Och. I was doing so well too.
You have no idea how hard I’ve tried to be good about this. How often I’ve sat on my hands, and not commented, or liked or retweeted or shared or argued or said a single frickin’ word, because it’s not my business anymore. I HAVE BEEN SO GOOD! Ask DorkyDad how restrained I’ve been. Ask him how often in the last few months he’s heard me come out with some hideously bland and diplomatic answer when people have asked me about the Scottish Independence Referendum. He’ll pull this tortured face at you, like he’s stuck at a dinner party between Britney Spears and Kim Jong-un, and he just needs the whole thing to be over already.
But I’m so inspired and enthused by reading other people’s stories – so excited by the number of folk, women especially, who are finding their political voice for the first time – that I feel compelled to add mine to the chorus.
The only previous time I tried to write about the referendum was more than two years ago. I was living in England and feeling frustrated because I’d just found out that I didn’t get a vote. If I’d had a vote then, I would have almost certainly have voted no.
How things change.
Now I believe it’s absolutely right that I don’t get a vote. Why should I? The whole point of the referendum is let the people who live on Scottish soil – using Scottish schools and hospitals and infrastructure – make a decision about their future. To move the debate from one around civic nationalism to one around ethnic nationalism, and to start making judgments about who would or wouldn’t be qualified to vote would, as one friend said, be like opening up Pandora’s Sporran. It would be a very bad move.
But if I WAS still living in Scotland, and if I DID still get a vote, I am sure now that it would be an enthusiastic YES.
When I lived in Edinburgh, one of the things I loved most about that community was the appetite for knowledge. Every night of the week there would be a choice of a dozen public lectures you could attend. They would be organised by the university, or one of the city’s libraries, or by an NGO or a school or a church. And every night of the week, people would leave their homes to go and hear an expert talk about whatever his or her niche subject was. They would listen, and ask questions, and take that lovely gleaming pearl of new knowledge home to bed with them to ponder over some more.
That’s happening all over Scotland right now on an unprecedented scale. There is a hunger for facts, for debate, for imagination, for learning, for knowing the best case and the worst-case scenarios of a Yes Vote and a No Vote in the referendum. There is discussion around almost every part of government policy – energy, defence, land reform, education, health, welfare, environment, housing… And what’s most exciting is that those conversations are being held not just in the parliament, or in the pages of the national newspapers, but at a very local and very personal level. The chat is happening person-to-person, in pubs and public meetings, on blogs and Facebook pages and in queues for the bus.
Watching from a distance it looks like the majority of mainstream media outlets have failed the Scottish public in the run-up to the referendum. The front pages are just not reflecting the reality of the campaign. But social media is providing an alternative space for response – people are standing up and saying, ‘if you won’t tell our story we will tell our own’.
In addition to the sharing of stories, there is plenty of robust debate. But neither online nor during our visit to Scotland last month have I seen any evidence of the great divisions that some people have suggested are taking place.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m seeing people with many political differences uniting for the first time to campaign for independence. They are all kinds of people. Gosh, they are lawyers and poets, activists and artists, teachers and farmers, bankers and charity workers and students. It is hard to explain to friends outside of the debate that the voting intentions of Scots don’t seem to be falling along any traditional or predictable lines. You cannot say definitively that people are more likely to vote one way or another because of class or religion, education or sex. With the rising participation in groups like Labour for Independence, you can no longer even make predictions based on party affiliation.
There are dozens of reasons why I would like to see a yes vote. In almost every area of policy, I believe that independence would provide Scotland with more effective tools to create a fairer and more equitable society than it currently has. And if that prompted a similar social movement for change in the rest of the UK too, then all the better.
Of course there are uncertainties. There would be so much to negotiate after a yes vote. There would be untangling and dismantling and construction and invention. But that would be the really exciting bit. That’s when the different visions would get hammered out into a new reality. That’s when the representatives of the many hundreds of different interest groups could start getting into the real nitty-gritty of what an independent Scotland should look like.
But the main reason I want to see a Yes Vote is because I am so excited by the surge of energy that I’m seeing in the campaign. I am inspired by the optimism and the hope and the positive visions that people are coming up with for my lovely wee country. I want a win so that on September 19th all those tired activists find their second wind and spend the next five or ten years working hard to make Scotland the best it can be, rather than having to return to the same old fights with Westminster.
Campaigning is tough. It was my full time job for several years, and it is something I have done on a voluntary basis with charities, unions and political parties. It is hard to maintain a high level of energy and enthusiasm for a cause when it feels like you’re getting knocked back all the time, and it is hard to find enough points of agreement to make any movement a broad one. The pro-independence movement has broken through those barriers to become the most diverse and most passionate campaign I have ever seen.
You can’t manufacture a grassroots movement, especially on social media. It either happens or it doesn’t. I have looked and looked for pro-union bloggers setting out a positive case for staying in the UK, and I just can’t find them. The BritMums network – a parent blogging community in the UK that I am part of – was approached by a representative of the Cabinet Office to ask if any bloggers would consider writing about the referendum. Funnily enough, there just happened to be some heavily biased infographics that we could include in the post, setting out the benefits of remaining in the UK.
I still haven’t quite decided whether it’s funny or offensive that a civil servant thought that bloggers – even ‘mummy bloggers’ – could be so easily manipulated, but either way it provided a good contrast with the genuinely lively corner of the blogosphere that’s inhabited by Yes supporters.
There are people who have articulated their vision for an independent Scotland far more eloquently than I ever could; people who know their area of policy inside out, and are not just making a one-off statement about their voting intentions, but who are posting really meaty and thought-provoking articles, day after day throughout the campaign. Some of the ones I read regularly are Burdz Eye View, Lallands Peat Worrier, Lesley Riddoch, Adam Ramsay, and Derek Bateman. Bella Caledonia provides space for many different voices.
There are also several campaigning groups that are not affiliated to any political party, and their sites are well worth a read – Women for Independence, National Collective, Business for Scotland, Common Weal, and Radical Independence.
In less than a month, the referendum will be done. It is nerve-wracking, watching it all take place from the other side of the world. But as the wonderful Tom Devine says, Scotland has the chance to ‘develop a truly amicable and equal relationship with our great southern neighbour in every possible field’.
I hope that happens.
I hope Scotland votes Yes.