I’ll be voting Yes in September, but I wasn’t always going to.
Over the past couple of years, I have tried to absorb as much about Scotland’s independence debate as I can to help me make my decision.
It’s heavy going; even for someone who is interested in politics, wading through the endless streams of opinion and “he-said, she-said” can be tiresome and confusing, not to mention infuriating.
Contributing to my decision is, on one hand, a growing disappointment at the assertions of several “No” commentators, and particularly the persistent claim that those who support independence are bigoted nationalists.
My disappointment isn’t based on their disagreement with my point of view. Not everyone will always agree, that’s the nature of democratic debate. Democracy, is, after all, what the Yes campaign is about.
It’s based on the approach; one that slanders Yes voters by suggesting that anyone in support of Scottish independence is motivated by feelings of superiority, or a lack of care for people in other parts of the Britain.
I’m not talking about the Daily Mail here. I’m talking about educated, usually rational, at least usually sensible local and national commentators: “What about our friends in England? What about all the English people living and working in Scotland?” they ask.
To those questions, I would ask: well, what about them?
I don’t want to accept that these people are yet to grasp what the debate is about, but just in case, to clear things up, here is my understanding of it:
The people of Scotland have a devolved government. That government is offering its people a chance to vote on whether Scotland should be independent.
We’re not being given a vote on whether we like people in other parts of the UK, or how those people should be governed. The choice is about our future and we shouldn’t feel bad for having it. It doesn’t make us uncaring, or selfish.
During several debates, including the recent Althing in Shetland, I’ve heard this argument, alongside that of the UK’s shared experience and post-war gains being promoted as reasons for staying in the union. That everyone in the UK is the same, and therefore should remain together. That we’ll be better together.
But the experiences of folk in each country are different, especially since a war which, for the majority of those whose lives will be truly affected by the outcome of the vote on 18 September, is an increasingly long time ago.
There are differences, generally speaking, in the experience of how folk live and work, which has shaped their view of the world. This is exemplified, perhaps most importantly, by how they vote.
It doesn’t mean people north and south of the border are inherently different, and as far as I have seen, no one has actually said that. Neither does it mean that the people in each country don’t deserve the best democratic representation open to them – and that’s the bottom line.
To suggest that the referendum debate is about anything other than democracy is a fallacy.
To put my opinions into context, I’m not a “typical” independence supporter (if there is such a thing). I’m not a nationalist. I wouldn’t even say I’m particularly patriotic. I would call myself a Shetlander first, and Scottish second. I probably wouldn’t always have though.
Growing up in Shetland, the idea of being “Scottish” wasn’t something I ever thought about. I was brought up speaking Shetland dialect, which, to my young ears, didn’t sound anything like what I heard on the news, or radio; and while I can’t remember thinking about my identity in that sense, language was probably my main marker for how I felt and where I fit in.
I suppose I didn’t consider myself Scottish until I was in my very late teens, perhaps even twenties, when I went to live in Stirling for university.
I felt different, at first, partly because I was living in a city compared to a rural island, but also because I couldn’t identify with the tartan and shortbread version of events that was so often sold to me as “Scottish” culture. Bagpipes made (or more accurately, make) me ill.
My surname seems to confuse people, and doesn’t have a tartan. My fellow, non-islander students asked questions like “where is Shetland?” and “do you have roads?”, which didn’t help me feel we were one and the same.
All of this might sound ridiculous and irrelevant, but it’s as ridiculous and irrelevant to me to suggest that everyone voting Yes is a raving nationalist bigot.
For me the patriotic-call-to-arms justification for supporting independence is obsolete. It’s just not relevant to the debate. All that is relevant is that I live in Scotland, and I’ve been offered a chance to vote on that country’s future. Which is my future.
My Yes vote is about democracy. It’s about wanting the choice to try something else. To create something other than an Old Etionian, male-dominated Westminster. The unelected Lords. The first past the post electoral system which maintains the status quo, and which has thus far resulted, in the 21st century, in women representing only one fifth of the UK parliament. A system which perpetuates and encourages inequality. Where markers for success are financial, and not based on happiness or well-being.
My vote is in support of giving people the confidence to feel they can make a difference. Empowering a generation of people to be the best they can be, and to want to contribute to a more equal society.
This won’t happen overnight, but whatever the outcome of the vote on 18 September, I feel that change has already started. There has been a shift in culture. People are paying more attention to what’s going on in relation to politics and are speaking about it.
And that’s what I love about the independence referendum: it has opened up a dialogue. In all of the information I’ve absorbed over the past year, the thing that I’ve been struck by most is a genuine enthusiasm: the online discussion, the setting up of new groups, making new friends. A shout out to the positivity of community. A flurry of events, articles, and artwork all in support of making the country a better place.
And above all a growing confidence that hopes for a better future can be realised. For that to be the defining feature of the Scottish independence referendum would be no bad thing.