A horrible time to be in Scotland

Aye 180914I saw a tweet about the independence referendum the other day. It said simply:

“Oh, it’s a horrible time to be in Scotland.”

I’m not linking to the tweet, or saying who it’s by, except to say that they’re a No voter. If you know who they are, don’t name them in the comments. It’s someone I greatly respect and who has made a phenomenal contribution to public life in Scotland – but I don’t want to draw them into a discussion, create a platform for criticism of them, or make them feel they have to justify views which, though disagreeable to me, they are perfectly entitled to hold.

In any case, what struck me was not the individual or why they chose to tweet those words. Instead, what lodged in my mind – haunted me, even – for a day or two afterwards was the insight it gave me into the mindset of committed No voters.

Call me slow, but suddenly, thanks to this one little tweet, it all fell into place. Everything emanating from the No campaign finally made sense: they don’t just dislike the prospect of independence; they’re absolutely f**king terrified by it.

Life must awful for No supporters. Everything they hold dear, everything they value, everything they can predict and regard as safe and comfortable is being shaken to the core, like the early tremors of a destructive earthquake. They can’t control it. They can’t stop it. What’s worse, when they fight back it is ineffectual and often counter-productive.

Conversely the Yes camp, whichever way you view it, has the momentum and the confidence. The polls are closing in, slowly but very surely, to an unpredictable finale. Yes are positive – as is the very nature of a campaign which is advocating, not opposing, a change. The excitement they generate amongst themselves and others as they re-imagine Scotland with flair, wit and creativity is infectious and self-perpetuating. Nothing seems to stop them.

It must be beyond disconcerting for No, because it shouldn’t have worked out like this.

No have most of the money. The UK’s four biggest parties. Captains of industry. The establishment. The tools of the UK civil service. Helpful comments from foreign heads of government. The media. No have the precedent, the status quo, and centuries of deeply engrained history, traditions and institutions. No created the devolution that was meant to end the movement for independence.

Firstly this means that defeat ought to be inconceivable. But secondly this means that defeat will be catastrophic.

Everything that No folk accept as the established way of doing things will come crashing down. From the uncertainty over the constitution – not least that of the remnant UK – to the economy, to the military, to social cohesion and to our shared heritage and values.

Nothing can be taken for granted anymore. It’s a step into the dark, the unknown and the scary. Moreover, it’s a step into the dark where they, the usual suspects, will no longer be in control.

Of course I fundamentally disagree with the fears they have about many of these things crashing down. That doesn’t stop me finally appreciating why they have those fears.

Fears of political and diplomatic isolation. Economic collapse. Social division and ethnic disharmony. Never again regaining power.

A “No” reading this may think – and I’d love a comment or two telling me if I’m right or not – that this strikes a chord. That this is precisely what they’re fearing.

A “Yes” reading this will dismiss it as scaremongering and the death throes of a tired old order that should have been swept away a long time ago.

And they’ll never agree.

But there’s no point arguing over it. Yes will not reassure No or assuage their fears through arguments, evidence, or reason. Nor vice-versa. Things are too entrenched, too emotional, too tied up with immoveable and irreconcilable world views to persuade No otherwise.

I don’t find that a reason to be concerned about life after a Yes vote. People’s terror won’t dissipate through argument but through experience. The proof of the success of an independent Scotland will be in the creating of it, the living of it. When people see a humane immigration policy; a constructive engagement with Europe; a peace-orientated military; a compassionate welfare system; an rich economy with scope for development and wealth to spend on infrastructure; a society that is confident, welcoming and outward-looking; an arts sector that can truly tell its own stories without fear; a polity freed from old habits to think radical new ideas; a constitution that enshrines the rights of individuals… when they see all these things and, most astonishingly of all, that they can control them, the relief will be palpable.

People will wonder what the fuss was about, and why we feared. Some enormously brave souls may even apologise for arguing it wouldn’t work (not that it would be dignified to expect or demand apologies). And some may even crack a reluctant smile at the emerging sight of a better world. But it will take those early days, weeks and years to prove it. Nothing comes easily. Least of all the road to Damascus.

So before the referendum, I’m not sure the fears of the No camp can be conquered. But for now, I at least understand something of why they’re scared. And just how scared they are. And while I still disagree with them, I can at least have a little more compassion for them. Because on the 19th of September they’ll be as much as part of the new Scotland as those who voted Yes.

And there will be work to do.

15 thoughts on “A horrible time to be in Scotland

  1. Hello Joanna, thanks for your comment. That’s spectacularly off-topic, but while I’m here, it’ll be paid for in the same way things are paid for now or indeed in any country across the world: through various individual and corporate revenue streams. What am I missing?

    Oh, and who said it would be a perfect utopia?

  2. I completely disagree with this. I’m voting no and I have absolutely no fear of a yes vote.

    The Beatles were a great band. They split up and had solo careers. Those careers were great but were they individually as good as the Beatles?

    I believe Scotland would be a successful independent country and have a great solo career but I believe Scotland can achieve more by staying with the Band.

  3. Good article Simon and I think in essence you’re right. And it is backed up by that first response from Joanna. I have spent a lifetime at the forefront of change and when one describes a dream of a better future a standard negative response is to say its utopian, meaning unrealistic. I used to take this as a criticism – a nice little put-down – but recently I have come to relish it. It means you are on to something. Of course one might not achieve everything one strives for, and things will certainly change and develop along the way – but the principle desire of pursuing a better life, a better way of doing things, implies change, unease and yes hard slog. So for some its simpler to say it is unrealistic. But where would the world be today without all those pioneers: artists, thinkers and doers who believed in changing things for the better and making it happen?

  4. Hello Iain. Perhaps you disagree with the tweet that inspired my post, then? Do you think it’s a horrible time to be in Scotland, or a wonderfully exciting time to be here because of all the debates and discussions that have arisen?

    I’m glad you think Scotland could work independently, and while I like your band metaphor, it could work both ways. The Stone Roses had a classic first album, a long and tortuous hiatus, and then perhaps the epitome of the difficult second album. After years of separate activity, they’re only now talking to each other (echoes of Ireland and the UK’s slowly warming relationship?). And tell me which is the most successful artist – Take That, or Robbie Williams. Call the motivation of the Yes camp “creative differences”, if you will, but I don’t think we’re impressed with the UK’s difficult second album.

    Jon – thank you, good points. Yes, it may be a long slog. Fear maybe does drive people to merely write off something as unrealistic. I guess it’s that classic Gandhi quote – “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” Not sure whether fear and accusations of being unrealistic count as the ridicule or fight stage, though…

  5. Great post Simon.

    Iain, I think that some of the Beatles themselves would tell a different story! As a band John, Paul, George and Ringo had a wonderfully productive 10 years or so. But from what I gather from recorded interviews, by the end John Lennon and George Harrison felt that being part of the group was no longer in their own interest. Seemingly things were being held together at that stage by an overly dominant McCartney, while the others felt that the existence of the band was serving Paul’s interests disproportionately.

    Have a listen to the Lennon Wenner/Rolling Stone 1971 interview, where John Lennon says:
    “That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can’t speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up being side-men for Paul.”

    I reckon if you could ask them (it’s shame we can’t), Lennon and Harrison might have considered their post-Beatles music to be their best, and most authentic work.

  6. I disagree with the tweet because it does not reflect my experience or the many no voters I know.

    The independence debate has been great for scotIand. I love the fact that people want to debate the issue, I love the fact that the vote could go either way. I love that people are passionate. Its a great time to be in Scotland.

    Scotland will be fine whether the vote is a yes or no. So lets vow to use the passion, intelligence and drive that we all have to put our own case positively!

    PS – The stone roses begat the the seahorses who were terrible. Luckily I think Scotland is more like Mani and we’d go off and be cool in Primal Scream 🙂

  7. I agree with the statement in the original tweet, it’s a horrible time to be in Scotland because the debate has gone completely off track. I’ve not been on Facebook for weeks, and will not until after the vote, due to the amount of abuse being thrown around at no voters.

    Instead of lively and reasoned debate we get eggs thrown and names called. Instead of understanding that perhaps some people have a different point of view, we, the no voters, must be scared! The mindset of the yes campaign is such that they can’t even begin to consider the other sides point of view.

    I see the benefits of independance, I understand why some might think it’s a good way forward, I absolutely understand the arguments. I’m not afraid or ignorant, I just disagree.

    The yes campaign themselves have said that Scotland is one of the richest nations on Earth. We, the Scottish people, did that as part of a strong United Kingdom. It seems to me that we should only risk that priviliedged position for a really good reason, and this is not that.

    The argument is not about how Westminster are doing things wrong, it’s about how Holyrood can do any better, and I’m simply not convinced that they can.

    Consider this. The much talked about austerity measures in place. They are the result of a global financial crisis. I don’t, and can’t, blame the then sitting government for a global problem, but some do. Now who was at the helm when this happened? Not David Cameron, not Alex Salmond, but the leader of the Labour party. Now ask where his constituancy is.

    What makes the yes campaign think that swapping the beurocracy in Westminster for the same in Holyrood is going to make things better? It’s going to be the same from a different office, and that’s not worth risking the unknowns.

  8. Thanks for the latest round of great comments, folks.

    Iain/Michael, we’re perhaps starting to stretch the “UK as a band” metaphor! But one last thought – Iain, if Scotland is more like Mani, does that make Primal Scream the Nordic Council? :o)

    Martin – thank you for your thoughts. We must be watching different debates though. Yes, there’s been violence – Jim Sillars was egged too, not to mention threatened with violence in anonymous notes and told that it was good his wife was dead. Someone was sentenced the other day for threatening Alex Salmond with assassination. A bin outside a Yes shop was set on fire. An elderly Yes activist in Edinburgh had his arm broken. Signs and posters have been damaged by both sides. But this is the work of a tiny fringe of idiots.

    The vast majority of the debate has been about exciting re-imaginations of Scotland – a plethora of books, websites, events, campaign groups, think tanks, conferences, podcasts, artwork, music and much more that simply didn’t exist a year or two ago. The transformation of the country into one that is willing to think and express itself in new ways is utterly astonishing. If you think that the referendum has spawned only abuse, and even then abuse only targeted at No, then look around at the massive festival of ideas going on behind you. You’ve been missing out.

  9. I think it is a good time for Scotland and I despair of the fools who resort to violence and idiotic abuse of people who disagree with their political wishes. I will vote Yes because I want change in Scotland, and I think that we, as a resourceful and creative nation will thrive if we go it alone. Over the last sixty eight years we have been governed by the Conservatives for thirty four years and Labour for thirty four years and that pattern will never change for Scotland, unless we vote for independence. Then we can truly choose the government that we want and not one that is forced upon us. People call the modern system democratic, but is it? Change is necessary but the elitist ruling millionaires don’t want it for very obvious reasons, but basically because their power over us will have gone. That is what the politics game is about, nothing more and nothing less.

  10. Being many generations removed from my Scottish ancestry I have only a sentimental opinion on the question and no stake in the consequences, so will hold my peace on that.

    I do think that a close No outcome ought to spur Westminster to look again at reforms with respect to the so-called West Lothian question. Recent events make it obvious that opinion is divided and not just in Scotland; if not independence, further devolution is almost certainly in the cards.

    Assuming, of course, that Westminster is open to recognizing the depth and breadth of the crisis.

  11. Brian, Nicola, McGehee – thank you all for your comments. Agree entirely. Though McGehee, I do fear that while there may be debate post-No there is every chance that the establishment at Westminster will dig its heels in and concede only the barest minimum towards the massive constitutional, financial, social and political overhaul that is required. I don’t think they’re either open to recognising the depth and breadth of the problem, as you put it, nor minded to solve it.

  12. What a load of rubbish. That’s not what I’m thinking at all. It’s a horrible time to be in Scotland because people like you are saying we’re scared for not wanting our country split up. Why is it so hard to understand that we enjoy being united with England, Wales and Northern Ireland? I won’t see any response til after the referendum…

  13. Thanks for your thoughts Kathleen. Maybe not all No voters are terrified, then, so I should amend my original premise slightly. But all No voters do seem to be reacting to the debate with extraordinary negativity. For instance, you say: “It’s a horrible time to be in Scotland because people like you are saying we’re scared for not wanting our country split up.” Really? Me mistakenly calling you scared is horrible? Rather than just wrong or the basis for a conversation? And there’s truly nothing positive about the debate? Not a single good idea that’s emerged or positive vision? None whatsoever?

    That’s terrifically sad.

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