Obviously, I’ll take support for independence from wherever it comes. And whatever prompts it. Nobody has to explain their vote. The vote cast in spite counts just the same as the vote cast in hope. The vote cast in proud ignorance weighs as much as the vote cast after long and careful study. Nobody has to explain their reasons for voting as they do. There’s no feedback questionnaire on the back of the ballot paper. But if voters did have to provide the reason for their vote, we would surely think some reasons better than others. We would inevitably consider some reasons more valid than others.
Suppose somebody said they voted for a candidate because they were male rather than female; or black rather than white; or tall rather than short. Would we not consider these rather poor reasons? Likewise, if someone explained that they had voted for a particular party because it was a family tradition; or because their spouse told them to; or because they had the prettiest rosettes. Would we not think that person extremely silly and their reasoning shallow beyond measure? The theory is that voters give their informed consent. That is how democracy is supposed to work. The reality departs from the theory by a considerable margin.
In reality, a voter is as likely to vote on a gut feeling as on a dispassionate assessment of the relative worth of the candidates or their party’s policy platform. Few will have read the manifestos or done more than glance at leaflets shoved through their door. Their consent is more likely to be informed by Twitter memes, Daily Express ‘fury’ and BBC propaganda than by any in-depth analysis. People don’t vote what they know. They vote what they feel.
Candidate A smoked a bit of weed when they were a teenager. Candidate B is a lovely woman but would you just look at those dreadful shoes she’s wearing. Candidate C makes it all too evident what the ‘C’ stands for. Candidate D just oozes sincerity and straight-talking honesty – although you can’t for the life of you think of a single thing they’ve actually said you just know they’ve never said anything that offended you ‘cos you’d remember. Which candidate gets your vote? On what basis?
Many (most?) voters wouldn’t be able to explain why they voted in a particular way. Not honestly and accurately, anyway. Ask them and they will give a plausible account. Ask people why they voted No in 2014 and they will tell you it was because of the ‘currency question’ or ‘pensions uncertainty’ or lack of clarity or unanswered questions or any one of maybe a dozen ‘reasons’ fed to them by the media. They will latch onto a plausible post hoc explanation. Technically, they’re not lying, because they will have convinced themselves. But you will be no closer to getting at the real reason why they voted as they did. It’s as likely to have been on account of a name being recognisable or the order in which the candidates are listed on the ballot paper or the weather as anything that could be characterised as a rational, thoughtful motivation.
I was prompted to reflect on this issue of informed consent versus un- or ill-informed consent by Paul Kavanagh’s column in The National. It’s good to see the guy back in some kind of action after suffering a stroke and I wish him a full and speedy recovery. But I can’t say I’m impressed by the reason he gives for supporting Scotland’s cause. In fact, I can’t help but be offended that he attributes his reasons so generously to others in the Yes movement. First we get this,
The reason why so many of us are supporting independence is not because of SNP propaganda, it’s because the Tories are so pish.
Then there’s this,
So the growing support for independence is nothing to do with propaganda and a biased media and everything to do with the fact that the Tories have not delivered on the promises they made to win the referendum.
Scotland’s cause is not, it seems, about Scotland at all. It’s about the Tories. It’s not because we reckon we’d make a decent job of governing ourselves, it’s because the Tories have made such a pish-poor job of it. It’s not because the Union denies the sovereignty of the people of Scotland or because the British state is structurally incapable of adequately safeguarding Scotland’s interests or because we want to choose our government rather than have it chosen for us by people in another country. It’s not because we want the parliament we actually elect to have the status and powers that other nations assume are their right. It’s because the British Tories are despicable. It’s because we detest the Tories. Not because we respect democratic principles and cherish Scotland’s national identity.
By Paul Kavanagh’s account the fight to restore Scotland’s independence is driven by our aversions rather than our aspirations.
He may be correct. It’s not difficult to despise the present Tory regime in London. They kinda ask to be loathed. People like Michael Gove get affirmation from the hatred of people like Paul Kavanagh. And, as the latter points out, the former’s choices regarding Scotland are as ill-informed as those of any voter relying on the British media to remedy their ignorance. But I reserve the right to wish for better. I regard the fight to restore Scotland’s independence as a worthy and a noble cause. I regard it as a fight for justice and democracy. I hold it to be a fight to right a great and ancient wrong. A fight to rectify a grotesque constitutional anomaly.
I’ll take independence by any democratic means. But I reserve to right to hope the motives are appropriate to the nature and scale of the struggle. Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is a big thing. It deserves big reasons. To my mind, Michael Gove just isn’t big enough. The British Tories aren’t big enough. Democracy is big enough. Scotland is big enough.
Vote Yes to independence for whatever reason you choose – or choose to claim. Allow me at least the illusion that you’re doing it simply because it’s the right thing to do.