This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Mary Montgomery who has gladly given up six months of her life to work in the trenches at Yes North Ayrshire’s Irvine outpost. The change from a shuttered, emptied premises to busy little shop front has been emblematic of the rise of political engagement in this country. It is no exaggeration to say this Referendum has transformed Scotland. Turnout is likely to be two to the three times higher than it was for our last European election and between a third and a half times as much than the turn out for the last Holyrood and Westminster elections. About 97% of those eligible to vote are now registered, many of whom have never voted before. Perhaps a reason for this is that this vote is unequivocally about us the people. Generally we have to choose between what our representatives are offering. In the aftermath of this vote our representatives will have to choose from what we have offered them. We get to decide what we want, not between what they want. It’s democracy baby.
The enthusiastic, dedicated Mary is a great example of this empowering process. In our conversation she was delighted to recount journeys she was witnessed of people who have gone from No to Yes. Intriguingly a recurring theme was that of women convincing men to vote Yes. The polls keep telling us that less women support Independence but Mary’s experience on the ground is that it is often the women who are the most active supporters of Independence. I think the media has broadly misinterpreted the higher polling figures of women who identify as Undecided as an example that women are less engaged or informed. Despite this conclusion flying in the face of reason it also flies in the face of the evidence. On the street, out canvassing, out on the web there are huge numbers of women who are engaged in this question. Of course there is, we shouldn’t have to make a point of it. The patronising Better Together offering (which should have had a number to call at the end like they sometimes have after Eastenders) was as inaccurate as it was disturbing in its portrayal of the average female voter.
The fact that the polls have taken a while to register the support of women for a Yes vote is likely attributable to the fact that women are not less engaged but are actually more intensely engaged and involved, wrestling with this question, seeking out more information. We should stop worrying if the campaigns engage women and realise that women are engaging in the campaign.
A lot of the hardworking women behind the scenes are (as is sadly often the case) behind the scenes and are not being detected by the polls. Some women may still identify as ‘undecided’ but that doesn’t mean they’re fifty-fifty. Maybe they’re quietly doing their bit while they complete their journey. Maybe I’m putting to positive a spin on this. A criticism often leveled at Independence supporters is that they are too idealistic, investing too much in worthy but fanciful visions of the future. They say it is better to ‘play it safe’ and that it is ‘not worth the risk.’ Mary’s response to my question about her dreams for an Independent Scotland undermine this stereotype.
“Land of milk and honey and the streets will be paved with gold… I don’t think!” She went on to say, “I know the country will be in safe hands. No matter who gets in at the next election, they will have to come up to the bar and they’ll be responsible to the people of Scotland.”
“It’ll be safe.”
This is someone who is voting Yes and campaigning for Yes not because it offers a big gamble for something better but because she believes it to be the best and safest option. The Better Together campaign has succeeded in convincing some about the insecurity of Independence, but they have made little ground convincing us that the UK is safe, only that it might be safer by comparison. Perhaps this is the case because a lot of us don’t feel that safe or that secure in the UK as it is currently constituted. Their strategy has been to project all our fears for the future on to an Independent Scotland so that the UK looks safe by contrast. We all have fears for the future, I’ve yet to decide what to have for lunch and I’ve got a train to catch.
There is no intrinsic reason that large countries are safer or more secure than small ones in fact it is often the reverse. What makes more of a difference is when the countries have an outward looking, positive and peaceful approach to the world as opposed to be insular, post-colonial and aggressive. A new Scotland means a new England, a new Wales, a new Northern Ireland. And a new Britain! Britain won’t be going anywhere, we’ll still cooperate but as dynamic, supportive neighbours.
I’m a bit of a trippy dippy idealist but you don’t have to be to vote Yes. You can vote Yes because you want a safe, local, accountable system that looks out for your best interests. Many may be surprised to hear that you can vote Yes on the grounds of safety and security but Mary wonderfully proves them wrong. She argues that a Yes vote puts the pressure on our leaders step up and that can only be a good thing. Complacent leaders – that’s where the risk lies.
I’d like to thank Mary and everybody at Yes North Ayrshire for campaigning so positively and engagingly. They have set a great example for us all. I’ve never seen any hostility or animosity. They have been friendly, open and encouraging. They have affirmed, curiosity, discussion and cooperation. They have also kept me in steady supply of badges and other paraphernalia for which I am grateful.
When I asked Mary how she felt this close to the Referendum, this was her response,
“Terrific. Nervous energy but a really, really good feeling.”