To mark the seventh anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum I offer for your consideration and comment the last article I wrote prior to the vote. It was first published in Yes Clydesdale’s Aye Magazine, which some of you will surely remember with a certain nostalgic fondness. Aye Magazine is no longer extant. But the article survives on my old Blogger site. The web never forgets. It is dated a week before the vote and was published under the apt if unimaginative title Last word.
As we move into the last few days of the referendum campaign, I wonder if there is much more to say. Surely, with all the millions of words that have been written, everything that might be said on the matter has already been said many times over. The lies of the No campaign have been exposed. Their scare stories have all been comprehensively debunked. The manifold positive arguments for independence have been stated and restated in every way imaginable.
But still there remains the nagging feeling that there’s something that has been left unsaid. The sense that there is some concept or some form of words not previously thought of that might move the remaining undecideds and perhaps even get through to a few of the more open-minded among No voters. I have a profound fear, which I’m sure is shared by other independence campaigners, of waking up on the morning of 19 September with a big cartoon light-bulb over my head illuminating the absolute clincher of an argument that had not previously occurred to me.
This, of course, is all tied up with my absolute dread of a No vote. Having reflected long and hard on the consequences of failure to grasp this opportunity at this time, it is only natural that I should be deeply concerned. The concern remains even as the possibility of a No vote recedes. And it has certainly receded. There is a thrum in the air that tells me to be ever more confident of victory. Almost as if events are about to unfold that are of such magnitude that the vibrations of the future can be felt in the present. The talk now is not so much of a Yes win as of how big that win can be.
As confidence grows, zeal diminishes. By which I do not mean that my commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is lessened. Nor that I suppose there can be any let-up in the campaign to persuade people to vote Yes. I mean only that I am now somewhat more inclined to be patient with obstinate No voters. More ready to sympathise with the plight of those who have succumbed to the counsel of fear. More sad than frustrated that they have not been inspired by the possibility of creating a better politics and a fairer society.
And I am well aware that it is no more than the possibility of positive change that is in prospect with a Yes vote. Even if there were any truth in the weary myth of utopian promises from the Yes campaign, I am far too long in the tooth to be taken in by such things. But I am mindful that we are faced with two options in this referendum. And the possibility of positive change must trump the impossibility of positive change every time.
I have little time for those who argue that a Yes vote will make no difference because politicians are all the same and we would simply be trading one bunch of venal, self-serving careerists for another of the same ilk. This is an argument that disregards the nature of the transformation which the referendum has wrought in Scotland’s political environment. The old politics is already dead in Scotland. It is just waiting to be buried so that a new politics can develop in the conducive atmosphere which now exists. A Yes vote sounds the death knell for the old order and the old ways. A No vote restores and revivifies them.
The “politicians are all the same” line is vacuous in any case. It is the resort of those who seek to mask the intellectual indolence which prevents them analysing and differentiating by adopting an air of world-weary cynicism. A facade which the naive often mistake for political sophistication.
Independence is self-evidently right in and of itself. It is, after all, the normal status of a nation. But independence is not a solution to any problems in and of itself. It is merely the gateway to being able to address Scotland’s problems in our own way and according to the needs and priorities of Scotland’s people – the people who call Scotland home.
Those needs and priorities are not significantly different from those of people in the rest of the UK. Our attitudes and values are much the same. But the deeply ingrained political culture of the British state is such that those attitudes and values are all but totally excluded from the process of formulating public policy. The needs and priorities of people are not addressed. They are subordinated to political expediency and an overarching economic imperative.
By virtue of its separate democratic institutions and processes, Scotland has developed a distinctive political culture in the sense that, at least relative to the British state, the attitudes and values of people find more effective expression and their needs and priorities are therefore better addressed.
Independence is the prerequisite to allowing that distinctive political culture to grow and develop. A No vote empowers those who regard this more responsive, participative political culture as anathema. A No vote takes the awesome power that the people of Scotland will hold in their hands for fifteen precious hours on Thursday 18 September and hands it to a small elite who detest the very idea of such power being possessed by anyone but themselves.
I like this idea of independence being but a stage in the process of our society growing and developing. Almost like a metamorphosis. We need to work our way out of the cocoon of the British state in order to flourish.
This is not a destructive process. Nothing is destroyed by Scotland bringing its government home. Notions of shared history being “lost” are patently ludicrous. History cannot be lost. It is not a concrete thing. It is not a series of events. (And even if it is viewed as such then those events cannot be “unhappened”.) It is an ongoing process. The past is no more fixed than the future. It is constantly changing as every day that passes becomes a new part of the past; adding to it and, thereby, unavoidably changing it.
The past only appears fixed if it is viewed from the perspective of a particular point in time. There is no rational reason why one arbitrarily selected vantage point should be any more valid than another. We are both the product of and the makers of the past. As individuals and as societies we are formed by our history. And that which is formed by history in turn forms history. History is never lost. It is always part of us. But we grow and change nonetheless.
That is what Scotland needs to do. We need to grow and develop.
Independence is, in fact, a creative process. It is not about severing relationships. It is about redefining and reforming and renewing relationships in a way that is better suited to our times and our circumstances. It is about giving relationships a form that takes due account of how history has changed us since the time when those relationships were first forged.
It’s not as if independence is some outlandish exercise in madcap political adventurism. It is part of a very familiar process. It is a path that has been trod by scores of nations since the collapse of European (and Soviet) imperialism. It is simply the next step in a quite mundane political and historical process that Scotland has been subject to for several years, if not decades. Those who cite the age of the Union as if this was somehow relevant should note that the independence movement is at least as old.
The historical process that is in train will run its course. Nothing now can prevent Scotland becoming an independent nation again. In the same way that reconvening the Scottish Parliament subtly but decisively changed the Scottish people’s sense of themselves; and in the same way that the referendum campaign has transformed Scotland’s politics, so the asking of the referendum question has altered forever the dynamics of a political union which is visibly disintegrating under the strain of even this entirely peaceful, lawful, democratic challenge.
There is no going back. The past is a place that no longer exists. There is no alternative route – as the laughable shambles of the British parties’ proposals for the next round of pointless constitutional tinkering amply demonstrates. The only way is Yes. To vote No is, apart from anything else, to deny political reality.
I may not be saying anything new here. I may not have swayed any opinions by what I have written. But I have said what had to be said. And I’ll keep on saying it right up until the polls close at 22:00 on Thursday 18 September 2014. By which time I hope enough people will have got the message to ensure that the result is a resounding Yes.
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5 thoughts on “That was then”
Such a prescient article.
I especially note your caution, regarding the British Unionists and Nationalists (BUNS), that a “No vote restores and revivifies them.”
How right you were and how sad more people did not heed your warning.
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“The sense that there is some concept or some form of words not previously thought of that might move the remaining undecideds ”
How about (yet) another slogan:
“Independence is a work in progress”
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A lot of people would scoff at that. “What fucking work?”, they would cry. “What fucking progress?”, they’d shout.
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Yes, but as Blair Jenkins says in the Herald:
“The bad news for opponents of independence is that any divisions on the Yes side will largely and quickly heal once a date is set.“
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If only tribalism were so easily quelled.