So into the maelstrom we go. As someone with skin in the independence game for 25 years – among older generations with a lot more scars and frustrations than I bear – it feels like a culminating moment.
In between day jobs (and night jobs), the email inbox and the twitterstreams bulge with papers, briefings, advice, admonition, media invites. One would like Professor Higgs to discover a new fold in the space-time continuum, so that they can all be read and properly digested.
The old paradigms that got you from pub conversation to pub conversation (Independence in Europe? Claim of Right? Democratic Intellect, or Deficit?) have to be sharpened up, retrofitted, for the media fray (and for those same pubs too).
At this end of the YesScotland campaign, as a willing member of the Advisory Board, the experience is a weird combination of political-science-cramming, and a happy, existential calm. Make your best case for independence, because here’s the clear run you never thought you’d ever get. Bliss it is in this very dawn to be alive, and a’ that.
But while munching through EU requirements on national central banks, or the comparative advantage of green-tech industrial policy (yes, it’s all fun and games), a phrase has popped into my head which helps orient me in the middle of all this. It’s not new, an adaptation, but it’s inescapable.
“Be the Scotland you wish to see”. You’ll instantly recognise it from the famous Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. (You can stick “in the world” on at the end if you want – but you know, pop lyricists and their end-rhymes…). What am I taking this to mean? That the way we conduct our advocacy and arguments for independence must model and embody the kind of country we want to bring about.
My friend Gerry Hassan has written a lot about how disfigured and self-subverting the language of Scottish political discourse is. And Iain Macwhirter has often pointed out in the past the wild absurdity of Scottish politics – that is, the way that four generally convergent centre-left political parties in Scottish life (the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Greens, and the non-Orange-book Liberal Democrats) tear absolute lumps out of each other in a devolved parliament chamber. And it’s usually around the question of what powers Holyrood does or doesn’t have, to be able to full realize the interests of the Scottish people.
Well, with a single yes-no question on independence and a YesScotland campaign opening its doors to all, here’s a new situation. Within the context of a binding option to attain the full powers of national government, how can we face each other in a new way as thinking, feeling, responsible Scots? Under the umbrella of a commitment to progress and development – with the essential economic and political tools of nation-statehood to achieve that – what new agreements can we forge about building the good society in Scotland?
My hope for YesScotland is that it becomes the space within which we will “be the Scotland we wish to see in the world” – that is, a fair-minded, forward-facing nation, which draws strength from the different visions of progress and improvement that circulate among us. But knowing that, under independence, we will have the powers, and the responsibility, to turn those debates into real policy and national direction.
So yes, the SNP is a major force in YesScotland – how could it not be? But I’ve always been happy to say that I’ve had the privilege to vote for three independence-supporting parties in the lifetime of the Scottish parliament – and due to our proportional system, in all manner of tricky combinations. So it’s genuinely exciting to have the Greens and the SSP as part of YesScotland.
Their presence enriches our national conversation – or perhaps I should say now, the “independence conversation”. As far as I can see, there are some key systemic challenges that underlie all parties and politics in Scotland – the questions of poor life-chances, in health as well as wealth, for far too many people; the question of how we balance strong economic activity with the urgent climatic crisis of our planet. Nobody has a monopoly of answers on these issues. But independence is a brand new context within which to approach some solutions. And a proper diversity of opinion is a strength, not a “lack of focus” or “weakness”.
Is this space open to those who have an ideological identification with an existing party – but that party happens to be currently defending the Union and promoting a “No” vote? To some degree that’s already happening: for example, Allan Grogan’s Labour for an Independent Scotland is a great indicator. Lib-Dems for Independence would be more than welcome (and Tories for Independence too, though we’d have to despatch a therapist to help them with cognitive dissonance).
As someone who (depending on the day’s weather) will describe himself ideologically as a Scottish social democrat, or a Scottish democratic socialist, my feeling for the Labour Party in Scotland, both members, representatives and voters, is acute. It cannot be pleasant to find yourself on a platform with representatives of a Coalition government whose values are so opposed to your own.
And worse, to hear your own Labour leaders, north and south of the border, accept the wrong-headed austerity budget limits of the Coalition (never mind their party’s continuing financial commitment to the replacement of Trident). And on that limited basis, watch them attack the majority of Scots who receive and take pride in universal benefits as a “something-for-nothing” culture.
I completely accept how violating it is to abandon one party identity and embrace another – many people coming from a “Labour” background (and I’m one of them) feel many decades of responsibility to those who have struggled before them, to bring about better conditions for working people. To “cross the line” can easily feel like a betrayal of foremothers and forefathers.
But YesScotland should be the space into which a Labour-identifier can freely walk, and there meet fellow Scots – with explicit party labels, or with none whatsoever – who want to progress and develop the country, in as direct and immediate way as possible, through a vote for independence.
What will that space actually look like? To start with, it’s an address on Hope Street in Glasgow: the YesScotland HQ will launch soon, and it should soon become the buzziest place in the country. To quote Emma Goldman, “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” – so there will be a big channelling of the range of creative and artistic people who support independence, into events and experiences which will express the joy and conviviality of what we want to bring about.
And as a digital network, YesScotland will also become a portal, or a radar-scan, for events conducted in the same spirit throughout the country – as well as the main repository for the strongest policy arguments for independence. Don’t bemoan the media, become the media, will be the basic approach.
A 100 weeks to occupy ourselves: doesn’t look like we’ll have much of a problem, does it? But one way for it to be a life-enhancing, rather than a soul-shredding experience, is – for me at least – to keep my neo-Gandhian phrase in mind. For Yes supporters, “being the Scotland you wish to see” is try to conduct yourself in a way that emphasizes friendliness, calmness and honesty, but also idealism, hope and optimism.
Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds is of course right in and of itself – and it may well not be numerically significant either way. But as a means of bringing energy and enthusiasm and a love of novelty into the political process, it at least chimes with the spirit of YesScotland.
Think about it. In a world full of cheap diversions, horror stories and looming anxieties, we actually have a rare chance in our lives to bring about a change for the better in our immediate conditions. And in a way which simply requires us to be thoughtful Scottish citizens, to our fullest and richest degree. No matter our position, let’s enjoy exercising all our dormant faculties over these next two years. Not just “game on” – but let’s “raise the game” itself.
Pat Kane is one half of Hue And Cry, runs the Thoughtland blog, and is on the Advisory Board of YesScotland.