Recently I finished my Honours degree. A chapter of my life closed and I went from stress-filled Undergrad to uncertainty-filled Graduate in one fell ceremony. The module ‘Physics’ finished and I moved on to life’s next semester. Like any newly-graduated student I took some time to evaluate myself. Why had I done this degree? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? I even began to mull over another, more specific, decision I’ve made recently. Why do I support independence? What if I’m wrong? What if all those evenings spent knocking doors are a total waste of time?
Over the stretch of a two-year long campaign it’s hardly unexpected for some small amount of self-doubt to sneak in at some point. It would have to, otherwise we may as well give up trying to convert other supporters to our cause. In trying to understand my own reasons for supporting independence I once again tackled the reasons I’d once had for being an opponent of it. My decision to choose Yes was not easy, and there’s been no small amount of internal conflict along the way.
I’m a Physicist. Analysing risk, probability, and facts is what I do. I’m not blind to sectors of society expressing legitimate concerns. I understand people’s apprehension, because I was in their shoes not too long ago. I’m also a socialist, and I can understand people’s concern about what happens to places like Liverpool when we leave the Union. These were the two biggest concerns I had before supporting independence. Part of being a physicist is reacting to evidence placed before you and constant re-evaluation. So what’s changed between now and when I first decided to be Yes about two years ago? For a start, a great deal more promises of ‘next time, things will be better’ from the Better Together parties. “Next time we’ll do it.”
See, in the UK, the battle for social justice has been 300 years of “next time, things will be different.” “Next time Labour get into power, they will be better.” “Next Government, we’ll have democratic reform.” “Next time, when Scotland votes Labour, it actually will get Labour.” “Next Government, Scotland will get more powers.” “Next Government, we’ll make the Lords democratic.” “Next Government, we’ll tackle bankers bonuses and tax avoidance. Next time.” ‘Fairness’ in the UK is always one Government away, like the Holy Grail, teetering on a ledge over the abyss, just out of range your fingertips.
Democracy shouldn’t be about waiting for the next Government to do something less awful to you. We shouldn’t be in a situation where we fear what our Government is going to cut next, or where we fear for our hospitals and schools due to cuts made south of the border by a Government we totally rejected. A million people marched against Iraq and New Labour turned a blind eye. Thousands of students marched against tuition fee hikes and were ignored. The nature of Westminster’s electoral system breeds complacency, stagnancy, and horrendous abuses of powers which manifests itself in scandals like cash-for honours and worse.
So how best to rid ourself of this gang of elites? Well, it’s simple. A Yes vote. The glib cynic will dismiss Yes as “replacing one set of elites with another,” and were this the case I would join them on the other side of the fence. I speak to left-wing Labour types and have even met a couple of anarchists (apparently, they do exist in the wild), and this is one of their major hurdles between them and supporting Yes. To them I say of course moving the seat of power does not, by itself, remove the insidious influences that exist in WM automatically; we do it ourselves. We the people shape the constitution, with a vote that counts ten times as much, in a proportionally representative system; we choose who represents us in Scotland. Not just to use what powers Westminster allows us to have, but all of them. We begin to shape our entire society in shaping the constitution in the exhilarating period between September 19th and March 26th 2018.
If you agree that society’s ills transcend borders – of course they do – then you should wish to eliminate the influence of these elites from as many people as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do that is to vote Yes. Voting Yes removes the Lords’ power over Scotland forever in one fell swoop, and sends the unmistakable message that we won’t tolerate such injustice any longer. We can stand as equals with our friends in England, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, and beyond, and start building not just a better country, but a better world. It will also be the biggest slap in the face the British establishment has ever faced; a wholesale rejection of austerity; a rejection of weapons of mass destruction and reckless environmental policy; a rejection of centralisation and neoliberalism. This majestic act of defiance could be just what the left in England, Wales and Northern Ireland needs. A single act of defiance can inspire revolutionary movements.
The greatest mistake the UK “left” ever committed was conflating solidarity and centralisation. We don’t need to share a parliament to share struggle. Labour talk of fearing a “race to the bottom” between Scotland and the rUK post-independence, whilst failing to appreciate the power of united voices across borders. This argument also tacitly concedes Labour’s total failure to offer a cohesive vision and unite working class people throughout the UK. If Labour were truly the party of social justice and equality, why should we believe upon independence it would seek to undermine Scottish social progress for the sake of right wing ideology unless they have surrendered any hope of winning an election or engaging the missing 40% of voters in the rUK? Scotland can lead the way in becoming the fair and just society Yes (and even No voters) wants it to be, and when we succeed it will be a force for change across the entire islands.
I aspire for Scotland to be a country with a living wage, not a bare minimum wage, that protects and values people of all colours, creed, gender, and ability, and competes with rUK to be the fairest and most egalitarian nation in these isles. I’m shamelessly impatient in this regard. In the UK it’s a cyclical battle between Labour and the Tories, and the Tories are winning as Labour swings right as an act of expediency.
For too long we’ve allowed Westminster to define the nature of our political discourse and shape our debates and ambitions to fit their ends. We’re told that an independent Scotland would have to raise taxes or slash spending to survive by people who support political parties which are saying the UK needs to slash spending or raise taxes to survive. Saying Scotland will have to do it “just a bit more harshly” in the face of a united front for austerity at Westminster is an insult to our intelligence and a disservice to the ambitions of social justice activists throughout the country.
Scotland has voted Labour in the hope of sending them to power in Westminster in the name of social progress and justice for decades whilst secretly hoping a more left-wing, less warmongering, party could emerge and take its mantle. In Scotland, the SNP, the Greens, and to a lesser extent the SSP have shown that, where there is a democratic mechanism capable of allowing minority parties a voice in parliament, progressive ideas grow strong roots. These ideas are popular throughout the UK but the UK lacks the democratic process necessary to allow new ideas to gain a foothold and prosper in a legitimate parliamentary context.
The rest of the UK have UKIP playing a switch and bait; smokescreening society’s ills behind migrants while allowing those behind the crises we face to escape judgement altogether. Democrats have campaigned for federalism in the UK since the 19th century, and all it takes is a few years of the Tories to undo decades of work on both these fronts. I’m done waiting, and I hope the rest of you are too. If you want something done right, Scotland, you have to bloody well do it yourself.
In many ways, Scotland stands like a graduate at the gates of university, a world of opportunity in front of her. She has all the resources, human and economic, to not only survive, but thrive. She’s learnt from her history and has grown as a person. She’s made her mistakes and emerged wiser because of them. Given a little bit of independence she chose to do things her own way and become her own person. She’s started to see what she is capable of when she takes responsibility for herself and has become more confident in herself doing so.
We chose to ensure our young adults had the best possible opportunity and so granted them free entry to university to allow them to express themselves as professionals and artisans. We recognised that our elderly and vulnerable deserved care, so we enacted free personal care for the elderly. We recognised that working poor people, as well as those traditionally exempt from prescription charges, struggled to afford medicine, so we universally abolished prescription charges. We know ourselves – our weaknesses just as much as our strengths. We know there is risk, but carefully measured risk offers untold opportunity and reward.
Much like Scotland, I and thousands of other graduating students stand at a crossroads. There’s every chance I could have failed at University and accumulated a mountain of debt for no good reason. I could have run out of money and got kicked out of my flat and wound up home, but I found a way. I worked at weekends and gave up on the idea of summer holidays; I saw hours of the clock I didn’t know existed. I made new friends and learned about myself – who I really am and what drives me. I struggled at times, of course, but I did it. I succeeded, and now I’m faced with many more choices – choices I alone have the power to make, and many of those decisions have only been made possible by the decisions Scotland has made during devolution. It’s frightening, but utterly exhilarating. Imagine how Scotland will feel on September 19th of this year when we vote Yes.
Image by Andree Lüdtke