“1% of the world has 90% of the wealth
And the system says to step on folk
why helping yourself
I hope you’re hearing these thoughts
And inequity is consigned to the
I don’t want to see another lost generation”
-Stanley Odd, Son I Voted Yes
I was always going to vote Yes. Ever since my Scottish wife explained the situation of Scotland within the UK to me some twenty years ago, I’ve supported the principle of Scottish independence. And when we moved to Scotland from the USA in 1996, I saw the practical realities of the “United Kingdom” and realised independence was less of a pipedream and more a matter of necessity.
Now, I fully recognise the faults of the country I was born in. The United States is dominated by a powerful, distant elite that maintains its power through a system of reckless, brutal violence. The wealth which is created socially is held in very few hands, and those hands have been extremely successful in using that wealth to construct a world that suffocates alternatives.
However, while the political system has always served the interests of the powerful, at least it can be understood and that’s because there is a written Constitution. And if it can be understood, it can be changed.
In the UK, on the other hand, there is an “unwritten Constitution” – basically all the laws that have accumulated over time. Apparently, once upon a time, British legal scholars found the USA”s constitution a joke – “they need to write it down, they can’t remember it!” But any “unwritten” agreement suffers from the problem that you will inevitably end up making it up as you go along and that is the strikingly odd thing about how Britain “works”.
The Scotland I came to in 1996 seemed like a bleak, beaten down place. Fashions seemed subdued, and while people were more openly progressive in their views than most Americans I had ever encountered, no one seemed particularly hopeful.
One of the strangest experiences I had as a new immigrant was hearing the Prime Minister of the time, John Major, making a statement on the tv imploring the population to spend money on stuff they didn’t necessarily need, in order to create a “feelgood factor.” And then I learned that some people were making £1 an hour in Glasgow, because there was no minimum wage.
I could see the logic in Scottish independence – the way the Westminster government was set up served the interests of the people who owned it, while most people in Scotland expressed progressive political views and voted that way.
So, like I say, if the opportunity had ever come up to vote for Scottish independence, I would have done it.
I didn’t become a UK citizen until 2005, so I wasn’t able to vote for the Scottish Parliament in 1997 but I was pleasantly surprised when a majority not only voted for it, but also the tax varying powers on offer.
And while it has been no revolution, the Scottish Parliament has been a improvement and a different set of values to those dominant in neoliberal governments has become established here: free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly as well as free public transport for over 60s, no tuition fees for higher education. And all limited by the “make it up as you go along” Barnett formula in which “regions” like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive funding from the Westminster kitty.
I was as critical of the SNP governments as I was of the Labour-Liberal Democrat governments before them, though I had to admit that once the SNP got a majority, they were generally competent, which is a rare thing to see in governments. They only tinkered around the edges of neoliberalism, they did not take it head on; but to be fair had they attempted to do so, the “make it up as you go along” system would probably have been there to stop them.
Anyway, even though I would always have voted Yes, I never thought it was a possibility. And I definitely never thought I would come to see it as something exciting and inspiring.
When it was announced two years ago that Scotland would have a referendum I was surprised that the Scottish Government had actually gotten it agreed with Westminster. I figured it would go nowhere, result in a No vote and a period of smugness from elites – “see, we told you no one was interested.”
But gradually, I became aware that something new happening. Groups like the Radical Independence Convention were making articulate arguments for a progressive case for independence, and a multitude of organisers were making this case in working class constituencies that have been ignored by mainstream politics for decades. People were able to bypass the mainstream media and get information from alternative news sources like Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.
The countering arguments from the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign ran the spectrum of fear mongering and duplicity – you won’t be able to use the pound, you will be a poor country and nothing will work. Instead of focusing on why it is better to stay in the Union, the focus has been on Scotland not being able to survive without help from Westminster, help which most people in the UK are less than enthusiastic about. Austerity, following on from bank bailouts, does not seem like much help in a country with foodbanks. Being told that Trident nuclear missiles can’t leave Faslane military base (which is 40 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city) because the only other possible base, in Plymouth, England, is near a “densely populated area” does not inspire the feeling that we are “Better Together”.
In 2012, after David Cameron announced the Scottish Parliament would be allowed to hold a referendum, Scottish Labour MP Alistair Darling made a rambling speech in which he warned:
“British music will no longer be our music. British art, dance and drama will no longer be ours. British sporting success will be someone else’s to celebrate.”
This statement sums up the level of thinking that has dominated the Better Together campaign. It speaks for itself.
There have been last minute attempts by elites in London, such as historian Tom Holland who organised the celebrity “Let’s Stay Together” letter (signed by the likes of Mick Jagger and journalist Rod Liddle who has said “The only reason any people remain in Scotland is on account of the extremely cheap alcohol…plus a ready supply of heroin for when the alcohol runs out”). Tom has stated that he “enjoys the tension and the sense of irony of being British” and adds, with no sense of irony, that the role of Scots is to “re-energise and revitalise the UK”, which presumably was what happened when oil was discovered, its value hidden from the people of the UK, and used during the 80s to fund Thatcher’s de-industrialisation, which broke the back of organised labour (as Alan Budd, Thatcher adviser recalled “what was engineered…in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”)
Another approach was that of right-winger Niall Ferguson who explained to eminent Scottish historian Tom Devine (and recent Yes supporter) that an independent Scotland would be like Belarus and “should be wound up, its assets offloaded and re-named North Britain”. And after a poll emerged showing Yes in the lead, the “love bombing” was quickly ditched in favour of good old fashioned threats, which may now have “jumped the shark” with DeutscheBank forecasting that Scottish Independence would bring about another Great Depression. Amazingly, Scotland – this “minor entity on the North of Britain” could somehow wreak economic havoc, all the while being in possession of 60% of Europe’s oil reserves. Perhaps DeutscheBank’s analysts are merely finding it hard to make sense of things, due to their recent slump, as well as all the fines and threats of litigation. Maybe they still haven’t gotten over losing €4 billion in 2008 (they had forecasted “a record profit” of more than €8 billion).
While the Better Together campaign continued to push their “Project Fear” (according the Sunday Herald this was what BT was privately referring to itself as) and their “Love Bombs”, something different was happening among Yes supporters. While BT is a top down organisation with little grassroots support, the Yes campaign has energised people who would not normally be involved in politics. Groups like RIC saw the potential for organising amongst previously ignored working class communities, getting people to register to vote who had never voted before. Women for Independence was formed because, in the words of former MSP Carolyn Leckie “there was no other way I could see how my voice, as a woman, would be heard. And I was fed up watching ‘independence’ being debated by men in grey suits, through a very narrow lens of party rhetoric.” And as in the popular rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook became organising and educating tools that were accessible to many people not usually involved in political activism (though it is important to remember that about 40% of Glaswegians do not have regular access to the internet).
A new cultural confidence emerged, much of it disseminated through the internet. The group National Collective brought together artists and creatives to argue the case for Yes. The satirical news programme Dateline Scotland captured not just the superior tone of tv journalists but the ridiculous content. The Twitter account @AngrySalmond, with over 13,000 followers, has popularised the hashtag “SexySocialism”. Lady Alba’s parody of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, in which she outlines her case for voting No (“I want your weapons, I want student fees. I want a country run by Tory MPs, I’m voting no”) has had over 100,000 views. Stanley Odd’s raps have also gone viral and he has outlined the situation of Scotland within the UK and the reasons for a Yes vote more articulately than most politicians on either side of the debate. In his rap “Marriage Counselling“, “Caledonia” argues its case to a dismissive “Britannia”:
“This is hardly blissful matrimony.
I’ve got resources so I shouldn’t have to ask for money.
I support ma self so don’t even mention alimony.
And I don’t need you to fight ma battles for me.
So tell yir mates in Faslane they need a new address
I see the truth with my new clear head.
Ma pal Alex says that you’re blind to the facts
And that it’s time for me to stand and draw a line in the sand
Everybody’s got an opinion and I’m sick of it
I’m getting pulled in all directions with this constant bickering
It’s like a smokescreen I’m struggling to see through
PS. Half of me doesn’t want to leave you”
This is not a vote for “nationalism”. Despite the decades of lies of Scotland being a land of subsidy junkies (a slur used by the press from the Times of London to the tabloid papers), this isn’t even a vote for Scotland to get rich from its North Sea oil reserves (which help cover up the rest of the UK’s massive deficit). This is a vote against austerity, against Trident nuclear missiles and for a fairer society. This is a vote to make use of a massive resource – instead of creating another “lost generation” of young people, instead of the traditional Scottish export of people, we can create a country where they will want to stay. We will need them to, in order to build a better society.