To judge from Facebook and the newspaper front pages, most of England has now noticed there is a referendum on independence in Scotland this week. But a lot of people don’t know what to make of it. Or they aren’t very pleased. I’m English, but I lived in Scotland for 12 years, and there’s something I’d like to say to you all about the referendum.
Don’t be scared. Don’t be bitter. Take hope.
Some people maybe think that a Yes vote will be fueled by anti-English sentiments. Don’t be scared of that. I’d be lying if I said there is no anti-Englishness North of the border. I’ve had enough drunken arguments with people over the years about how I’m oppressing them all. Of course some people have a chip on their shoulder. But I think that’s been less and less since devolution.
There’s less reason to have that chip now. There’s a new self-confidence in Scotland these days. The Yes voters I’ve spoken to, or who I see in my Facebook feed aren’t motivated by hatred, but by hope.
Here’s a quote from a friend of mine who is passionate about voting Yes.
“I love being part of the UK. My Dad’s English, that’s where lots of my family and friends are; it’s the opportunity for change I’m voting for. I’d have liked to do it as part of the wider UK, but the system is too entrenched for meaningful change by peaceful democratic means.”
Some English people seem bitter about it. “It’s not fair! We haven’t got a functioning democracy either, why do you get to opt out?” With a sideline in, “Shit, if Scotland go, we’ll be ruled by the Tories forever!”
I know most people in the UK don’t feel our democracy works for them. Too right, it doesn’t. And it isn’t fair. First past the post is shit. We’re got an overly centralised government and a cabinet composed of millionaires who went to Eton. They’re asset-stripping the country, selling it all off to their country club mates, while blaming it all on immigrants and benefit claimants.
But here’s the thing. It’s like a relationship. If one person wants to leave, you can’t say, “But I don’t want you to go, you can’t leave me, I won’t let you!” If they want to leave, then it’s over.
And here’s the other thing. It’s not Scotland’s fault that so many people in England vote for the Tories. Scotland didn’t vote for them. And they didn’t design a political system run by Oxbridge-educated lawyers who treat politics as a game that only people exactly like them are allowed to play.
Scotland isn’t just another bit of England. It is a separate country, with a different legal system, a different education system and an NHS that (so far) isn’t being privatised. If I’m honest, it took me living in Scotland to realise this. Of course we are all Britons: we all know the Coronation Street theme tune and drink lots of tea. In the main, we have more in common than we do with French or Spanish or Bhutanese people. But the Scots all remember Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade and know about Buckfast, and English people don’t. It makes sense for Scotland to be it’s own country within the EU, if that’s what the people of Scotland want.
Of course, it would also make sense for the English regions to have greater self-determination too, if that’s what they want. But you know what? You need to fight for that yourselves, people! And here’s where ‘take hope’ comes in.
A Scottish friend of mine was planning to vote No for a long time. She feels a kinship with the English and she feels bad about abandoning England to be governed by the Tories forever. But recently she’s changed her mind to Yes.
She says she’s come to think that the best thing Scotland can do for all the English people getting shat on by centralised government and the Tories is to show them there is an alternative. And maybe that will kick something off in the English regions. Cos sticking with it and suffering under a Tory government most people in Scotland never voted for doesn’t seem to be helping people in England to see that their government is not acting in their interests.
Last year I was one of the facilitators at a consensus conference for ordinary Scots, modelled on the Icelandic referendum movement. People there talked about the country they wanted to live in, and it was a fairer country, and greener country, a peaceful country that doesn’t make war around the world and sell arms to dictators. It was a country with more localised decision making. They also wanted fewer midgies and more sunshine, but I think they knew which of these aims was achievable.
In my experience, most people have got better ideas about how to run a country than the people actually running the country seem to do.
With the upcoming referendum, people are talking about it everywhere. I’ve overheard conversations on park benches, in chip shops, at bus stops. People are talking about the big stuff – the kind of future they want and the kind of country they want to live in. This is what politics should be like, but never is, in the Westminster system. But give people a meaningful vote and they engage with it.
The Scots see the possibility of change, and change for the better. They see the possibility of taking their own destiny in their hands and making Scotland the kind of country they want to live in.
This is what politics could be like in England too. Instead of a stupid game where men in different coloured ties bay at each other across a debating chamber.
People aren’t voting Yes out of hate, but out of hope. Hope that greater self-determination can create a better country. Of course there’s the chance that Scotland just swaps an overly-centralised government in Westminster for an overly-centralised government in Holyrood. People in Scotland know that. They aren’t stupid. But at least Scotland has proportional representation, which makes it more democratic from the get-go. And really, in austerity Britain, with our cabinet of millionaires, wouldn’t most change be for the better?
If Scotland vote Yes on Thursday (which I’ve come to hope they do), then don’t be scared. Don’t be bitter. Take hope. Maybe a better world is possible, and maybe we can learn from the Scots.