The Art of the Possible
We’re delighted to announce that the multi-talented Kate Higgins – who may be known to you via her usual scribblings over at Burdzeyeview .Kate is joining the Bella editorial team and lays out her own personal thinking about the challenges ahead below. We’re delighted to welcome her on board as part of the development of Bella over the coming weeks. Her presence will bring a different slant, or at least a different set of obsessions than the current editors.
What is it with politicians and words and how they treat them as weapons in the constitutional debate?
I find myself increasingly divorced from this most important debate on our future because of what I hear regularly from both sides. The camps are lined up with no man’s – and woman’s – land in between, and having attempted with a few like minds to open up this no woman’s land, I find myself snarled in the barbed wire which keeps those camps apart.
I most certainly do not belong in the no camp. I’ve never been a can’t do person and I ain’t becoming one now. But increasingly, I find myself at odds with the yes protagonists too, or at least, the official SNP element of it.
Why? Well let’s start with the term nationalist. Having reclaimed it in an astute piece of political manoeuvring for electoral purposes, I find myself, like it or not, a nationalist. And actually, I don’t like it. At the risk of inviting opprobrium, I am not or at least, don’t think of myself or project myself, as a nationalist. Even though I know I have blogged that I thought I was, rather in the Jimmy Reid way of thinking. Call it a moment of weakness.
So if not a nationalist, then what?
Two things have helped crystallise this for me recently. First, a conversation with a colleague who regaled me with tales of his family and community history, and how his antecedents really believed that what they did politically was about getting up every morning to change the world, or at least their part of it. And how having been inspired by that in his youth, he has found himself adrift from modern politics – or at least, conventional party politics in his part of the world – because of its narrowing of focus and purpose. Which is that – and I appreciate I am possibly interpreting his view for my own purpose here – the pursuit of power became an end in itself and the idea of changing the world – of blowing away the institutional inertia and vested interests which created and reinforced social injustice and inequality – became too hard or simply no longer attractive
And the second? Irvine Welsh’s essay for this here blog – and also Stephen Noon’s piece a few weeks ago in Scotland on Sunday. At last, two thoughtful, personal pieces articulating why we need independence. Not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. About creating the opportunity for change, because we have no chance of trying to do it from within existing institutional and political structures.
The reaction, particularly to Stephen’s piece, from official quarters, or at least its foot soldiers, would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. The idea that Stephen Noon can’t be trusted and doesn’t speak for the SNP – or at least a big strand of it – is laughable. Here is a man who has served his party and his cause and served it well.
Folk have short memories. The reason he is the chief strategist at Yes Scotland is because he gets it. He was one of the key architects of the big shift in campaigning approach in the SNP in recent years which has brought such success. So, for some to think that the SNP can take us all to the promised land without what he brings to the journey gars me greet.
And the fact that what he had to say, that independence offers the possibility of a huge political re-alignment in Scotland, was responded to – by some- as a threat to be denounced rather than an opportunity to be embraced fills me with dismay.
Because both Stephen and Irvine articulated far better than I ever could, the point of independence. Which is to change the Scotland we are currently; to shift the nature of our relationship with other countries, particularly those on these islands; to demolish the established ways and mores and initiate new and better ones; and to improve the quality of life of all who live here, creating a political architecture which works for the many not the few.
And even though I grew up in the SNP and have been on Bannockburn rallies (and even Glentrool ones, which not every Nat can say) and had my children’s faces painted in the Saltire and speak at Burns Suppers and love my culture and heritage and have cried singing Flower of Scotland and roared on my national teams…. identity does not matter all that much to me. I will not be voting yes with the heart, nor just with my head but with a mixture of both.
Because much as I love my country, I love my people more. And that’s all the people who live in Scotland and who will live here. But also all the people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I want to change what happens here in Scotland because I think I can, post independence – in my usual flights of modest fancy – contribute to making that happen. And by using that direct influence, through the ballot and other means, I can contribute indirectly to change elsewhere. We need to clean our own doorstep first before embarking on the stair, if you like.
But none of it is possible if no one is advocating change. And at the moment, we have a no camp advocating the status quo as the best way to proceed, conveniently ignoring the fact that we’ve had 300 years of union and over 100 years of a labour movement which has signally failed to reform anything other than the margins. And increasingly, we have a yes camp that is split between its main party protagonist which seems to think the way to get people to vote for change is by advocating little change and is also bent on controlling and slapping down the wider yes movement every time it dares to articulate the case – any case – for change.
I have a much better understanding of why the naysayers are doing and saying what they think needs to be done to win the day than my ain kind. Why anyone would vote yes without having been persuaded of the need for change, never mind what change might result if we vote yes is beyond me.
And having neutered the change debate, we are left on the yes side, largely with the identity one. With the soubriquet “nationalist” so adeptly reclaimed for a short term purpose coming to symbolise the nub of the argument to which only fully paid up members of the patriotic, Braveheart tendency are invited. Anyone else is deemed to be anti-Scots.
All it does is continue to polarise the argument into them and us. It will do little to create the gap needed in the barbed wire, not to reach either camp but rather to give them the chance to reach the middle ground upon which so much of non party political Scotland currently lives. And the more terms like nationalist are used – by both camps – the less engaged those of us who cannot and do not identify with the term become.
Thus, the likes of me, who dares occasionally to disagree and utter my own opinion is ritually accused by some in the yes camp of not being a proper – or not even being – a nationalist: the ultimate betrayal in their eyes.
And there are those in the no camp who think it big and clever to apply the term to all pro-indy supporters, as an insult, designed to belittle us all and shut down any attempt at a substantive discourse on the pros and cons of independence.
So, please stop already. You might be a nationalist, and that’s fine. You might all want to conduct the debate in such emotionally charged but ultimately vacuous, polarising terms. But leave me out of it.
So if not that, then what? That’s easy.
I’m a political, utilitarian evolutionary revolutionary; an anti-establishment dis-establishmentarian; who will forever be a sceptical idealist; who believes in independence for Scotland and the art of the possible; who looks around Scotland and thinks that this is absolutely not the best we can be, here or elsewhere in these islands; and who is willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to turn dream into reality.
And the first party post-independence to articulate policies which appeal to who I am (rather than whom they would like to label me as) and which leaves the old cloaks of identity and ideology at the wayside when we cross into virgin political territory as a country and a nation, wins my vote.