The Scottish Post: Thoughts on the Referendum

As the ‘messy divorce’ analogies for the Scottish Referendum pile up around us, I’ve found myself in an embarrassing state of Having Opinions, and it’s come to the point where I feel the need to join the rest of the still-just-about-United Kingdom in sharing them. Given that I already have a convenient platform for spewing my thoughts all over the internet, here are some of the things I’ve ended up repeating to various people over the last couple of weeks.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t claim to have the requisite knowledge to formulate a sound political/economic argument for or against Scottish Independence; the observations I want to share are first and foremost about the extremely depressing way the campaigns and individual debates are being conducted, so please be nice! Constructive criticism about the inevitable ignorance/bias within this post is welcome, although I’ll do my best to create a perfect blend of tact and incisiveness. In the interests of balance, I should make it clear from the outset that, if I had a vote, it would be a No. This obviously means that I’m likely to lean towards the “please don’t leave us” side of things.
 

The Ugly Side of the Argument

 
I’ll start with the point that got me riled enough to write a post on this in the first place: the Yes campaign, the Better Together (BT) campaign, and the reactions they have provoked by being generally a bit awful. 
 

Better Together

“Patronising BT lady” has become a meme (More info here). This is understandable, because the original advert is indeed hideously sexist and patronising. 
 
One of her many incarnations
 
While it’s nice to see a rare bit of humour about the referendum, it saddens me that the people supposedly representing the union’s case have done it so badly that it’s actively advertising the opposite side. 
 
Here are some thoughts about the BT campaign, from the perspective of someone who’s supposedly behind it:
  • It’s incoherent rubbish. We all know that.

Although in their defence…

    • The campaign really is starting from a difficult position. “The No Campaign” is hardly an inspiring title, and a large number of its arguments are necessarily founded on pessimism.
    • David Cameron is not the (disturbingly shiny) face of BT. Or the UK. Or England. Nobody wanted him. Don’t judge the rest of us on him. Please.
    • The ads are being made by advertisers, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re sexist drivel.
    • The BT campaign is not an ‘anti-Scotland’ campaign. Mr Salmond, I’m looking at you here.
  • The BT campaign being rubbish is not in and of itself a reason to vote no.

Yes

The Yes campaign has done its job very effectively and has managed not to be quite so insulting to its audience. The name of the movement alone has a tone of positivity and hope about it, and springs from a coherent ideology with a single, long-running aspiration.
However, this mood of defiant optimism (combined with Salmond’s tenuous grip on reality) leads, on occasion, to some extremely implausible predictions about Scotland’s future, and, crucially, to an unfortunate lumping together of everything-that-isn’t-yes into ‘Westminster’. This is to be expected, given that politicians are involved; false promises and an ‘us vs them’ mentality is par for the course. However, I think the divisive way the campaign is being run is behind a lot of the resentment building across the whole of the UK, and is resulting in some unnecessarily dogmatic support.

Diversity and Representation

This brings me on to my most important point: the way in which opposing sides of the debate have been representing each other. While Scotland may well decide that it’s better off as an independent nation, that should absolutely not be because of blind nationalism, or, worse, unfounded bitterness. We do not need these outdated stereotypes, and they will harm all of us regardless of the outcome; resentment is growing because of the aggression stoked up by the campaigners, the media, and internet comment threads. While the Yes campaign focuses on portraying the union as “Westminster”, a patronising oppressor that belittles and ignores Scotland, the No campaign is doing its best to reaffirm this by proving itself patronising and ignorant, and the media is busily relaying an (inaccurate, but still inflammatory) message of “F*ck you lot, we’re off” to the rest of the UK.
Why should Britain bother moving into the 21st century?
It amazes me that we have allowed the few who are raring for conflict to get their way. I think in the heat of the debate, we’ve forgotten that we used to get on pretty well, and that the differences between Scots and other UK citizens are hardly insurmountable; my year abroad made me very aware of how much Brits have in common with each other. I myself have even been known to have Scottish friends. Yes, Scotland is a country with its own identity, but in my view this is part of the wonderful linguistic, cultural and social diversity that makes us a nation I am (more or less) proud to belong to. Surely this ought to allow us to transcend, rather than reinforce, boundaries? This is the case regardless of which way you’d vote; the animosity we’re in the process of generating will be just as damaging in a Yes or a No outcome, and we urgently need to start listening to and respecting one another.
**Propaganda warning** While the above is about the way the debate is happening without regard to outcome, here come some thoughts in favour of a No vote…
The UK is filled with distinct regional identities – Wales and Northern Ireland spring to mind, but what about the North of England, Cornwall… hell, even Herefordshire? A common thread coming from everyone outside London is “Why shouldn’t we be independent as well?” In my view, this idea that we should break up into tiny homogeneous states is missing the point. I personally identify as English, British and European. To those who are voting Yes out of a wish to have their national identity respected, I would ask: “Does that really have to be incompatible with a shared British identity?”

DevoMax vs. The Split

No, it’s not an exciting wrestling match – I’m going to irresponsibly speculate on the possible outcomes of the vote, although given that both sides are presenting conjecture as fact, it’s difficult to say anything for sure.
In terms of the ‘No but devolution please” option that they definitely should have put on the ballot paper, it’s pretty clear that the top dogs of Downing Street are offering far more concessions than they were at the start. Should we care if this is due to panic? Does it matter if it’s a ‘bribe’ to stay in the UK? Now that these promises have been made, there would be national outrage were they broken following a No vote, and another referendum in the near future would be inevitable. What’s more, I can see no discernable advantage to Westminster in refusing further devolution of powers, but huge advantages to them in not massively alienating Scotland.
And if there were a Yes vote? Well, the outcome is certainly less predictable, because it would entail the birth of a new economy and the actual answering of all those slippery questions about the pound and all that oil. I expect Scotland would be successful, but I don’t think anyone can say to what degree. What’s certain is that the separation would be complicated and possibly messy. Here’s an article (thanks Bonnie!) that gives an idea of what might happen: info
For me, the crucial thing about a Yes vote is that it is permanent. Like, really permanent. Once Scotland has gone independent, there won’t be any going back within our lifetimes, and that means there will be no trial period. A successful independent Scotland will still never be a utopia, and for that reason I would argue that before separating we should try to work things out within the union, devolving further power and using the various democratic processes available (protests, everyone voting even if just to spoil their paper, writing to MPs, etc) to ensure we represent our varied population as best as possible.

Final thoughts: It’s always going to be a compromise

Let’s face it, this is what the UK looks like to a) Westminster and b) The entire rest of the world

The under-representation of individual areas and people is far from unique to Scotland, and would probably continue within an independent Scotland. A problem inherent to democracy is that it leaves a lot of people unhappy – about 60% of UK citizens got a government they didn’t want in the last election. There are many arguments for and against Scotland representing itself as an independent country, but the fact is that, whatever happens, about half the Scottish population will be bitterly disappointed the day after the referendum. This is testament to the need for compromise and tolerance above all things; we must begin being reasonable now, so that whatever negociations have to happen can do so in an atmosphere of neighbourliness and respect.

My main message to those who have the chance to vote is this: Please don’t let yourself be played. The people being most vocal about the referendum are, of course, people with strong opinions on it, and a lot of those happen to be fairly canny (or occasionally incredibly bumbling) politicians who have deliberately polarized the debate as much as possible. This issue matters to me, and it frustrates me that I can’t vote on it, although of course it makes sense for Scotland to decide Scotland’s future. All I can ask is that you vote the best way you can, using your head as well as your heart; watch the coverage, listen to the debates, read the articles and take them all with a suitable pinch of salt. And finally, for god’s sake let’s all be nice to each other whatever happens.
 
 
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One thought on “The Scottish Post: Thoughts on the Referendum

  1. Pingback: Brexit: Burning our bridges | Just an anglophone

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