Raymond Soltysek: Independence Is The Triumph of Hope Over Fear

A few months ago, I was talking to my godson, Andrew, about the forthcoming referendum. He’s a lovely lad; in his thirties, he works in the care of adults with severe learning disabilities. He and his partner, a nurse, have the most beautiful two year old daughter, a smiley, happy, sweet child who charms everyone she meets. They both work punishing shifts for not much more than a combined living wage: Andrew frequently has to walk four miles to catch a bus that’ll take him to work.

He was going to vote No. Astonished, I asked him why. “Well,” he said, “look at me. I haven’t had a pay rise for over five years, and prices just keep going up and up. I’ll never be able to afford to buy my own home. I don’t even see how I’ll be able to buy a car. I rely on my mum for childcare because it’s so expensive, and holidays are a non-starter. If we go independent, how do I know it won’t get much, much worse?”

We live in a society that is crippled by fear. Ordinary working people live on the cliff edge of robbing Peter to pay Paul every month to meet the debt commitments they are blamed for having in our recession economy; deunionised, they are forced to accept derisory wage rises that are in effect cuts in living standards when the price rises in commodity-traded food and fuel that puts billions into the already groaning coffers of multi-national corporations are taken into account; they are labelled scroungers when they turn to the state for help, while their bosses in both the public and the private sectors pay each other handsomely over the odds because they have defined themselves as somehow ‘indispensable’ to the machine; they are conned into believing that they, the people at the bottom, are somehow to blame for all of this, and that despite the overwhelming evidence that the problems lie at the top on the desks of money-laundering, rate-fixing, tax-avoiding, mis-selling big banks and hedge funds, the status quo is the only way to go.

I remember growing up in the 60s and 70s, when optimism for the future was all the rage. Yes, we worried about nuclear weapons and knew that there was a huge problem with hunger and war in the Developing World; but, for ourselves, we felt that life was on the up, and never did any of us consider in 1973 that, in 40 years time, families would be worse off in real terms. But then the neoliberal Thatcher agenda came along and put paid to all of that, and the dismantling of the great public goods of the post-War period – gas, electricity, the railways, steel, mining and, especially, social housing – saw the beginning of what Naomi Klein calls the “great sacking”, the siphoning off of what we once all owned into the hands of a rapacious few who buy it with promises of consultancies and seats on the board to the appropriate career politicians.

And we have been made afraid. Our governments have become adept at getting their own way using it; I remember my parents were truly convinced that Sadaam Hussein could drop a nuclear weapon on us within 45 minutes. The discourse has become one of fear, one which reached its nadir last week with the unedifying sight of a UK Cabinet minister of Scottish origin, Jo Swinson, scaremongering against a Yes vote because it could entail higher mobile phone roaming charges and mean the end of Saturday letter deliveries.

I don’t know about you, but I reckon senior politicians have a duty of care to the electorate. They are meant to lead, to provide visions for the future, to reassure, to sound the voice of reason, to refute sensationalism, to think big. But just consider this: we are being asked to accept that we are not competent to run our national affairs because a mobile phone company might charge a few quid more if we do. The insult represents a preposterous infantilisation of the Scottish people, especially when Swinson neglected to add that the EU is likely to outlaw roaming charges anyway.

And Ms Swinson tells us that Royal Mail services will be cut if we make decisions for ourselves while at the same time a Cabinet she is a member of is pushing through the neoliberal sale of Royal Mail to already bloated hedge funds, organisations intent not on the social good of a postal service that delivers to isolated people come rain or shine but on the bottom line. We know what happens during privatisation: “efficiency” is bought on the backs of the customers and, especially, the ordinary workers, who find their conditions of employment ripped up to fund the additional burdens of a profit margin and the retirement packages of chief executives. Does Ms Swinson really believe that a vote by Scottish people is a greater threat to mail deliveries in Scotland than Goldman Sachs?

All over the world, we see sporadic instances of unrest at this gross perversion of human economic activity: The Occupy movement; riots in Greece, Brazil, London, Sweden and, ten years ago, Argentina; the Arab Spring movement. But all these offer only a fleeting glimpse of a brave alternative and, against the structures that have taken root in our politics, are pretty much doomed to failure. “If you want to change something,” protestors are told, “work from within.”

And that’s why I’m voting Yes. We have a legal, peaceful, constitutional means to say “Enough is enough; these are not our values.” We can reject an economic system that allows the South East of England to suck the rest of the UK dry to fund its stratospheric salaries and eye-watering house prices and its super car lifestyle. We can reject a social system that has been engaged in brutal social engineering for forty years and is now accelerating, with the whole of London becoming the largest gated community in the world, the poor made unwelcome by property prices and the bedroom tax, shipped out to be shipped back in on a daily basis to clean the offices and keep the wine bars staffed on a High Speed Rail line that Scotland will pay £4.5 billion pounds towards but will stop at Manchester. We can reject a political system that moves the centre of power out of reach of the ordinary man and deposits it amongst the voices of the rich, influential and corrupt where it cannot help but be seduced. And we can do all this at the mere stroke of a pen. No violence. No upheaval. Just one little cross in a box and the world changes.

I agree with Patrick Harvie when he says it’s not going to be hugely different the day after we vote Yes. We may find ourselves a little poorer (I doubt it) or a little richer (probably more likely), but the sun will not shine brighter, the air will not taste sweeter and birds will not fly in our windows to make our breakfasts. But what I do believe is that a Yes vote will send a message out to the rest of the world, and it’s a message of hope that we don’t have to accept the political, economic and social structures that have been used for so long to make us afraid.

I laid it on the line for Andrew. I told him it seemed that he had been conditioned to believe that his life was miserable, and that it would only ever get more miserable if he tried to take charge of it for himself. At a time of his life when he should be feeling the most hopeful ever – a loving partner, a beautiful baby – he has been disempowered, emasculated, hobbled by fear that any change he initiates in his life will make matters worse. When he should be growing in confidence and capacity, he has been told to stand still, to stay put, to accept what his betters have decided and, most of all, to shut up.

That’s not good enough for him. It’s not good enough for his daughter. And it certainly isn’t good enough for Scotland.

Raymond Soltysek
www.soltysek.com
National Collective 

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  • sawney_hasbeen

    100% spot on Raymond. Thank you for articulating a message of hope.

  • Archie Hamilton

    Everything potentially negative gets grossly over emphasised, “might” is used to the benefit of “Might” at every opportunity. Hardly surprising that a number of people are cowed by this way of thinking.

  • Rob Connell

    Best piece I’ve read in a while Raymond, and I read a lot of them. Absolutely inspiring stuff – deserves to be shared far and wide, and I for one will.

  • Iain Paton

    An outstanding article… I completely agree. I’ll be voting “Yes” … even though I generally believe we are “better together” in principle whether in the UK or in Europe. “Yes” is the only option that offers change and empowerment, rather than fear, with power flowing back to the people. Few of the scare-stories would come to pass, with most matters dealt with sensibly through negotiation and the aim of continued mutual benefit. It offers the people of Scotland the chance to shape future policies in the shared national interest rather than the increasingly-narrow interests of the Square Mile of London.

    The “No” campaign should look at what it is trying to do – scare people or offer a proper alternative based on devo-max. That might tempt me back into the “No” fold and offer a proper debate… but certainly not their ridiculous scare tactics that seem to expect a Pavlovian cringe and a crawl back into line.

    • Wayne Brown

      ‘The “No” campaign should look at what it is trying to do – scare people or offer a proper alternative based on devo-max. That might tempt me back into the “No” fold ‘

      But that of course would be precisely their intent.

      If the polls show an increase on the YES side we will undoubtedly be promised more powers* (their gift) for the Scottish Parliament but how would these powers be guaranteed. There is no way that the NO side can guarantee anything – it would require the agreement of all UK parties and somehow to commit a future UK parliament with 59 Scottish MPs out of 650.

      *maybe even the moon.

  • janet connor

    I agree with most of this article, I completely disagree that the sun will not shine brighter and the air will not taste sweeter in an independent Scotland – oh yes the sun will shine brighter and the air will taste so much sweeter in an independent Scotland, bring it on

  • http://www.smelly-wellie-tele.co.uk/ Chikk

    Excellent piece Raymond. For most of our adult lives we’ve had right wing governments imposed on us by the voting patterns of the south-east of England. I include the Blair and Brown governments in this. A radical shake-up in our social and economic policy is required. The Common Weal project seems to be offering my kind of alternative. We live in a world where we can go to bed at night, some financiers somewhere enter some numbers into a spreadsheet and as a result, by the time we wake up they are richer and we are poorer. I want out of that system.

  • RaymondSoltysek

    Thanks for such positive comments, folks; I’m glad it struck a chord. Janet – what, no birds making breakfast, then?!

    • Callum Buchan

      Hi Raymond, I love it, I think thats right and oh yeah, it definitely struck a chord! BUT I have to be convinced, I think that we have a great opportunity, if we vote ‘no’ then we will have let the current arrangement carry on and let down every child and future generation in Scotland. I have met a lot of English people who laugh at us becoming independent,- ‘pfff, how could you afford to?’ Which drives me round the bend but I can’t vote with emotions rather than figures etc. can I? I hate what I’ve written below, didn’t think I had that much to say but then it all came out I need your help!-

      When I go through to Edinburgh I can imagine it happening that when we become independent we will be divided anyway….Edinburgh becoming a wealthy city , the concentration of private schools and snobbery is quite high there already and thats where the parliament is….lowlanders and highlanders, its historic!! Any other reason? For the sake of jobs and the economy the open countryside might be built on. The Trump golf course an example- will we sell our land to create jobs and turn into England? I went to New Zealand and the beautiful forests they have in national parks are outstanding but then I drove a little further, out the national parks and could have been in Scotland, they have sheep!! The forests turned into farms – gone for the economy and jobs.

      I grew up in Pitlochry, my wee village in Guay, Perthshire where there were 4 houses spread apart, a great field for sledging and trees to climb etc. There are now 7 houses in the same area..made me sad.

      Please tell me I’m a wimp and shouldn’t be nervous, give me reasons why we should be independent so I can answer people who doubt it, tell me the central belt won’t turn into London and Scotland won’t become divided like England with the North and South. I want to vote yes, love your article but want to convince people who doubt it like myself!

      • RaymondSoltysek

        Jings, Callum, that’s a heck of a responsibility you’ve given me there! Le me think – in the meantime, can someone give me handers?

        Keys! Keys!

        Bets wishes

      • Rob Connell

        Hi Callum,

        The danger of becoming like the rest of the UK is much more real as long as we remain a part of it. The point of Independence is that it is, initially, an expression of the realisation that we do not want to follow the same paths as the UK has (in particular over the last 40 years). Then, permanently, Independence represents the opportunity to re-make Scottish society by our own priorities, which are demonstrably different to those which have held sway at Westminster for so long – see The Common Weal for a vision of how this could work.

        You also ask to be told that you shouldn’t be nervous, and indeed there are few cast-iron guarantees in Independence, as in life. However, there are two very useful things to make sure that all of your fears are checked against reality.

        Firstly, play the odds. Either the status quo or Independence could be thought of as a gamble – governments in both London and Edinburgh will make decisions you disagree with. But honestly, take any range of policies, which legislature is more likely to make decisions along the lines of what you want? Which electorate is more likely to vote for governments which will protect you from more of what you fear, and promote more of what you hope for? Don’t hope for perfection. Just demand improvement.

        Secondly, YOU are the bulwark against an Independent Scotland sliding into the same corrupt and self-centred society that we are attempting to leave behind. We all are. You can indeed be certain that if the full powers of government come to be held at Holyrood, that the same lobbyists, pressures and bribes that have poisoned democracy elsewhere will come to Edinburgh. We will have to be constantly vigilant of every government we elect to keep them honest. Independence can be won next year, but democracy and justice need sustained, and that’s everyone’s responsibility.

        Hope this helps!

        Cheers, Rob

        • Callum Buchan

          it does, thanks Rob, you’re right, there are no guarantees in life and I feel like an idiot for expecting there to be in independence. Ooooft, corrupt and self-centred? I look forward to reading the Common Weal, thanks for your post.

          Sorry to put the pressure on you Raymond, I’ll do my own reading, loved the article anyway even if it did leave me with lots of questions, if I did have those questions that I hope to get answers of I wouldn’t be voting yes, I hope that I will be confident to when the time comes

  • DougDaniel

    Great article, Raymond, really encapsulates the idea of hope over fear. And the line about it being insulting to suggest we can’t run our own affairs because a mobile phone company might charge a few quid extra is totally spot on. The vast majority (if not all) of the excuses we’re given for why Scotland shouldn’t grab this opportunity are insulting to our intelligence. When Darling suggested we wouldn’t be able to listen to music made in England after independence, he might as well have just said “pipe down you morons and do what you’re told.”

    Unfortunately for the No campaign, I think Scottish voters will show that they’re not wee timorous beasties in 2014.

  • Ian Chisholm

    100% agree. many folk have been battered down and terrified to leave nanny for fear of worse. Is it that simple…..we fall into two camps, the pessimistic
    vote No, the optimistic vote Yes?

  • bawheid bragg

    Good article Raymond. Hope you manage to convince your godson, though?

    • RaymondSoltysek

      I think so, bawheid; he’s surrounded by Yes voters, so we won’t let him escape!

  • Eoin

    Raymond, loving the overall thrust of your piece and in particular your comments re the Royal Mail. One note of concern is your obvious dislike of hedge funds – fair enough, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But to blame the current financial crisis on them is a stretch – they had little to do with the housing price bubble, nor the proliferation of toxic derivative products, nor the inadequate regulatory environment that permitted the disaster. Nor did they encourage European governments to saddle themselves with vast amounts of debt. To be clear, a hedge fund is much like any other investment vehicle with two main exceptions: (i) they can sell short, & (ii) they can use leverage. Are these two characteristics intrinsically evil? No. Shorting helps improve price efficiency in markets, and leverage simply allows greater conviction of investment ideas. Admittedly used badly they can cause harm, but in the vast majority of cases they don’t. I can only suggest that you keep your bile for the banks, politicians and regulators that drove us to this sorry juncture. As for your comment “the neoliberal sale of Royal Mail to already bloated hedge funds”, again I have to question your knowledge of the subject. Some hedge funds might indeed participate in any IPO, but most will not. The vast majority of shares in a (in my view, wrongly) privatised postal service will be held by institutional investors on behalf of pension funds, the same pension funds that hold our pension assets.

    the neoliberal sale of Royal Mail to already bloated hedge funds – See
    more at:
    http://nationalcollective.com/2013/07/15/raymond-soltysek-independence-is-the-triumph-of-hope-over-fear/#sthash.B3POAgTg.dpuf

    • RaymondSoltysek

      Eoin – thanks for that perspective. You are correct – I am no expert in the financial field. However, you admit that hedge funds can cause harm when they are used badly, and that some hedge funds may indeed participate in the privatisation of Royal Mail. You also state that the activities of hedge funds are not inherently bad: well, what activities are? Is the offering of mortgages inherently bad? Is trading in derivatives inherently bad? No – but the banks certainly did them badly for the sole purpose of the profit margin , and there is no guarantee that hedge funds are any more ethical in how they go about things.

      All that, along with the way in which hedge funds undoubtedly serve as resource-accruing and asset-stripping vehicles for the already wealthy, often at the expense of those in low-paid jobs, means that I’ll maintain a healthy suspicion of them, if you don’t mind. When they prove to do good for people – ALL people – I’ll take a look at them in a different light.

      Best wishes

      • Eoin

        Raymond, delighted that you’ll maintain a healthy suspicion – sounds about right (of everything!) to me. It is a real shame that hedge fund investing is not available more broadly, although there are an increasing number of retail UCITS III wrappers around – they are (at least in my view) a much better way of investing than the benchmark-driven methods that are the paradigm of more broadly available retail and institutional long-only investment. You’re right that there will be some bad among the majority of good, but I don’t think they all need tarring with the same brush. Let’s settle for the healthy skepticism and a resounding Yes vote. Cheers

        • RaymondSoltysek

          I’ll go with that, Eoin! Thanks!

  • Andrew Murray

    Fantastic article! Sums up my thoughts on independence pretty well.

    • RaymondSoltysek

      Thanks Andrew. And well done on winning Wimbledon! ;-)

  • Lynne Halliday

    i believe we WILL be an independent nation, and articles like this one only empowers people with better knowlege,and not just political crap!!!

  • BP39

    The godson’s response has a name and is recognised by psycholigists; it’s called Learned Helplessness.

    • RaymondSoltysek

      ‘The godson’ too has a name. Andrew’s a lovely, successful young man who’s an excellent father; he’s not a psychological condition…

      Thanks for your input.

  • Max Bennie

    In reality, it’s more hope versus hope, rather than hope versus fear.

    And are the Yes men not also guilty of “scaremongering”? Basically they are trying to convince that nothing will get better and that things will only get much worse if we don’t vote the way they want us to. Now that doesn’t sound very hopeful, does it? Sounds more like fearmongering to me.

    • RaymondSoltysek

      Max, can you offer one piece of evidence, article or even soundbite from the Better Together side of the fence that offers more hope in a No vote than a Yes?

      • Max Bennie
        • RaymondSoltysek

          Actually, Max, neither of these articles offers any hope at
          all: they merely offer continuation of existing policies, and that is no hope. It’s a bit like saying, “after the referendum, we’ll continue to pay your pensions.” Well, d,oh…

          The question still remains – what will a NO vote change for
          the better?

          And if you are going to trumpet continuation of existing policies as a reason for a NO vote, then you also should be honest about all the other policies that will continue after the referendum: attacks on benefits, tax breaks for the rich, anti-immigration rhetoric and policy, privatisation of public assets, ill-conceived NHS reforms, selling arms to Syria, complicity with the US on spying on UK citizens, etc. Come on now – if Scotland is going to continue to benefit from the continuation of green energy subsidies, are we also going to ‘benefit’ from the continuation of THOSE policies? And how do you think the Scottish people feel about that?

          On Green subsidies: yes, all 26 million UK households contribute to green energy subsidies (a social good, by the way). Scotland pays one tenth, which by my
          calculation based on recent Civitas figures (http://civitas.org.uk/newblog/2013/05/green-energy-subsidies-the-cost-to-households/) is £1.6 billion. Scotland – where all the green renewable resources are, by the way – receives one third, or approximately £5 billion.

          Let us not forget, though, that all 26 million households contribute to the HSR line from London to Manchester. I believe the most recent estimate of Scotland’s contribution
          to that is £4.5 billion. The Better Together campaign suggests the rest of the UK would not contribute to
          green subsidies in Scotland: I presume the same would apply to Scotland contributing to London HSR subsidies after a YES vote, so there’s a net saving of all that
          cash to the Scottish Exchequer. Add it up – £4.5 billion saved from HSR plus £1.6 billion we already contribute
          to green energy subsidies brings a total of £6.1 billion. More than enough to subsidise green energy for quite some time until we can actually sell it to the rest of the UK to help them meet their green energy targets.

          We can all play this reductionist game: we’ll lose this, but
          we’ll gain that. I’m no economist (are you?) but at the end of the day, it is unlikely the economic position will be all that different. What will be different is that we will make economic decisions in Scotland for Scotland.

          One last point about oil. Why does the NO campaign bang on about oil running out after independence? If we stay in the Union, will it never run out then? Scotland will be broke when it runs out, we are told: but won’t the same happen to the UK?

          So we can have a UK quickly gobbling up what is left of North Sea oil, Scotland getting one tenth of it back in scraps from Westminster’s table – or we can take what is rightfully ours and invest it wisely in Scotland’s future for as long as it lasts.

          Thanks for your input. I found it enlightening to see the Better Together camp in its rather limited finery.

          • Max Bennie

            Thank you for your reply. I welcome the views of the pro-independence people, as I am keen to know what they think and why they think that (and I’m more likely to get it in these comments sections, because the national newspapers are targeted by the abusive “cybernats”, who really don’t know what they’re voting for). It’s nice to hear from reasoned people like yourself.

            As for you point about oil, what Better Together are concerned about is the SNP’s policy of basing an indy Scotland’s economy around as volatile a resource as oil. Of course oil won’t run out immediately, but our fossil fuels are running out. Any oil dependent nation will go broke without oil, but we’d just have to try to overcome that. It seems that would be easier as a whole UK.

            Oh and you’re welcome, by the way. ;-)

          • RaymondSoltysek

            Do you know, I have not mentioned the SNP once. Not once.

            That is because I am not an SNP supporter: I am a supporter of independence and a member of the Green party, which would not base economic policy on the volatility of oil. And the beauty of an independent Scotland is that the Scottish people will be able to look at the policies of post-referendum parties and decide who they want making policy in Edinburgh.

            As for the economics of the UK, I’m not sure why it would be easier to navigate the economy in the Union: let’s face it, this recession lies at the doorstep of the City of London. Not everything in the UK setting is financially bullet-proof!

            And you are welcome too, Max!

          • Max Bennie

            I never considered that you might be an SNP supporter, because the indy movement is non-party.

            Thanks again!

          • RaymondSoltysek

            Well, in that case, lets not limit the debate to a pro- or anti-Alex Salmond perspective, which is what I suspect many in the NO campaign would like to do.

            Have a good day, enjoy the sun!

          • Max Bennie

            Whilst you are right, it seems Alex Salmond’s name has become synonymous with Scottish independence. With some members of the public, it seems that if you discredit Salmond, you discredit independence. I assume it is this that some in the No campaign wish to take advantage of.

            Thanks again! You have a nice day too!

          • RaymondSoltysek

            Indeed, Max, that’s exactly the way some Unionist sources are playing it. A pity they can’t be honest about the issues.

            Cheers

          • Max Bennie

            I think the unionist campaign is being as honest as they can. What do you make of the “Ian Taylor incident”?

  • D.I. MacDonald

    Fantastic article – I will be voting yes because an independent Scotland, free of London’s yoke, will care about how little we are paying people on welfare benefits NOT how much we are paying in tax.

  • Alasdair Matheson

    I could not agree more with the sentiment of this skilfully written article. However, perhaps we should be looking to our own institutions such as education to instill more confidence. In my class of S3 last year – the first cohort to go through A Curriculum for Excellence – I asked if they favoured Scottish Independence and the answer was a resounding: “Nuh, no really.” These pupils, according to my shaky maths, will be eligible to vote in the referendum but, despite a Scottish education, they have no desire for an Independent Scotland.

    • RaymondSoltysek

      Hi Alasdair. As an educationalist myself, I totally agree with
      you. However, as soon as we start talking about schools, we hot
      that old barrier of “neutrality”, which I think is largely
      spurious and only benefits the status quo.

      But rest assured some of us are on it. I’d like to spearhead
      some National Collective creative arts workshops, perhaps at a major
      conference event, specifically aimed at the 15 to 18 year old age
      groups, and using social media and sympathetic organisations to
      bypass the need to involve schools. Watch this space!

  • phil Horey

    Imagine a Scotland with no free prescriptions, no free Nationwide travel for over 60s,
    a nation which has none of the benefits of a small population, free universities, no waiting times for a G.P. Fully employed shipyards? But at least all us intellectual artists will feel free!
    Scotland really is so badly off, isnt it?

    Edi