Matt Baker: Dear Britain

Dear Britain,

I’ve not been in touch for a while and this felt like a good time to check in and let you know whats been happening at my end. Standing here at the change of the year I can honestly say that I have never looked forward to a new year more than I do this one.

I am optimistic because I am living in a place and time where the big questions about how and why have become the normal run of things. Specifically, I mean the debate around greater autonomy for Scotland, and that is why I’m writing. I wanted to explain that I see this conversation not just about us in Scotland but about us in Britain.What is emerging in Scotland is a vision for a society that puts human needs above the needs of the ‘market’ – it is a vision for a place where the playing field is levelled out and everyone gets a fair shot at being the best they can be.* I feel proud and privileged to be part of a movement of people that are nurturing and supporting this vision – for the first time in my life I can see the point of politics.

3 years ago I shrugged my shoulders and just couldn’t see the point of even voting in elections. What I saw was a numbing adherence to a worldview that stated that what was good for large-scale business was essential to keep the world turning – that it might have a few uncomfortable consequences for a few folk here and there, and that really we have no choice because without big business all the lights would go out and we would all end up in the gutter in rags.

Everything that I saw about UK politics was effectively tinkering around the edges of this worldview. In elections, the worldview was never up for debate – it was assumed that things would stay on that course – all that we were being asked to decide was the colour of the uniform of the captain.

It is the logic of this status quo casts the current debate in Scotland as ‘nationalist’ or ‘separatist’ – in my experience this is just plain wrong – the conversation in Scotland is an earnest and inclusive discussion about the way we all live together and how we can make the world a better place for our children – how we can be a positive force in the world instead of part of the problem.

What I’d like to explore is the idea that a more autonomous Scotland is not just about Scotland but is about Britain as whole. We all live with the day to day ‘reality’ that London is the centre of gravity of Britain and, somehow, we have all come to see ourselves in relation to London. We are told that London is the place that generates the lionshare of the income that supports the rest of the of the UK – but is that realistic? And what does it say about the rest if us? If we all allow this to continue then, quite literally , the life will be sucked from every other part of the British Isles. And that is the point – 50 Scottish Labour MPs in Westminster are not going to stem that tide (in some measure precisely because they are in Westminster).

Imagine for a moment that there was a part of Britain that was doing things differently – a place (very close to home) that could be held up as an example of what happens when you balance a society differently. Imagine a British politics that talked (initially) about two centres of power instead of one. Imagine the way that your region in England, Wales or Ireland could trade and build cultural links with ‘Scotland’. Imagine how pretty soon this idea would catch on and other parts of the UK would start to do things differently and work with each other independently rather than having to run everything through Westminster. Sounds pretty healthy, pretty normal, pretty grown up?

You can imagine what Westminster would say; “it couldn’t work”, “we couldn’t afford it”, “you’d never manage without us” and “everything would fall apart”. Then imagine you lived in Scotland – this is what we have been hearing every day for the last 2 years. The reason that people are standing strong against this barrage is because there is a feeling that, for us, centralised power in Westminster has already fallen apart – our society is broken and we need to do something different.

I’m not open to the idea of independence because I want to leave Britain – I want to play my part in Britain. I believe in the richness and diversity of the whole of Britain and I think what is happening in Scotland could help unlock that potential.

Matt Baker
National Collective

Photography by monkeyatlarge.

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About Matt Baker

I am an artist making work in the public domain. I use participatory and collaborative techniques in projects ranging from temporary events/installations to large-scale permanent artworks and cultural strategies for programmes of urban change. Typically, projects develop over a sustained period of time, working collaboratively within communities and often involving other artists (musicians, film-makers etc) and research expertise (archaeologists, climate scientists, shipbuilders etc). Too many years ago I became an artist in order to change the world – I don’t see any reason to change now.

There are 2 comments

  1. sebadangerfield

    Hi Matt

    Good article. It pretty much sets out why I’ll be voting yes. People in Scotland want a fairer, more socialist society and hopefully this will encourage the rest of the UK to follow suit.

    In reaching this view, I’ve thought a lot about two alternative scenarios. One, that a more socialist Scotland just doesn’t work, or, two, that it doesn’t happen and instead we enter race to the bottom, setting lower taxes to encourage business to locate here. I have to admit I think they’re both real possibilities because money and people can move so freely on a small island with a common language. If, for example, we raise taxes to implement better public services, some business will move south. It may end up that it’s better for us to reduce taxes and encourage business to come here and then the rest of the UK might well follow suit.

    I really don’t know which would happen, and I don’t suppose anyone else does either. So, if I’m honest, the main reasons I’ve discounted them are optimism and the fact that it’s pretty unlikely we’ll vote yes anyway.

    Anyway, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.



    1. Matt Baker

      Hi Seb – thanks for your comment. For me your question is not about the precise nature of any future scenario that might or might not come to pass following a Yes vote – but, rather, one about democratic representation.

      I have anxiety over what might befall the UK – a political entity that I am currently tied to but have precious little representation within. By contrast, I feel better connected to and enfranchised within the scale of Scottish politics. This is a question of scale – I would like to live within a system of government that feels approachable and manageable – I would like to see far more localised decision-making. What I am suggesting is a fundamental difference in approach to the way we currently organise ourselves as a society in the British Isles – one that is not about macro controls applied to an economy (that effects people), rather it is about a genuine devolution of responsibility to the people that make up our society (people making an economy).

      Do I have absolute confidence that this vision will come to pass following a Yes vote? No, I do not. But – I believe that the scale of Scotland would make possible a national conversation about a future society and that I could usefully add my voice and practical skills to. I will vote because I believe the choice I am making is the best option for the values I believe in – equality, diversity and stewardship of the environment.
      Very best wishes

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