An alternative analogy for the Referendum
Thank you so much for reading, supporting, encouraging, sharing and contributing to this blog. I have loved the challenge of posting every day and post Referendum I want to keep writing here more regularly, perhaps twice a week. I am also interested in podcasting and other things. Watch this space.
Today with only a couple of days left to vote I am going to propose an alternative analogy for the Referendum and set up my stall going forward (it’s a stall on wheels okay, like a cart or something).
A Yes vote is often framed as a rejection, with lots of imagery about divorce, but I think it’s something more inviting than that. By voting Yes I am not being reactionary or withdrawn I am saying I want to be more involved, I want more responsibility, more challenges.
Every vote, like every decision in life, is emotional but this is not sentimental. When I proposed to my wife (a union I am all for!) it was a very emotional decision. But it wasn’t just emotional – I stepped up, I said I wanted to take opportunities, I want to face challenges, I want to grow and develop and it was a little scary and took work and led to a wedding and that took a lot of organising and stress and more work but was worth every minute.
The divorce analogy often applied to the referendum is flawed. Scotland is not going anywhere. Britain is not going anywhere. We are still going to live, work and love together. Our island chain family will still mean something and in fact will mean more if we are independent countries working together. Scandinavia blossomed as a concept once Sweden, Norway and Denamrk were individual entities. The three countries are geographically and linguistically close to one another, able to celebrate what makes them similar and what makes them different. They collaborate together in the Nordic Council. Our Britain could emulate this pattern of a close network of similar bus distinct countries. We could look outward and humbly contribute to the wider family of Nordic countries (which would also include Iceland, Greenland, Finland and the Faroe Islands) sharing our North Atlantic heritage.
There is no inconsistency in wanting an independent Scotland and still wanting to work closely together with the other people who live in these islands. If our relationship followed the Scandinavian model it would flourish once we were autonomous collaborating countries. We have much in common but also much that’s very different. Having lived and worked in Scotland and England I can tell you they are both brilliant but very different places. Scotland is a country within, and not simply a region of, the UK. Our history, outlook, culture, language are strikingly different. We also have different educational, health and legal systems.
As I say above the divorce analogy simply doesn’t work – Scotland is not trying to break away from the rest of the UK as much as it doesn’t want to break away from its other neighbours and the rest of the world. The landmass isn’t going anywhere and neither are the people. Independence is not an overly emotional, insular, defiant position. It is one we have been exploring and wrestling with for months, years, decades and yes centuries.
So if we want to keep on working together, why bother?
Because it’s a constitutional question we’re being asked on Thursday. We want to be better citizens, neighbours and colleagues and we know the current settlement is inconsistent, illogical and flawed. I want to tackle these issues head on. I am voting Yes not because I don’t care about The British Isles but precisely because I care deeply about the people who live on them. We will still have a lot of shared social connections and be living in close proximity but in an independent Scotland we Scots can be increasingly responsible and outward looking, through raising and spending our own taxes.
A Yes vote is the surest way to force the issue of nuclear weapons and send a clear signal to the world that these islands are no longer interested in ostentatious displays of unimaginable and horrific power. There is no way to justify the use of such weapons. We would do well to get rid of them and the domineering, swaggering foreign policy that we also suffer from. This would be a positive change for everybody on these islands – a chance to make a new and positive impression on the world. Independence is also the surest way to give due prominence to wind, wave and tidal energy sources. More dynamic local governance will be better placed to make the most of this innovative but scattered resource. Renewable energy can be more effective and transformative on the small scale where local groups can get on board than when it is implemented on high from an overly centralised government. We would be better equipped to be dynamic and generous stewards and pioneers of these resources.
Licensing Fracking, the ecological ruinous and inefficient practice of blasting underground to unleash natural gas, is an area that was devolved to the Scottish Parliament but has now been taken back, un-devolved. Fracking is popular with central elites who want to dig away under our houses and places of natural beauty without asking us what we think. It offers a short fix, a quick buck and it doesn’t spook the horses (who you can lead to water but they won’t want to drink if there’s been fracking). Renewable energy is increasingly popular, efficient and offers a means of empowering the communities who live on the fringes – if they have sufficient local control. The way to promote this local, self confidence boosting control in often rural communities is to support the decentralising and rebalancing of our society. We can reverse the polarity so that rural communities are no longer an inconvenient anomaly for central planners, an awkward place to pump unsustainable energy to. Instead these communities can become fantastic distinctive outposts that pump clean life giving energy back to the centre. A much better circulation, transforming a distant hegemony into an ever present heretonomy, A compelling model for more than just energy. A move towards the outward facing and local necessitates a more sensitive and open minded society than the status quo of the insular, individualistic and overly centralised. Apparently the UK is the fourth most unequal state in the world. That’s not good enough, we can do better.
I am strongly in favour of a wild meadow, a thriving biodiversity of local representatives. One of the favourite phrases I’ve come across recently in a climate full of pithy Bon mots is ‘Devolution Manc’ a call for devolution for Manchester! The ball is rolling. More local, accountable governance is better for everybody. By pouring everything into the centre we are creating a highly pressurised environment that feeds egos and not families on the breadline. We should restore politics as a humble, dignified responsibility undertaken by diligent hard workers as opposed to a lucrative career choice for bright, earnest self important professionals. We should bump into our representatives in the pub, in the pew, in the park.
We should vote for the charismatic but unshowy characters with policies that most compel us and not just reflexively elect the representatives we always do. We need more women and more people from varied social backgrounds fighting and dreaming for us not the central casting clerks with all the same reference points. More local government leads to more diversity in the individuals working and in the approaches they adopt. We should have city, town and village representatives who are free to try new tailored initiatives in their areas and then share the success and cautionary tales with others. A meadow creates a space where bees can move around, pollinating policy, to create an environment full of life and reliance that supports a whole chain on interdependence. Rather than the allotment of fertiliser we get at the moment and the subsequent stifling monoculture (fertilisers can be many things, one example springs to mind…)
I also believe a more local outlook will make us more international. A centralised, unequal society alienates us from ourselves and one another as we jostle and cling on, by digging where we stand, by reacquainting ourselves with one another and with the land we will be much closer to embracing the common ties that link us with the rest of humanity. It is a global village after all, we can connect to it in our village, on our curb, on our street corner. A more locally empowered people who are able to relax and not have to cling on so tightly will be more open minded and outward looking. An unequal, centralised society creates suspicion and a fear of difference as we compete for resources, status and influence. A more equal and local society is one that every day negotiates and celebrates difference and trust as common means of moving forward. These daily habits of cultivating grace and empathy are great resources for global citizens.
Some people fear a vacuum created in an independent Scotland that could be filled by extremist or far right voices. I would argue we need not be so afraid. There is a wind of change blowing through this society, we have seen commitment and engagement from people who previously felt sidelined, ignored and on the periphery. Without this referendum campaign we would not be in the position where over 97% of the eligible population in Scotland is registered to vote. People who have never ‘counted’ are being told that they matter, that they should get involved, that we want to hear from them. Likewise all sorts of other groups consistently undermined or underrepresented in Scottish public life have grown from the ground up and delighted in the opportunity to be heard. This process has given a voice, an audience, a chance to shine for so many people who would have been underestimated or routinely ignored otherwise. This is not simply because they have been invited but because they have seen space open up and they have taken the initiative and the inspirational, leading steps. As a white, middle class heterosexual man (playing the game of life on the easiest setting) I have been deeply moved by the diversity of opinions and articulations I have witnessed and they make me very proud to share a country with such wonderful people.
It has not been in the interest of our elections (especially when first past the post) to galvanise and include the marginalised or the minority. A battleground is fought every few years that always takes place in a small middle class catchment. We have resigned ourselves to the fact young people and under privileged people don’t care and don’t vote. They are on the margins while we pour over the headlines.
Not this time around.
This time around – everyone is being told that they are involved, that they are relevant that they are wanted. I see this as an incredible remedy to a climate of resentment and apathy that leads to opportunistic gains for the far right. The vacuum that some fear will be caused by the transition to an independent Scotland is already a reality and is why far right parties are on the rise. Far right parties often plunder more from the disillusioned and disadvantaged than they do from the focus grouped and well attended to middle class block that that the centre right are interested in.
Out dominant UK centre right politics leads to the far right in so much as it is inattentive to the needs of people who can’t get on its aspirational ladder. The neglected are as moved or more by the far right as the pampered. There is already a vacuum, an absence of involvement and dialogue, that is being exploited by the far right. By contrast there are multiple generations of people across the strata of society in Scotland who are energised by this Refeerendum and are active and ready to fill the void. I feel Scotland should be immensely grateful to those who come to live here and take Scotland to their hearts. It is an enormous compliment and makes Scotland all the richer and more vibrant. It is often people who have recently arrived in Scotland who bring so much of this enterprising, creative spirit and they are ready to fill the vacuum.
In all this talk of new beginnings, celebrating and affirming relationships and what we all bring to the table, of opportunity and hope and possibility the language of divorce is not going to be sufficient.
I offer an alternative, a tentative suggestion, that on the 18th September if you vote Yes you are not asking for a divorce – you are making a proposal. A proposal full of love, imagination and hope for the future. A proposal to not just keep drifting along but to make something better and more constructive for the future that allows us to have a fulfilling relationship that continues to grow. This doesn’t feel like a divorce, this feels like an engagement.
When I proposed to my wife I was committing to the long haul. I was full of emotion and excitement but it was also the result of a great deal of thought and soul searching.
Last October I made a proposal for a full, imaginative, blessed future where we could flourish as distinct partners each with something different to offer and delight in. This September, almost exactly a year later, as a very happily married man I am going to make another proposal.
I suggest you join me in making this proposal, for that’s what it is, and I also suggest you do as my wife did and say Yes.