Tom Fergus Arnott: I Want Things I Have Never Seen Before


I first became aware of politics during the Blair years. This has shaped my entire outlook on how democracy functions. If I were to suffer a concussion, and somebody wearing a white coat and stethoscope asked me who the Prime Minister is I would doubtless reply Tony Blair. The impact that man has had on all of our lives is undeniable. In some form or another he reshaped all of our values. And despite everything that has happened since he left office that has effected day-to-day life here from austerity to smartphones, it is with him in mind I enter the polling booth on September the 18th.

The only demonstrations I have any real memory of during my early teen years were in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and in opposition to the closure of the Govanhill Pool. I remember particularly that February Saturday in 2003 looking down from the top of Buchanan St and seeing more people gathered together than I ever had done in my life, all marching in common purpose and it felt as if maybe we could stop that ridiculous and bloody charade from carrying our name. We couldn’t. We may not have changed the course of history the way we wanted. But when the lights went out in Baghdad something small and relatively insignificant broke over here also. Most of us did not say so. I certainly couldn’t articulate it. But even at the age of 13 I knew somehow that something we held to be of value that had once existed within the frame of the British state was now dead. Irremediably dead.

The idea that a government could be held accountable to the people felt as if it was gone after Iraq. The idea of an Independent Scotland seems scary to some because they think it means putting trust in another group of politicians. But trust can only exist if both the representatives and the represented feel a part of the decision making process. Given the buzz on social media and on the streets right now I can’t understand how a person could think we couldn’t pressure a government based in Scotland to act in our interests. This movement is putting the screws on the British Establishment. It is succeeding in a way I certainly never believed was possible.

The SNP took the seat of power from the Labour Party. Something Labour thought belonged to them. Only the Scottish Labour Party were always happy to sit beside the throne with a collar around their necks. Not Alex Salmond. No you don’t have to like him personally. That’s fair enough, but what has he done so far against the interests of Scotland? Does he seem to be bad at his job? All you have to do is watch First Minister’s questions for 5 minutes and you get a pretty good idea just how flatly incompetent his opposition are. The contempt reserved for him by the Scottish Labour Party makes them stupid.

Unionists of Conservative and Labour stripes are often saying on social media and in newspapers that the reason the SNP have used their limited powers to protect the NHS, protected people from the bedroom tax, and given a generation of young people an opportunity to go to great Universities many could not otherwise afford because they want to make the English look bad. It could not possibly have anything to do with working for the people of Scotland. They are obviously not important enough to be lavished with such luxurious gifts. Gifts. Not basic privileges of any half decent democracy. But gifts. Or bribes.

The other common phrase I hear often is that the independence referendum is all about Salmond. No, he just happens to be the democratically elected head of a party that favours it. I was told recently by a no voter that there was no proof that the rest of the movement wasn’t directed by the SNP. I suggested to him he should go to a National Collective gig or talk to folk at Radical Independence, Labour For Independence, The Green Party, or simply a stranger with a Yes badge and see if he still thought that was likely after say 2 minutes of listening. This is the advice I would give anyone interested in finding out more about the case for Yes because most of the very best aspects of the past two years of campaigning have come from non-professionals and activists. People who think locally and work with dedication and energy. They are the ones who have re-energised the idea of democracy in this country. They are the reason that on any crowded street you will find people talking about the future and what they think is best for all of us. Even the Govanhill Pool they closed in my youth, after years of work from various groups of people, is being used regularly now for community events.

If the referendum had happened in 1994 and claimed that the NHS was going to be on the road to Privatisation in 20 years, that we would be privatising the management of police forces in some counties, that we would gaol people in Guantanamo Bay without trial, that we would torture there, and at home we would end up taking away the benefits of disabled people and subject the unemployed to even further levels of degradation and petty punishment…if this person predicted so many of the things that Westminster Governments have brought forward, that person would probably been told he was scaremongering. We have absolutely no idea how the world is going to change. But the best way to defend ourselves is to accept the fact. Then take stock of who we are with a count of our numbers and learn to speak out in this uncertain world and declare how we would like to meet it. We say, this is how we act responsibly in a global community. These are our values and these are our goals and how we wish to work towards them. We will not always be successful. We will fail often. But we will fail well with good heart and we will then fail better.

I’m voting Yes because I want things I have never seen before. I want them for myself and I want them for everyone who lives here and anyone who decides they would like to come and live here. I want this to be the place people feel they can go. I want somewhere anyone can come and work and feel accepted. I want somewhere people have the freedom to express new ideas, try out new experiments and be allowed to fail. I want a society whose values are not primarily based on lunatic quests for evanescent profits, but on the quality of life of all of its citizens. I do not want anything unreasonable. I simply ask that we move away from a life where we accept that a third of children in Glasgow live in poverty. I want to live in a place where we are not afraid to take responsibility for our own actions and for the lives of those around us.

There is too much at stake to rely on anyone else but ourselves. During the years of the Blair Government the role of the MP and Cabinet Minister diminished. It was known as ‘sofa government’. Key decisions no longer had to made through official meetings, and official channels were circumvented. Privatisation meant that the running of services was further out of the reach of those they served. The fact of independence does not make it a fait accomplis that we have governments that truly represent us. However, any new constitutional shake up is going to make it very difficult for politicians to ignore our demands as long as we keep the pressure up. This referendum is only the first step in a process that is going to last the rest of our lives. We are involved. All of us.

Make no mistake. There will be no passing the buck after this is over. If you feel comfortable knowing that you are actively supporting a state that has made no promises to change and has actively caused such hardship for people at home and abroad then you can go ahead and vote No. There is no way you can claim future actions committed by the British state are nothing to do with you. Whichever way you vote you are responsible for what happens next. So why not grasp this opportunity with both hands?

Tom Fergus Arnott
National Collective


About Tom Fergus Arnott

Tom Fergus Arnott is a writer and performer working in Glasgow. He won the Lewis Edwards Memorial Prize from the University of Edinburgh in 2012.