To my women-comrades from Queen Anne High School, and all women on the fence.
Returning from a week away on a fairly remote island, I happened upon your FB indy-pondering and was happily plunged back into indy-ref land. You, and a few other women I was at school with, are on the fence – some, I think, with the help of the Patronising Better Together Lady. Since leaving school I’ve seen you all grow, travel, study, work, trail-blaze, build relationships, careers and families – all in a spirit of positivity, hope, and adventure – so it’s not surprising to me that you don’t feel the BT woman was really talking to you. It was true at 18 and it’s true now: we are smarter than that. However, warped though her approach may have been, it doesn’t mean she didn’t raise any valid concerns. In 8 days we get to exercise our democratic right to vote for what we think is the right next step – for us, and for our children and theirs. So, for the sake of lessons struggled through together, dance-combinations blitzed together, and questionable fashion choices made in our teens, let’s have a talk about the questions we’re facing. You might have to indulge me in a little repetition of the word (and words relating to) democracy, and some strong (strong – not swear-y or shout-y) language: it’s getting to crunch time, after all.
Some recurring reservations….
‘I haven’t been given enough real facts about what an independent Scotland will look like.’
It’s good to interrogate the plans for an independent Scotland. Do read the Yes Paper. Do watch the televised debates. Do pay attention. But there’s no crystal ball on either side. We can no more know what an independent Scotland will definitely look like in 20 years’ time – when your children are grown-up and asking what influenced your decision in the voting booth – than we can know what Scotland in the Union will definitely look like in 20 years’ time. Personally all I see is fear: theirs and ours. Westminster parties – and some in Scotland too – are moving to the right out of fear. Fear of what? Mass decampment of their members and supporters to parties like Ukip. Ukip’s campaign strategy is becoming so successful because it masks its deplorable, xenophobic ambitions with promising rhetoric about sense, safety and security. Safety and security from what? Your neighbours, of course. They’re the ones to blame, so we’re told. ‘Sew fear, divide and conquer’. There’s a cycle of fear on which Westminster politics is feeding, and regurgitating back to us like a bird feeding its helpless babes. Here’s what I think: not all parenting is good, this food tastes rubbish, and it’s time to fly the nest.
‘I don’t like Alex Salmond.’
That’s ok – this isn’t about him, really. And we can elect a different leader at another date if we want. He’s just leading the charge and therefore absorbing the brunt of our characteristic Scottish suspicion of authority and overtly ambitious leadership. Women of Scotland – do you really feel represented by the Eton boys’ club currently running Westminster? I don’t. We might not feel represented by the SNP – or successive Scottish governments either – but at least they will have been democratically elected. Yes, we have a devolved Scottish Parliament – but on too many key issues, we have no democratic power to influence legislation. Want to tell your children you resisted the opportunity to alter that? I don’t. I use the word resist because there is fear amongst you that you are being seduced by the Yes camp – suggesting something sinister is at work. If you’re being seduced, perhaps look at it like this: some seductions are ok. Giving in to some seduction can actually brighten your prospects – it’s a matter of judgement and autonomy. If I were seduced by (the formerly single) George Clooney I could make a convincing argument that I had thought things through soberly and the basis of the evidence, was making a smart decision. If I were seduced by the Chuckle brothers on a night out, there would be serious questions raised about my sobriety, or time spent weighing up the pros and cons. I’m not making a Salmond/Clooney or Chuckle/Darling comparison – you get my drift. Being persuaded by the strength of an argument doesn’t mean your judgement is lacking: it means it is being fully exercised. But more on PR and seduction later.
‘We must bear in mind what this means for our children and grandchildren.’
Let’s look at another incredibly important decision you make for on your children’s behalf: school. When you’re deciding which school to send your child to, can you be utterly sure the school will look the same in 6 years’ time, even? The Headmaster might leave. They might get a grant for a hockey pitch. They might become skint and have to sell off a playing field. They might get Jamie Oliver in to inspire the kids. The Deputy Head might get done for embezzlement. They might discover rot in the swimming pool and have to close it. They might introduce a policy of proactive gender blindness. They might start serving kale crisps at lunch time. The point is: you don’t know, you can’t possibly know, but you can be darned sure that whether through PTA meetings, lobbying, or protest, your voice will count in how the school is run, on issues big and small. For better or worse – you have a say in your children’s present and in their future. Make no mistake: at the moment, we, the Scottish electorate, have no say in key Westminster policies which affect our daily lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of our children’s children.
‘This isn’t something we can reverse’
But we can elect a new government. Democratically.
You are right to point out that this is not something we will be able to reverse if we aren’t happy with how an independent Scotland is working out. But we can elect a different party. Unlike now, we can do this democratically, in the best interests of the people living in Scotland. There is no guarantee all of our problems will be solved in an independent Scotland, but let’s at least give ourselves the opportunity to try. Do you feel how right now we have no welly? No real voice? History shows that small states are more effective in bringing about change for their citizens.
The Big Yin: ‘What if our economy/legal system/security/whole infrastructure fails?’
Please don’t sell yourself short. Nor me. Nor your children. Ike Powell said ‘Relate to a person’s potential and you call forth greatness’. If we can achieve this momentous change peacefully, imagine what else we can achieve. Go ahead and stick your head above the parapet. We are a wealthy country, full of gifted thinkers and politicians. Look for a politician – any politician, not just women – to match Nicola Sturgeon in Westminster. You won’t find one. We’re going to be alright. A country which has produced so many pioneering sons and daughters is demonstrably capable of being a successful small state, even in – or perhaps especially in – an uncertain landscape.
- inventor or innovator: a person or group that is the first to do something or that leads in developing something new
- first person to explore territory: a person who is one of the first from another country or region to explore or settle a new area
- soldier who builds things: a foot soldier whose duties include going ahead of the main company to construct things to pave the way for them.
‘The Yes Campaign is making a huge PR push, and they certainly have a strong marketing campaign. I’m being bombarded.’
What’s great about hearing this alarm bell is that it shows an awareness of and resistance to brain-washing. Spending enough time in Scotland inevitably leads to the healthy scepticism which is part of our legacy. But I’m here to tell you the Yes campaign isn’t based on – or thriving on – spin. For one thing, they can’t afford the likes of Lynton Crosby – thankfully. It is a comparatively (compared to Better Together) poorly funded, grassroots organization. It’s made up of people like us, not people with a vested interest in keeping the wealthy minority on top. The intellect, drive, pragmatism, compassion and sheer talent – across all professions – that makes up the Yes Campaign is staggering. If you’re looking for an image of what an independent Scotland might look like – look at the Yes folk. If you feel like you’re being bombarded by rhetoric, it’s because you are. It’s a love-bomb. It’s because so many of our most talented citizens are fighting for Yes, and their collective strength is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Many, many, many of our most brilliant minds are selflessly suspending their own personal ambitions to prioritize the fight for a better future – for all of us. It is a hugely generous act. What you’re witnessing and feeling is the collective energy of a galvanized people. If it’s beginning to have an effect, it doesn’t mean you’ve been tricked, it means you are also catching a glimpse of what a departure from the status quo could look like, and you want to see more. Inequality, nuclear muscling, child poverty, protection of greed, dismantling of public institutions. That’s the status quo. Are you ok with this?
Since beginning this, I have heard about the forthcoming launch of ‘new powers’ offered to Scotland if we decide to stay. I would advise caution when analysing last-minute, last-ditch offers being thrust towards us by Better Together. It’s a bit slap-dash, is it not? The Yes side have been planning for years. Why? Because it’s so important. Because they understand and respect the needs and wants of the people of Scotland. Westminster has for too long, grossly misjudged, or simply disregarded, the will of the majority living outside the city of London. 11 days before the vote is far, far too late for them to be getting to the party, offering a scraggly olive branch, making promises which in our heart of hearts, after years of disappointment, corruption, and lies, we know we’d be foolish to trust: we deserve better than the desperate ‘togetherness’ they’re selling.
It isn’t without any questions – or sometimes fear – that I will be voting Yes. It’s the push-pull of contradictions that keep us balanced and rational. But none of my reservations are as heavy as my heart would be in admitting to my children that this status quo was the best they could hope for. In years to come I’ll be telling my children I didn’t think it was good enough for them so I advocated changing it. I hope you will be too.
Illustration by Andrew Redmond Barr