
Yes for the young activist who marched with millions shouting “not in my name”. Yes for the millions of Iraqis, Afghanis, Iranians, the list goes on, who have been killed in my name. Yes to a more peaceable foreign policy. And yes, yes to an end to Trident.
Yes for East Timor. Yes for every other country that has never been as fortunate as Scotland is to have the opportunity to gain independence by peaceful means.
Yes for my brothers and sisters who have been deported. Who thought they were coming to a land where human rights were revered, where refuge would be offered and humanity respected. Because as much as I might wish it were not so, we live in a world of borders and few new border control systems could be more brutal and inhumane than the current system enforced by the United Kingdom Border Agency and so my yes is for more open borders and yes to close Dungavel.
Yes for the person that I will grow to be who still has hope for a better, more equal, more humane and more sustainable Scotland and world.
Yes for the children I will hopefully have one day soon, who, the democracy of an independent Scotland could guarantee continued access to free education and healthcare.
And yes, yes, I know that my yes will not by itself revert the climate crisis, it will not rescue us from capitalism, it will not rid Scotland of racism and bigotry, but it might, it just might be one step in a long and complicated journey towards a Scotland with an internationalist outlook, somewhere welcoming of multiculturalism and diversity, somewhere at peace, somewhere defined by hope, somewhere where my children can continue to build a fairer, more equal and sustainable world for their children.
And their children.
And their children.
And their children.