The referendum in 2014 will be about much more than just whether political decisions affecting Scotland are made in Edinburgh or London. Well, in some ways this is exactly all it should mean, but the reality is the way Scotland votes will tell us who we are and what we think of ourselves as a nation, and will lead us to question what exactly it is we’ve just voted for. This will be true regardless of whether we vote “yes” or “no”. It will mark a watershed moment in Scottish history, one which I think could be described as the day Scotland “comes of age”, like in so many feelgood movies where a boy or girl embarks on a summer that redefines their relationships with those around them, and points them in the direction in which they will grow to become a man or woman. In short, it will be the moment Scotland finally grows up – or at least it should be.
People often compare Scotland’s relationship with the UK (and by that I naturally mean England, because our country’s relationship problems have nothing to do with Wales and Northern Ireland) in terms of a marriage. Some political unions are indeed like marital unions, but the imbalances in the UK have meant that Scotland’s place in the union has always felt – to me, at least – like that of an offspring. After a 291 year childhood where Westminster made all our decisions for us, in 1998 we were asked if we wanted our own key to the house, and entrusted to spend our pocket money how we saw fit (although Westminster still looked after the energy bills, the TV licence and other housekeeping duties deemed to be too difficult for us to fully understand). After an incredibly short adolescence in comparison, we’re about to find ourselves in a position where we decide if we want to “leave home” to make our own mark on the world, or remain in a perpetual state of juvenility, afraid to cut the apron strings, preferring instead to just loosen them slightly.
Some will say that I’m just accusing those who vote “no” in the referendum of being childish. Well, I’m afraid the current state of Scotland is indeed an incredibly juvenile state of affairs, and how you envisage Scotland to proceed afterwards determines whether or not you’re displaying maturity. What we have is a country that wants to have all the freedoms of independence, but none of the responsibilities. If that’s not childish, then what is it? The main reason there is such a popular appetite for independence is because Scotland has never fully gotten behind the union, always wanting to have separate institutions, leading to the current situation where Scotland exists as a sort of half-country. Sometimes we’re Scotland, other times we’re the UK. This is rarely more apparent than during sporting events like the Olympics, with people on both sides of the debate claiming Scottish athletes for their own cause. It’s a schism that has existed for three centuries, and 2014 is the perfect time to finally resolve it.
If Scotland votes “no” in 2014, there will be a mass outcry from people in England – only some of whom will be from the Tory party – saying that Scotland needs to stop trying to have its cake and eating it (coming in the form of calls to reform Barnett, where “reform” is that peculiar neo-liberal interpretation similar to “reforming” a chocolate bar by placing it beside a heat source, as well as calls to reign back some of Holyrood’s powers, including some that were never reserved in the first place). I’m afraid there is absolutely no faulting the logic to this – having said “no” to becoming an independent country, people in England are fully entitled to question why we should continue to have the kind of autonomy we currently enjoy and which they do not. What can our answer be to this? “Because we want to.” Again, we come back to the psyche of the teenager (which people of my age may recall as being the chanted chorus in Billie Piper’s inaugural hit), wanting the world without wanting to pay for it, much like a right-winger wanting safer streets but not wanting to pay the taxes that pay for them. Those in the Better Together campaign who claim the union gives us “the best of both worlds” are guilty of just such an attitude, and it’s all the more obvious given that their main argument for not voting “yes” can effectively be summed up as “it’s a big, bad world out there…”, like an over-protective mother telling her son not to venture outside the garden. This infantilisation is completed by the fact that those who oppose independence so vehemently refuse to take responsibility for what a “no” vote would mean for the future of Scotland, pretending instead that we can live on as 18 year olds forever, protected for all time from the dangers of that big, bad world by the magic of the union. If this intellectually insipid argument seriously wins over the Scottish people, then we have far bigger problems than we realise, and any thoughts that we could see a second Scottish enlightenment are clearly ridiculous.
I want independence chiefly because I feel Scotland is a country and should therefore have the same rights as any other country, but also because I am quite simply unsatisfied with the status quo. If Scotland turns down the chance to become independent and we try to carry on as if nothing had happened, then nothing is resolved, and questions remain unanswered. We cannot stay in this juvenile state of affairs. We need to make a grown-up decision about who we are and what we want. The idea that a “no” vote should lead to a winding up of Holyrood is generally regarded as the stuff of Tory nutcases who have always opposed devolution, but the reality is that, unless we press for a fully-federalised UK, anything else is insulting to the same people we have just pledged to remain politically aligned with. It’s inconceivable that, having done so, we could continue trying to be two nations at once. “We like your nukes and tanks, but if you don’t mind, we’ll do everything else our own way, thanks.” We become the adult who refuses to move out of mum and dad’s house, but complains when asked not to come clattering home at 2am when they have work in the morning. “You can’t tell me what to do!” “Well move out then!” “No, I don’t want to!” Instead of trying to be a wee pretendy nation with our own health service, education system and courts, would it not be time to finally admit we’re too feart to be a real nation and just assimilate fully with England, after 300 years of kicking and screaming, and finally turn Britain into a country, rather than just an island (subject to Welsh approval, naturally)? Would it not be time to finally stick our colours to one mast and stop trying to be two nations at the same time, switching from one to the other when the going gets a bit tough?
We would instantly see ourselves subject to the full horrors of the Tory party, but you know what? At least it would be an honest, grown-up decision.