Why I’m Voting Yes
All this week we’re publishing articles by English people who support a Yes vote in September. You can follow and join the English Scots for Yes group, who launched yesterday, here. Ben Murray writes on his journey to Yes.
The first time I came to live and work in Scotland was in the autumn of 1990. I was a recently-qualified engineering technician in the Royal Navy, and had just joined the Tenth Submarine Squadron, based at Faslane on the Clyde Estuary. SM10, as it’s known, exists to deploy the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons. The elderly Polaris submarines that were in service at that time hadn’t been my first choice of draft – instead, I’d put in for more modern hunter-killer boats based in Plymouth. So I was quite disappointed when I learnt that I was to spend the foreseeable future based on the rainy west coast of Scotland.
Guess what? I loved it. I loved living at Faslane, I loved going out in Helensburgh, I loved taking the train into Glasgow, and I loved spending time with my sister and her friends in Edinburgh. Elspeth (wee sister) was at university there, and the weekends that I spent hanging out with liberal arts undergraduates provided a welcome counterpoint to the military existence back at the base. It’s good to have some balance in your life, after all.
Most of all, I just loved being in Scotland – it was just that wee bit different to life down south. I soon encountered a natural friendliness and generosity, a vibrant culture, a strong sense of history and a healthy disdain for those who try to take themselves too seriously. And underlying all of this during the early 1990s was a thirst for greater political self-determination that I found quite intoxicating, particularly following the General Election of 1992. Scotland had voted Labour, but had been rewarded with yet another Conservative government. What kind of democracy was this?
Fast forward a quarter of a century. What’s changed? Everything – and nothing. The inherent democratic deficit within UK politics made Scottish Devolution inevitable. Since 1999 we’ve had our own parliament, with powers over a range of important issues: health, education, justice to name just a few. But the decisions that shape our economy, our welfare system, our defence and our foreign relations – our very constitution – these are still made in London, by a neo-liberal government that’s increasingly out of touch with the needs of a progressive and instinctively socially democratic Scotland.
And nuclear powered and armed submarines are still based on the Clyde. They’re still going out on patrol, 365 days a year, at eye-watering expense, in a bizarre effort to deter nameless – unidentifiable – aggressors who might consider attacking us. At least that’s the official line. The truth is that nuclear weapons are political, not military, assets. By deploying nukes, the UK government can cling on to the illusion that it remains a world power. The irony of course is that out of control spending on unusable nuclear weapons is the main barrier to the UK being able to maintain effective conventional armed forces. Anyone for an aircraft carrier with no aircraft?
What about how I’ve changed since 1990? You won’t be surprised to know that I’m no longer in the armed forces. Although I loved my work as an engineer, and always enjoyed going to sea in submarines, I became thoroughly disillusioned by nuclear weapons and left the navy in 1993 to become an environmental activist. On more than one occasion I was involved in campaigns against nuclear proliferation, taking direct action against the new Trident boats that were coming into service in the mid-1990s. And after a few years spent working overseas or in London, I’ve lived in Scotland since 1996. I went to university here, got married here. I’m raising my family here and struggle to imagine ever living anywhere else. The things that so appealed to me when I first lived here appeal to me still. And I love the way in which Scotland has developed as a nation, growing in confidence and stature, increasingly sure of its identity and its desire to shape its own future. It might be overstating things to say this, but I like to think that my own personal journey over the past quarter of a century mirrors that of Scotland as a whole.
I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity presented to us by this autumn’s referendum. A Yes vote in September gives us the chance to build a greener, safer, more socially just Scotland. A Scotland that dares to say no to nuclear weapons. And a Scotland that can become a beacon of hope to the rest of the UK, demonstrating that there is an alternative to neoliberal economics and austerity. The place of my birth has no bearing on my support for Scottish independence – what we’re building here is a Scotland that’s fit for all our futures.