2007 - 2022

Yes or No? The Idiotic question with the intelligent answer


It really is a very stupid question. Most Yes or No or in or out referenda are about getting popular agreement to a piece of legislation that is already drafted. We would be voting on the result of negotiations, at the end of negotiations, on a detailed piece of legislation that was the result of those negotiations. We are clearly not doing that.

So besides being a digital question in an analogue world, the fact that this referendum question is being asked how it is and when it is is the result of a peculiar set of circumstances that will be enormous fun for people writing a history or politics PHD, but that I don’t propose to get into now. Time enough when it’s all over.

I have said elsewhere, perhaps rudely, that when David Cameron agreed to our holding this referendum the options he had in mind for the Scottish People were that we either Shut Up or F…Off.

The option that was not on the table, (aside from devo max which would have won by a distance which is precisely why that horse is not in the race) was to talk about it.

Yes or No…you decide, he said. But the one thing we’re NOT going to do is talk about it. We won’t negotiate what an independent Scotland might MEAN in the 21st century. We won’t ask or answer any interesting questions about the prospects for the British State.

Most of all, we will not pre-negotiate. We will not talk. About currency, about economics, about welfare, about defence, about Europe. We will of course then criticize the Yes campaign for not having the answers to questions they can’t possibly answer unless we negotiate with them. But that’s just politics.

The crucial thing that the idiot question of Yes or No was supposed to prevent was…talk. Talk between us about democracy. About secret agreements to renew Trident in the Holy Loch without discussion in Westminster, let alone Scotland. To enter into trade agreements that will prevent national or international governments or trade unions from protecting workers and consumers, that mean that corporate decisions will have the force of international law with out any democratic oversight from anyone.

We certainly don’t want to talk about that.

We certainly don’t want to talk about the positive reasons that anyone might have for wanting democratic control of Scottish affairs in Scotland when we’re doing away with democracy along with the health service and the welfare state as rapidly as possible in England and Wales.

We don’t want to talk about how a Yes vote will shake the anti-democratic project to the core. We don’t want to talk about negotiations with a Scottish government meaning we have to open the whole can of worms that characterises how power and wealth are distributed in these islands.

We don’t want to talk. We might GIVE you some things to keep you quiet if you vote no. (things that we can take back)

But we don’t want to talk about how Britain is breaking no matter what the Scots vote for. That “Britain” is nothing more than an embarrassing historical hangover from an imperial past that is no longer sustainable or worth sustaining in the new finance led global economy. We don’t want to talk about that. We want to keep our eyes shut to that reality.

Which brings me back to the idiot question. If we are not voting on the results of negotiations, then we are voting,( if we vote Yes,) for negotiations to start.

We are voting to recognise reality. The break up of Britain is long, slow but inevitable process that started a long time ago.

The debate in Scotland is not a cause of that broken-ness. It is a result of it. That broken-ness is in our crumbling welfare system and our subservience to gangster capitalism. It is in our holding America’s coat for them when they make terrible mistakes in foreign policy

And to vote No is to pretend that none of that has happened, to pretend that history isn’t happening. You’d be just as well humming Rule Britannia in an earthquake.

The real political meaning of a Yes vote is to give a mandate to start a conversation that can save democracy. The real mandate is for a Scottish government to start the conversation that can save the best of Britain from the worst that Mr Cameron and Mr Blair and their ugly ilk have in store for us.

To vote Yes is to start the conversation. Not finish it. To vote No is to disappear, to sign a piece of paper saying we, as a democratic culture, do not count, we do not exist.

We need these negotiations about the meaning of democracy and freedom. Britain needs them. Look at the papers. look at our uncritical support for Israel. Listen to our politicians denounce Putin while selling him guns.

We are voting Yes because we think we should be talking. About all the things going on in Britain and the world. We are voting Yes because we think it’s time we took responsibility for ourselves. We are voting Yes because we’re ready. We’re voting Yes to be part of the world.

We’re not voting Yes because we want to buy a big drill and cut ourselves off from anyone. The powers that be may imagine the only possible reason for voting yes is that you’re a red-haired maniac with a Mel Gibson obsession. It doesn’t make it true.

And if we vote Yes they will have to think again. They will have to look again. They will have to treat with us as equals.

They will have to think! They don’t want to think! They certainly don’t want YOU to think. Who knows where that could lead?

But we’re voting Yes for democracy. Yes for the chance of a decent society. Yes for responsibility. I don’t think claymores enter into it.

Most of all, we’re voting Yes because that’s the intelligent answer. It may be very tempting to vote No to shut it all up, to pretend it all go away. But history doesn’t stop because you ignore it.

I’m not voting Yes because I believe in pie in the sky. I’m voting Yes because I believe in democracy. I am voting Yes because to Vote No or not vote at all would be an unthinkable retreat from my responsibility to others. Including my friends in London and in the rest of the world.

The intelligent answer is to talk. The intelligent answer is to negotiate. And a Yes vote is how we do it. A Yes vote is where we start.


Peter Arnott is one of the team behind All Back to Bowie’s at the Edinburgh festival every lunchtime through August. Get your tickets for All Back to Bowie’s here. 

Comments (19)

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  1. picpac67 says:

    An absolutely superb piece … hitting every nail on the head.

  2. Wullie says:

    A very fine contribution to the big question.

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    So far this thing appears to have been all chat, cyber and the rest. Brit culture is rather good at talk, prevaricating or temporizing blether, boring people into the ground with the sheer tedium of justifying positions. More talk will pour yet more ice-cold water on what ought to be fiery and passionate politics. With the referendum, regardless of outcome, a period of stasis in Scottish politics will be over and the way finally cleared for productive action.

  4. Do any Bella readers think that there’s any merit to writing an article addressed to No voters (and waverers) from a pro-indy English in England perspective? I know pro-indy is a minority view here but I’m willing to write one if it would help. It would be a rational appeal, not an emotional one. If it would be counter-productive to wade in, then I don’t mind anyone saying this. I guess I am getting a bit worried that Yes still doesn’t have a lead in the polls and want to do my bit. Wishing you all well.

    1. Crubag says:

      It’s interesting that Scottish independence doesn’t have majority support in England (according to the polls) but that a majority also wouldn’t mind if Scotland became independent.


      It may just be a resistance to change that is the issue.

  5. Crubag says:

    I’d say a Yes vote actually takes the pressure off any need to reform Westminster.

    Similar to when Ireland achieved independence, London will find it more comfortable to have one less rival Parliament, so I don’t think there will be any move to federalism (English politics are very like the French in that respect).

    North East England didn’t vote for a regional assembly when given the chance – I think people saw it as only another layer of government – and I don’t see that coming back soon under either Labour or the Conservatives.

    (And until we build a currency, central bank, and tax system that is Scottish, we will still be directly beholden to decisions taken in Westminster, even post-2016. But if the Irish can manage it, while still having England as their largest trading partner, there is no reason that Scotland can’t).

  6. Jim says:

    What a pile of absolute tripe. Patronising, condescending and full of lies.

    1. rabthecab says:

      If you believe that to be true, why not explain how you came to your conclusion?

    2. fehvepehs says:

      No it’s no Jim. You just canna accept that there is another way.

  7. macart763 says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Voting YES isn’t the the end, its just the beginning.

    1. Loopyloo says:

      You’re right, voting YES is just the beginning – the beginning of the end.

  8. Marian says:

    Two nails hit on the head for the first time recently thanks to Peter Arnott.

    The NO stategy all along has been to try and marginalise debate on why Scotland is considering independence by putting people off with scare stories and smears and pinning YES to the wall with these so that questions about why should we ever want to continue under Westminster rule are never answered.

  9. Reblogged this on Bluesprints mkII and commented:
    This is a really good analyses of what the vote is all about. “A digital vote in an analog world” – what a great phrase that is! And so true.

  10. “The real political meaning of a Yes vote is to give a mandate to start a conversation that can save democracy.”

    Absolutely, and not just saving democracy but forging a democracy relevant to our 21st century globalised world.

  11. Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    Questions put properly to the right people.


  13. emmylgant says:

    I am a refugee from a failed democracy where fear rules. The USA.
    Vote yes. Please. Show the world, remind the “free world” that democracy is about deciding what freedom is and is not. Once more a French person is looking to Scotland for answers, for enlightened answers, not disinformation, Orwellian speak… Let’s start talking, examine, truly debate in an effort to find the best solutions for everyone, not just a few privileged, egocentric, self-serving politicians with deep pockets.
    If Scotland doesn’t say yes to self-determination, to independance to its history and culture, to the truth of its battles and its fundamental rights… If you, of all courageous and strong ancient people say no to independance, what chance does democracy have of surviving? What are the chances of human rights lasting for ever?
    Please. A Yes is just the beginning, an open door to a future for more than Scotland. It’s a humanity issue.

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