Empowering the Scottish Imagination

Journalists and statisticians are keen to decipher who exactly supports Scottish independence by dividing people by gender, age group or class. We’re told men are more likely to vote Yes than women. The working classes are more likely than the middle classes. But I wonder if it’s a far more complex issue than these simple categories might suggest. Support or opposition to independence probably has more to do with a person’s emotions, life experiences and personality than any affiliation to gender, class or age groups.

There is the traditional analysis that people’s hearts say Yes but their heads say No. People are natural Scottish patriots at football and rugby matches but are prevented from taking it to a political level because of economic worries. This is perhaps the case for some people, but not all. In fact the reverse is true for many. People’s heads say Yes but their hearts say No. People like the logic of self-government but don’t want to abandon their family in Newcastle or betray the sacrifices of the wars. Unity is soft. Separation is harsh.

I was listening to the children’s writer Lari Don speaking at a meeting of artists this week. Her interpretation was that the idea of separation was a natural eventuality for children. We grow up and move away from our parents. It’s not because we hate them. It’s because it’s the natural thing to do. Not all separation is bad separation. Not all separation is ugly divorce. It’s about becoming your own person. It’s about finding your own voice.

“Devolution is just moving out but still taking your washing home,” she said.

There are some who will vote No just because they don’t want to step out of line. There are some who will vote No because they are frightened of the unfamiliar. There are others who will vote Yes just because they can’t deal with being patronised, or because they don’t like being underestimated. Some people are more adventurous than others. I wonder for example how many independence supporters are the eldest child, or the middle child or the youngest child. I wonder how many unionists would call themselves risk-takers. I wonder what it is about a life of writing that makes so many Scottish authors support self-government. These personality traits are probably more telling of people’s politics than any other social group categories.

The independence campaign thus far has been obsessed with economics. Of course, ask people what their concerns are and they’ll say money. But I’m not convinced this is really what’s underlying people’s resistance to independence. We need to give people confidence. When people get into the polling booths in 2014 the economic arguments will probably vanish and they’ll settle for their instincts. There’s nothing wrong with that. We have to turn people into instinctive independence supporters with culture, confidence and empowerment. Relentless talk about money and statistics will wear out our imaginations.

The emotion that gives us the fear of the unknown is the same emotion which gives us the excitement of the new. It’s two sides of the same coin. We just need to persuade people to adopt the more optimistic mind set. Our best hope of achieving this is to use emotion in culture and art. Some people in politics recoil at emotion because the modern world is run like a machine and emotion is seen as backwards or irrational. It isn’t.  It’s human.

This is the challenge for the creative campaign, and it’s a big one. There is an established notion in some areas of the Yes movement that the arts campaign should focus on the celebrities and the big names. But I think this is an unhelpful way of thinking about creativity. Elitism is the enemy of art. It is the responsibility of our campaign not to convince people of the creativity of celebrities, but to convince people of their own creativity. That is what will really empower people.

Empowerment will not come from bombarding people with economics, or bombarding people with big names. We need to let people empower themselves, instead of forcing empowerment upon them. Give people the arguments and give people the creative movement, but let them reach their own conclusions based on their own emotions and their own stories.

The cultural case for independence isn’t about taking Scotland beyond to patriotic extremes. It’s about taking Scotland up to a level of normality and self-respect. We haven’t quite reached it yet. But we’re getting there.

Andrew Redmond Barr
National Collective

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There are 3 comments

  1. Peter Thomson

    Far from being obsessed about economics so far, it is the disregard for constructive infomation in this matter that most affects us. Listening to both sides scoring party poltical points only is in itself totally disrespectful of the electorate. We were promised an informed debate, listening to the knee-jerk responses so far hardly is pro-active in alleviating serious concerns of many. Trivialising it by trying to take it off the agenda is even worse and a sure way of delivering a No vote. This is not about hiding behind a celebrity, this is a serious issue about the future of one’s country, a far more important discussion than the Red Tops would have us read. For those capable of reading? This is about politicians stepping up to the plate and delivering on their positions, entrusted by voters, to guide by example and tell truths on the arguments for either side.

  2. Scotsmanic69

    I agree with this post. At a base level, a country is really only its people. Denizens of any country only get so het up (and maybe ‘only’ is the wrong word to use) about nationalism and such because ‘their’ country is where they and their families were born and raised, had all their formative experiences in, where their friends are, where they earn a living, raise their own families, etc.

    That’s the microcosmic-versus-macrocosmic level of things; Scotland (or any country) in close-up versus long shot. And I know there are immigrants to any country negating the things I said above, or new arrivals who get excited and nationalistic because this is their chosen land and they want to do well and fit in, but you know what I am saying. I am talking about the majority of any country, not to the denigration of its newer citizens.

    And a country like Scotland, with a long and dichotomous proud-cum-low-self-esteem history (we may be the only country in the world who would say “Whae’s like us? Damn few…and we’re aw useless!”), will ultimately be appealed to on a much more emotional basis on a basic level than economic arguments will sway. This is not to say there are not economic and other arguments to be made. Of course there are, and they are very serious concerns.

    But a country can only wear its own human face right at tight-focus close-up, and any person’s own personal experiences, and love or hate of England and the worthless contemporary English government, will inform their voting hands far more than any he-said-she-said back-and-forth push-and-pull that the Scottish and English governments are having.

    I think the fervent fever for half-truths, no truths and everything but the truth that David Scameron and his worthless poor-people-attacking party have been shamelessly and clumsily engaging in will merely reinforce the send-the-auld-enemy-homewards-tae-think-again mentality in a lot of people, regardless of economics. And that’s all for the good of the Yes campaign and the future of Scotland in general.

    I am from Falkirk. Live in America now. Wish I was back home to vote yes next year. And as for the statement about recoiling from emotion in politics because it’s regarded as irrational, well, take a look at American politics sometime. It’s run on NOTHING BUT emotion, and is messy and demented as hell as such. So there is a fine balance to be struck between appealing to the head and heart. And nobody has the exact correct formula, but, to me, appealing to Scotland about its proud history (and the Scots are loved here in the States) and showing what its heid-held-high-finally future could be on a world stage is definitely a large part of the way to go.

    No cold talk of finances or potential non-membership of the European Union or such will ever reach people on such a base visceral actions-invoking-and-provoking level. And this will always be the case. Government now seems abstract to people – they have been ruled from another country for so long in Scotland. Government isn’t feeding the weans their dinner, or doing the laundry, or getting up for work in the morning. Keeping your own life and community – and by extension country – going are. And you can never talk to people on a more action-and-reaction-creating level. Ever.

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