British for Yes
In that latest Guardian poll, the one that gave Yes 49, and No 51 – which to me suggests Yes coming through ahead on the day – they asked why people were voting as they were:
– The strongest reason for voting No was from a sense of Britishness – ‘Feelings about the UK’ 53%
– The strongest reason for voting Yes was because of Westminster – ‘Westminster’s style of politics’ 51%
This chimes with a friend (someone who was born and grew up in England) who tells me he has just received a letter from his mother in England asking him to vote No and implicitly threatening him with being disinherited if he votes Yes.
This seems quite extraordinary. Her son has lived in Scotland for decades, has kids and is completely committed to being here and – maybe unluckily, or maybe luckily, for her – has already voted Yes with his postal vote.
So what is going on with this ‘Britishness’?
Presumably she has said this for completely understandable reasons. She is a loving and progressive and intelligent woman. But presumably some part of her feels he is denying and destroying one of the most important things she has given him – his Britishness. And if that is indeed what is going on for her, then it gets absolutely to the heart of why so many people we would otherwise expect to vote with us cannot even contemplate voting Yes.
As the Guardian poll confirms, for most of us, voting Yes is above all about choosing a different path than the hopeless Westminster one.
It is about embarking on a journey. It is taking a risk to trust ourselves rather than trust those who continually threaten us unless we agree that they know far better than we do, unless we agree that they should make our decisions for us.
For many of us, this stepping out and refusing to be cowed into submission by the Westminster/ financier system, comes as much out of our care for all our relatives, friends and strangers across these islands and across the world, as it comes from our care for people who are so clearly being trampled by this system closest to home.
Our voting Yes comes from values and feelings that we learnt to associate with our Britishness – with being part of society on these islands – long before the institutions that seemed to represent those values began to be hollowed out by forces that are intent only on their profits and our compliance:
– The BBC, that we used to associate with a commitment to balanced and open-minded assessment of the news.
– The NHS and the rest of the Welfare State, that were sustained by all our wages to be there for all of us when we needed.
– University education that was, again, paid for by all of us from our taxes and so was free for all those with the ability to participate, with those from financially precarious families not put off by the prospect of accumulating a huge debt.
– A Trade Union movement that would insist on fair pay and conditions, and provide some balance to the power of those in charge.
– A police force that didn’t carry guns, and no conscription into the army. A sense (however mistaken) that our policing was not based on coercion but on consent, and that we weren’t a country that would go to war easily, that we had learnt from the past.
– A country that was welcoming to those seeking refuge from persecution elsewhere.
For those of us who associate those values with those institutions, and associate both with a sense of being British, none of our commitment to those values, and to those ways of relating to each other, has changed.
It is our commitment to those values, and to our relatives and friends across this island and elsewhere, that means we are voting Yes.
For those of us who feel powerfully committed to this inheritance that we were taught to identify as British, we are voting Yes because this is the only avenue we see open to us.
We are voting Yes to restore those values, those institutions, those ways of relating.
And it won’t be easy.
But in the voting and political system in Scotland – unlike in the Westminster system – our votes count. If a political party betrays us, we don’t have to still vote for it because it seems the lesser of two evils. We can move our votes if the party we vote for move the opposite way, small parties can emerge and become larger, our votes count.
Our commitment to those values and institutions – ones that carried an openness to others and to the truth, and carried a care for others and a sense that we all belong – has not changed. It is steadfast and strong.
That is the Britishness that is making sure we vote Yes.
And, if we lose, we at least tried our best, and didn’t turn away from the opportunity, fooled by the elites that somehow if we vote Yes we are betraying our friends and relations down south.
And, if we win, then our deepest hope is not just for the healing in our society in Scotland, for a real healing based on tackling inequality and injustice, rather than the pious healing the powerful call for, which is just a silencing of those who challenge their power. Our hope is that this shakes up the establishment down south, and shows people in the rest of Britain that the one thing bullies are frightened of most is people rediscovering their self-confidence. In this case the self-confidence to say: there is a far better way than the miserable one you insist is the only option.
And of course there are other aspects of that amorphous thing we learnt to experience as ‘Britishness’, other aspects of that inheritance that are not benign, that are about deference and class and knowing your place, about contempt and superiority and conquering others, about one rule for ‘us’ and another for ‘them’.
Those aspects have been played out before us.
The nasty aspect of our inheritance
– Has been played out in the greed of the bankers bonuses and their spectacular financial scandals, where their political friends make sure it is the public that bails them out, and then they punish us with austerity;
– Has been played out in us paying for politicians expenses, duck houses in their moats, while they castigate people who are forced onto on welfare by the double dealings of their banking friends tax-avoiding profit-chasing financial incompetence;
– Has been played out in an NHS that is being privatised in England, first by letting private companies take over provision within it, and then by choking NHS provision so those who can afford it will turn to those same private companies outside the NHS system. And so develops an American style utterly unjust unhealthy and unbelievably costly ‘illness as a source of profit’ system;
– Has been played out in a press that intrudes so viciously and distorts so spectacularly for the benefit of its paymasters. Something we have shockingly found played out in most – not all – of the BBC and Guardian and other mainstream papers incredibly biased and even directly deceitful reporting and analysis of the referendum process and issues.
– Has been played out in the surfacing scandals of sexual abuse carried out by an elite who see themselves as superior and above the rules of descent human interaction.
– And has been so clearly played out in the desperate hanging on to weapons of mass destruction to hold onto a pretend big boy bullying status, when the wealth poured into them, and into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that we the public never supported, could be spent so much better and so much more effectively on restoring our society to one of care, conviviality, hope and humour.
And that last point says it all.
Across these islands we marched to prevent the war in Iraq, but they refused to listen.
Across these islands a majority of people in all major parties want the post office, and the rail and energy companies back in public ownership, but the major Westminster parties will not countenance such a thing.
Across these islands the direction of travel people want – from protecting the NHS to education accessible to all – is in one direction, and the direction of travel of the elite who control the Westminster City of London system is in completely the other.
Those of us committed to the institutions and positive values we learnt as part of our British inheritance, and committed to tacking the shadow side of that inheritance, have to choose between voting No or voting Yes.
We have to make such a stark choice because Westminster refused to allow the middle option on the ballot paper of maximum powers for Holyrood, with defence and foreign affairs reserved to Westminster.
So we have to decide:
– Which vote will help restore our values, and challenge the shadow side?
– Which vote will be taken as an acquiescence to the further eroding of our values and dismantling of the institutions that matter?
Which move will help restore what we love about Britain:
– Powerfully jolting a corrupt system that pretends its interests and the interests of the people of these islands are the same;
– Powerfully reminding people elsewhere on these islands that we the public should be in charge of our society.
Is it time to say enough is enough, and vote to reclaim what we value in our inheritance, not vote in a way that gives our permission to the forces that are destroying it?
Which matters more: the label or the life?
Our caring for Britain starts with a Yes to independence from the Westminster system, starting with Scotland and spreading to every part of these islands.