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From the Province of the Cat #36 – The Readiness Is All

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by George Gunn

The disappointment, sadness and downright anger felt by the 16 to 17 year old, first time voters at the result of last September’s independence referendum was palpable. Those of us of an older vintage, whilst equally disappointed, could at least temper our broken dream on the forge of experience. The rigged devolution referendum of 1979, the election of Margaret Thatcher the same year, the Falklands War, the 84-85 Miners Strike and the introduction of the Poll Tax in Scotland has hardened our political skins and September 2014 was one more scar. For us the past referendum was yet another defeat but it is also another dreaming step closer to the independent Scotland all of us who lived through those tragic social and political episodes of the 1970’s, 80’ and 90’s see as essential.

Imagine then how the 16 and 17 year olds must feel now that Lord Lang of Monkton, ex Tory Scottish Secretary, and chair of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, has given voice to the idea that extending their democratic franchise to the 2016 Scottish election is a bad idea because in his Lordship’s opinion “not enough thought has been given to this impact.”

I would suggest a great deal of thought has already gone into allowing 16 and 17 year olds their democratic right to vote on all the issues which affect their lives. The large turnout at the referendum was due, in part, to the lowering of the voting age. Principally the main operational reason for lowering the voting age being that if an individual is old enough to pay tax then they are old enough to vote. Taxation without direct democratic representation has been the cause of several revolutions.

This negative concern about the inclusive extension of democracy emanating from the un-elected second chamber of a parliament with no written constitution or Bill of Rights is historically typical. Every and any political and societal right and liberty enjoyed by the population of these islands has been wrestled from their grabbing hands, often at the point of a gun or a sword. The aristocrats and appointed “M’lords” in the House of Lords and their butler MP’s on the Tory and Labour benches in the House of Commons have, since the parliaments inception, “granted” ordinary people absolutely nothing. They continue to oppose, resist, distort and sabotage any measure which extends the reaches of political representation, increases economic advantage for the majority and moves us forward as a society and progresses the dynamic of freedom. These very notions are anathema to Lord Lang of Monkton and his committee of the ermine un-dead. The very idea of the House of Lords having a “constitutional committee” I find hilarious. Unfortunately the humour is bad and its substance offends the nose.

However, in Scotland we desperately need the new generation coming through to be actively engaged in the democratic process. We need them to vote on tax, education, health, housing, defence and foreign affairs. We need them to educate themselves on all of these issues and more because my generation – those over 50 – have abjectly failed to do so for ourselves. We, even though we have lived through “interesting times”, have demonstratively learned nothing from them. Every time things have got bad we have allowed them to get worse. The new generation, by their very youth and upon the evidence of the mess of the UK they see before them, have the right – if they so choose – to ignore everything we say and to learn nothing from what we have done except what not to do.

Yet, as Shakespeare has Hamlet tell Horatio

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.”

The result of the coming general election on May 7th will, I hope, show to the 16 and 17 years olds of Scotland that the time for the independence of their country is approaching: “if it be not now, yet it will come”. And, as in Hamlet’s wise words – “the readiness is all.”

In order to be ready for independence they have to be educated. It suits the ruling UK elite for young people not to vote or not to be interested in politics at all. It also suits them to chastise the broader population for being apathetic and generally disengaged from politics as it does to hector them about being unemployed, anti-social, overweight, foreign, a single parent or just plain poor. The path from the corruption of patronage of the House of Lords to the cash for questions corruption of the House of Commons (Rifkind and Straw being the latest examples) and onwards to the corruption in banks, tax evasion, the arms industry, the police, the press and almost every aspect of civil and industrial life in the UK, is a long and hard consciousness raising hike but it is one any youngster can go on if they have eyes to see and a moral conscience and can stand the stench. Each station of rottenness is connected to the next by the greedy lay lines of a material society that decrees success as wealth and anything else as failure.

It is difficult for anyone born around the middle of the 20th century to grasp fully the kind of world the 16 and 17 year olds are going to inherit or pass on to their children. Technology, for example, is the exterior wrapping of a type of human life no previous generation of Scottish person has ever known and that same technology, which was meant to liberate us, now keeps us under surveillance and how it will be used in the future can only be guessed at. The education I talk of is an education of a different kind than is prescribed by the state. In Scotland we have no need for the destructive weapons of the world. We cannot gain respect through constantly stating how wealthy a country we could be if we were independent. There are only an estimated 5,327,700 of us since the last census in 2011, so we are in fact small in world terms. The only thing we have which no-one else has but with which we are willing to share with the world is the culture of our nation. If our young ones are culturally educated then they will be ready: “it will be now.”

The energy that the young ones brought to the referendum debate was generated from the fact that they, probably for the first time, realised there was a different path they could take and that they did have influence and power and could use it in a positive way. Many, also for the first time, discovered that Scotland was in fact a different place to England and that Britain was an artificial construction and this difference, of itself, was not a bad thing and that the construction was a real obstruction to their ambition. This discovery excited them as it was both extra-curricular and central to their lives and I found this deeply moving because it arose despite the best efforts of many schools in the Highlands, for example, to suppress debate about the issues surrounding the referendum in the hope that it was a fad, that it would go away and that the “kids would forget all about it next week”, as one teacher in Thurso told me.

They have not forgotten but they are growing increasingly frustrated because, as is the confusing reality: they cannot participate in the coming General Election when they could in the referendum. How pitiful it is that the British political system and educational establishment are so determined to deny young people the opportunity to develop a political and cultural consciousness and how obvious it is that the education system must be turned upside down to counter this denial. To continually test children until the subject of the study becomes meaningless other than as a means to a pass mark is to ensure that when they leave school they will remember nothing.

It is never better to forget than to remember. The UK state not only wants us to forget and not remember, it does not want us to know in the first place. Education should be about discovery. So, the questions asked should be: what is this literature I am supposed to be reading? Who wrote it and why? Why is so little of it, or any of it, Scottish?  Where is my own culture not reflected in this curriculum? What is history? Why do some writers, the rememberers, choose some specific bits of historical narrative to explain to us the necessity of signing up to a particular current opportunity which is going to oppress us next year or fleece us tomorrow?

Only through an education free of cynicism and manipulation can we construct a society which is both a receiver and a generator of light so that we can say with an open heart that life is possible. The education the state offers our young people at present is an unreliable mechanism by which to introduce the joy of learning into a child’s life. What it does is place the child inside the prison of official choices in which everything is denied. No child will sing in such a prison cell. The only aspiration offered is to move to a bigger cell. The only language learned within this incarceration is a stream of tears. So the child becomes silent, internal and easily manipulated. Success like this is a savage articulation of anguish which itself is the terrible noise of division. The child is separated from itself. They are denied their culture and as a result deny they have one.

I believe that human sympathy is the origin of poetry. Without sympathy poetry has no function. Empathy comes from understanding who you are and where you come from and until children are introduced to Scottish culture as a normal and everyday component of their learning experience their own country will be a stranger to them. Those who are born into the computer age are termed “digital natives”. Those, like me, who have learned to cope with it through necessity, are “digital migrants”. Do we want our young people to be “cultural migrants”?

Poetry is the language of learning and empathy ensures that we do not kill each other. At this point in Scotland’s story, when we are on the crest of real lasting change, when each day shows us that the ties that bind us to the UK are rotten to the core, this then is the time to empower our young ones, to engage them in the politics of the fair and honest society we all strive for. A society where disappointment, sadness and anger have no constructive place, so that our 16 and 17 year olds can tell the likes of Lord Lang, Rifkind and Straw to slouch off to the kingdom of dust which is the history they have made for themselves, that we have better and more fitting work to do.

Yes, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow”, and doubly yes, “the readiness is all”.

© George Gunn 2015. 

Comments (36)

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  1. Reblogged this on Max Stafford's Kennel and commented:
    A thoughtful and inspiring piece on the denial of the youth vote in the forthcoming GE. Worth a read regardless of your standpoint.

  2. Monty says:

    Interesting piece though is Scotland not as much of an articficial construction as Britain and is this a bad thing?

    1. IAB says:

      Cultural mores in Scotland vary from place to place but I would argue that we are a nation of equals and there is a sense of being Scottish. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.

  3. maxi kerr says:

    Well written,there is a world of difference to the way that ordinary children are taught at state schools, and the way the so called elitism education is applied to the public school system.The subjects of study and the way they are applied differ greatly and most “old boy’s” are tutored not to talk about the clash of teaching styles between the haves and the have nots.THEY intend to KEEP it this way if they possibly can. Let’s STOP them?.

  4. IAB says:

    They might miss the General Election but they’ll be around in 2017 and they won’t forget.

  5. JLT says:

    Thoughtful piece, but I think time is the key to Scottish Independence (…unless Westminster does something extremely foolish that will have Scotland shrieking ‘UDI, UDI’ within days). What I mean by ‘time’ comes with 2 factors, though both can be summarised also in one word; age.

    As the old age pensioners, of whom a good few many of them grew up with the ideology of being ‘British’, they are now countered by the young, whom have been left disappointed, if not angry, at how the British State lied and stole a dream from them.

    As the Pensioners pass, and the youth keep coming through, then ‘time’ along with the ‘age’ factor will see Scotland become independent …that is …if things aren’t pushed to a critical point should the SNP take more than 40 seats at this years GE, completely dominate Holyrood next year, and then push comes to shove over the In-Out EU referendum. Who knows…

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      The in/out referendum on EU membership isn’t going to happen. Miliband is clear about the fact that he wants no such referendum (so much for the people’s right to decide), and Cameron has form for reneging on ‘commitments’, so we can take what he says with a pinch of salt.

      1. JLT says:

        Don’t know, Dean. Yes, if Miliband gains power, then yes, I agree that there will be no EU referendum, but Cameron basically promised the English Electorate that there would be one. I don’t think the Electorate, nor the media are likely to forget this one promise. Who knows? …we’ll just need to wait and see come May.

    2. zeno says:

      As long as the young ones remain… 40,000 young Scots aged between 16-25 leave Scotland every single year. That’s why we want control over our revenues.

      As somebody born when we still had an Empire, I can categorically say that I have NEVER felt British in my entire life… having to say on official forms that I was ‘British’ always grated; it always felt like having to wear a school uniform, it always felt like a pointless sacrifice.

      Don’t diss us auld yins! We also kept the flame going.

  6. bringiton says:

    The London elite saw the referendum as a vote on the continuation of the British state.
    Scots duly obliged and the view from London is that we have endorsed the status quo.
    Hence the HoL complaining that giving “under age” kids the vote in their most northern region shouldn’t have been allowed without their permission.
    Should we continue to send representatives of the London based parties back to Westminster in May,votes for 16 year olds will be the least of our problems.
    One nation,ruled by Britannia and her political establishments.
    Thanks George,excellent.

    1. Hugo says:

      The House of Lords is as much use as Russ Abbott’s Mad House. An obsolete ,elitist, hiding place for failed politicians. Time the final curtain was called on this piece of nonsense.

  7. Doon the A701 says:

    George, where’s your evidence to back up your first sentence? The Ashcroft post referendum poll showed 71% of the 16/17 age group voting Yes – but the sample size was only 14. Is that truly representative? I have a 16 yo who voted for the first time. His modern studies group (a considerably larger sample size) had a debate and mock vote. Their result was almost the opposite at 70% No, broadly reflecting the result in our region – Borders. Political education is certainly not suppressed in his state school. Modern Studies is a popular subject choice and covers a wide array of topics relevant to today’s world. I wish it had been available when I was at school instead of boring history!

    1. Corporatist Hell says:

      Damn you and you references to empirical information!

      Down with this sort of thing.

      Appeals to emotion, strawmen, historical revisionism and whataboutery are the order of things here.

      (I did and liked Modern Studies too, and I liked the teacher – though he was very guilty of ranting on about Thatcher and how she was the direct cause of literally every problem and social ill in Scotland. But you get different perspectives as you grow up and see more of the world, don’t you?)

    2. Shaun says:

      I recall hearing mock votes held by schools up and down the country returning No votes throughout the campaign. A survey of school pupils in my area returned a No vote by more than 75%. I think young people of all people are less likely to see the need to create division amongst our society and, given that they still have almost their entire lives to live out, see the need more than anyone else for a strong and prosperous future.

      1. zeno says:

        They changed during the indyref. Many people changed their minds.

  8. Pam McMahon says:

    Thank you for your excellent article. I also live in the sad outpost/excuse for democracy that is Caithness. Like yourself, I have come through the Independence grinder over the years; been there, done that and got the scars to prove it, but I think we are in different times now, and bairns today are more used to finding information and to form opinions from what they can access on the internet, than from listening to parents and from the formulaic processes engendered by the state education system.

    The House of Lords is a tragic and offensive encapsulation of the British state. Unelected. Unrepresentative, except of political parties, financial interests and the Church of England hierarchy, Undemocratic, as nobody except themselves, gets to vote to elect them, and Un cost-effective as we, the taxpayer, have to fund them.
    It is outrageous this quango is allowed to supress the political enthusiasm of the next generation, but I guess that’s what No voters have decided we all have to live with.

  9. Beautifully written and well said.

  10. Darien says:

    “The only thing we have which no-one else has but with which we are willing to share with the world is the culture of our nation.”

    Scotland’s colonist meritocratic elite ensures our culture remains well in check, especially within Scotland. No surprise that our artists are all heavily pro-Yes; only independence can release them and our people from this cultural prison.

  11. emilytom67 says:

    We in Scotland have had many many with no spine,be it through “religion” therefore division,or through the taking of the “kings shilling” for personal enhancement,it has changed little to-day and we face a huge uphill battle to convince the 10% or so we need.We are not a confident nation for a variety of reasons we would rather shout the odds at the “English” to emphasise the “whas like us” how pitiful.Travel through England and you will see the national flag everywhere compare to Scotland,they are proud and forthright we are not,we have a put down complex a result of hundreds of years of Englands “forever pulling the rug” from under us anytime we tried to raise ourselves from national poverty,were you ever taught this at school,were you ever taught anything of relevance about Scotland at school,if you are going to be subjugated then your culture/history/language/education are eradicated,it is all but complete now,we are pathetic,the general hatred of the Irish in Scotland is in part inmo down to them never succumbing they have “bottle” we lack it,they could never really defeat or impose themselves and forever run wary of them,until we take control of all aspects we will wither on the bough.

  12. mark ewan says:

    I’m afraid there is some misinformation in some of the responses here. In the early stages of the referendum campaign the 16/17 were recording “no” votes in many schools. By the later stages most were recording “Yes” votes. All polling samples by respected polling organisations since indicate that the young vote was very largely “yes” on the day – and the evidence we have in this area is that that has strengthened since

    1. Corporatist Hell says:

      Evidence / links please.

      Re. on the day: For example, Lord Ashcroft’s polling indicates 71% of 16-17 year olds voted Yes, and the 16-24 group was just about balanced, 51% Yes.

      However, regarding young people.

      There is a saying that one would expect all 16 year olds to be socialists (or social democrats, or whatever you’re calling it this week) and if your 16 year old isn’t, take him to the Dr.

      Because you’d want and expect a child who has been brought up according to ‘civilised’ values, with a normally developed idealistic view of the world to not be “selfish” and have a default position that sharing is a good thing – in fact we should share more.

      Then you enter the real world, and find we live in a world of increasingly scarce resources, and there is an economic system in place in the vast majority of the world for allocating these resource, known as capitalism (in truth, different forms of state regulated capitalism)

      Personally, I think that 16 and 17 year olds are generally not sufficiently mature to be able to take a rational balanced decision based on a range of information / factors. They are too drawn to idealism, and to impetuousness (psychiatrists will tell you that there is some evidence that the ‘frontal lobes’ of the brain which control impulses, projection of consequences of actions etc are not fully developed at that age; in fact they may not fully develop until the early 20s. (This is why teenagers are often impetuous)

      Furthermore, education standards are falling; so why lower the voting age? If the opposite were true then I could understand the argument a little more.

      I mean seriously … why 16? Why not 15? or 12?

      1. You have asked for evidence. Mutatis mutandis, where is the evidence for your claim, which at least seems somewhat adventurously to suggest we may be able to link brain development to a precise age at which it is appropriate to award the right to vote. If this is your claim, it requires rather more scientific precision than you offer; source, publication, date, authors etc.

        The word “psychiatrists” does not quite cut the mustard; indeed I am not sure on what grounds you suppose this is the appropriate discipline? We may rather expect that this would be the field of behavioural psychologists, neuropsychologists or cognitive neuroscientists. Your explanation would be helpful to our understanding of your case.

        Furthermore, even if it was to be considered appropriate to follow this ‘attempt ‘to quantify the unquantifiable (what precisely are you measuring, and how do you turn that measure into a conception of ‘maturity’ or an entitlement to vote?) . For example, it is reasonably clear that the corpus callosum expands up to the mid-20s in humans. It appears that you may wish to raise the age of voting, because of this, or perhaps some other related facts; is this a serious proposal?

        Your argument is not helped by your non-scientific, anecdotal reference to the “cleverest” people you know in a later reply; it is not clear what you mean by “clever”; could we therefore have a rigorous definition rooted in scientific methodology; that also would be helpful? Incidentally, my source for the evidence above is Pujol, Vendrell, Junque, Vilalta and Capdevila, ‘When does human brain development end? Evidence of corpus callosum growth up to adulthood’: Annals of Neurology; Volume 34, Issue 1, p.71–75, July 1993.

  13. mark ewan says:

    Are you suggesting that at 18 they all suddenly have an infusion of wisdom or – even more bizarrely – that 16 or 17 years old are markedly less wise or thoughtful than many of out older voters. I would disagree,strongly having spent many hours over the last fifty years canvassing “adults” How do you make the judgement about who is clever enough or engaged enough or informed enough to vote.
    The biggest idiots I ever met were always those who thought the were smart. I call it “complacent half-wittery”

  14. Corporatist Hell says:

    “Are you suggesting that at 18 they all suddenly have an infusion of wisdom”

    No, you just said that.

    I’m saying that our current scientific understanding of the human brain indicates that the younger the brain, the less able it is to project consequences of actions and control impulses. Therefore, even if the ‘cultural norm’ of voting age is 18 (and there is evidence the brain does not fully develop until the late teens or even early 20s), then there is no basis for lowering the voting age. If anything, there is a stronger case for raising the voting age. (Similarly, there is a fairly widely held view that the drinking age should be increased to 21, which is influenced by the same reasoning)

    “How do you make the judgement about who is clever enough or engaged enough or informed enough to vote?”

    You can’t. However all other factors being equal, the scientific evidence is that the younger the mind, the less likely it is to be able to project consequences of actions and control impulses. Therefore there is no justification for lowering the voting age.

    This is compounded by falling education standards amongst the general population. So there is even less justification for lowering the voting age. (If education standards were increasing, then there would be more of an argument for lowering the voting age)

    “The biggest idiots I ever met were always those who thought the were smart”

    And the cleverest people I’ve ever met are people who are really well educated, have the most capacity for taking a wide range of information and reaching a balanced view, demonstrate reason, have the best capacity for abstract thought, do not indulge in logical fallacies, have impressive qualifications, do really important jobs (like Doctors, etc.)

    I’m not sure what point you are trying to make there, can you clarify?

    1. Crabbit says:

      Mmm. What proportion of academics are Marxists compared with the general population, do you think?

    2. John Page says:

      Jesus, Mike………how do you attract these people? Is it one chap who keeps changing his tag or is there a common room in some second tier college where they take it in turns to show how clever and well read they are? Or is it the desk officer at MI5 who monitors Bella doing some overtime by engaging in the discussions?
      I mostly ignore this stuff but am genuinely intrigued about the underlying psychology.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Good question John. They have different IP addresses but markedly similar styles. We’re monitoring it.

      2. John Page says:

        Thanks, Mike

    3. Darien says:

      “And the cleverest people I’ve ever met are people who are really well educated”

      There is a difference between being clever, and being wise. Rifkind was clever. London’s investment bankers were clever. Blair was clever. Most have common features – i.e. private education. Clearly they don’t do wisdom at Fettes, Watsons, Eton etc

      “falling education standards amongst the general population”

      I think the internet has proved you wrong on that. This is probably the best educated the masses have been for a long time. You don’t need expensive private schooling to be clever, or wise. You need it only to be, or feel ‘elite’.

  15. arthur thomson says:

    There is no good reason why young people of sixteen and seventeen years should be unable to vote. The reasons for opposing are of similar in nature to those put forward in the past to oppose the emancipation of the bulk of the population, As to 12 and 15 year olds, I don’t know anyone who is proposing that so it’s probably a waste of time thinking about it. The age of consent for young people is sixteen and in my opinion that is a suitable age to begin voting.

  16. Crabbit says:

    The YouGov poll has Yes/No voting intentions for 16-24 olds as a dead heat.

    The follow-up found 49% voted Yes and 51% voted No.

    (Actually, looking at those tables again, I don’t think anyone has made much out of the male Yes/No split being 51/49 and the female being 42/58 – which coincidentally is almost the same as the other EU citizen vote 41/59 – might be some element of older generations also having a higher proportion of women?).

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  18. Pedant. says:

    ‘…How pitiful it is that the British political system and educational establishment are so determined to deny young people the opportunity to develop a political and cultural consciousness and how obvious it is that the education system must be turned upside down to counter this denial…’

    Apart from the serious focus on the US civil right’s movement and triangular trade?????? Pitiful. Yet another casual racist. Some of us like it! Given Scotland’s history of appalling racism, you could do worse than follow England in their acknowledgement of the less ‘comfortable’ parts of their history? Scotland’s curriuclum is all Wallace, Bruce and runrigs. Not a whole lot about the slavery that made the country rich.

  19. Anton says:

    Bella: “They have different IP addresses but markedly similar styles. We’re monitoring it.”

    You’re “monitoring” people who hold opinions which differ from yours? I find that scary. Only last week you blogged passionately against the state “spying on its citizens, and..surveillance culture”. OK, there’s a huge difference of scale between the state “monitoring” those who speak out against it, and Bella “monitoring” dissident voices, but the principle remains the same.

    I’ve always admired Bella for providing a platform for a range of opinions, and for wide-ranging and (usually) civilised and informed comment. Obviously there are many posts with which I disagree, but I value the challenge they present and I would be sorry if alternative voices were to be suppressed, whatever their source.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      “There’s a huge difference of scale between the state “monitoring” those who speak out against it, and Bella “monitoring” dissident voices” – yeah, just a bit.

      Bella remains an open platform for free debate. However we defend the right to stop deliberate attempts to distort and attack this website from aggressive trolling and professional shit-stirrers.

      We also value the challenge of alternative voices, in fact it’s what we are all about. Some of these voices may not be as ‘alternative’ as they seem.

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