11 Reasons a Yes Vote Will Improve Democracy

There are lots of reasons to Vote Yes in next months referendum, but some of the most compelling arguments are for the impact it will have on our democracy, not just in Scotland but across the UK. If we can show Westminster that there is truly another way to do things, then the argument for reform in that parliament grows even stronger.

1. We will have a written constitution, led by the people

Image from Kim Davies

The Scottish Government have already begun this process and with a Yes vote there will be a constitutional convention to further develop that process of creating a constitution that captures the rights and qualities which belong to all the people in Scotland. This will be an open public process where everyone has a chance to have a say.

2. The House of Lords will have no power in Scotland

State opening of Parliament 2013

With a Yes vote, we remove any constitutional power held by the House of Lords. They will immediately become an irrelevance to Scotland except for where they hold great tracts of the country in their private accounts. Scotland will be able to create a system that is modern, fit-for-purpose and accountable to the people. This could take the shape of a fully elected second-chamber, a committee of legal experts to scrutinise legislation or even a jury system. With a written constitution to guide them, we can ensure this level of Government acts in the interests of the people and not their pockets.

3. More representation in Europe DIGITAL CAMERA

Scotland is currently represented by 6 MEP’s, the same as Malta. With independence we would expect this to rise to 12 or 13 in line with countries such as Denmark. A definite democratic bonus of Independence.

4. Decentralisation for the economy across UK

Newcastle_Quayside_with_bridges The UK economy is focussed on the City of London and maintaining this institution. Everything else is secondary, bar perhaps Defence and the Arms Trade. The only way to break this is for economic redistribution and the only contender for this is Scotland due to it’s geographic, economic and social position within the UK, Europe and the rest of the World.

An independent Scotland with closer links to Arctic nations and Northern Europe would be a in a strong position to draw investment away from London, linking up with cities in Northern England such as Newcastle. This would help to reduce economic inequality and hopefully bring a rebalancing of economic activity in Britain.

A democracy with all the economic, democratic and social power held within one geographic area is no real democracy.

5. Possibility of forming closer political links with northern Europe and arctic nations


Scotland would not be isolated through independence, it would instead be joining the world stage as an equal among other nations and so would have an opportunity for greater links with other nations. The most obvious of these is of course the nations in Northern Europe and across the Arctic Circle. Iceland has already indicated it would welcome Scotland’s involvement in the Nordic Council, as have prominent Danish politicians. This would mean greater co-operation between governments and increasing influence for Scotland in Northern Europe.


6. Scotland would get the government it votes for, every time.


This one is simple. Scotland doesn’t vote for Conservatives (currently 1 MP in Scotland – David Mundell) but has consistently seen a Conservative government sitting in Westminster with power over Scotland. With independence this ceases to be an issue, Scotland will get the government it votes for all the time.

In 14 of the last 18 General Elections the votes in Scotland made no difference to the outcome. And with FPTP we have a voting system which means policies are given the go ahead depending on how popular they are in key marginal seats. Politics in the UK is focussed on winning these seats in the England, not the meagre 59 in Scotland.

7. Increased local democracy


With a Yes vote we can take steps to devolve meaningful power to communities across Scotland, not just in planning but also in welfare and other areas where communities are best placed to identify and solve the problems facing them. The Scottish Government’s “Lerwick Declaration” committed the SNP to reviewing the powers held by local authorities with a view to devolving additional powers to communities. Parties like the Scottish Greens are already committed to increasing participatory democracy in communities and there is a growing demand from campaigners such as Lesley Riddoch to break the centralisation that the UK has gone through over the last 30-40 years.

Scotland currently has 1 elected local politician to every 4270 people, whereas countries like France have 1 for every 120. There is likely a middle ground here that can deliver far greater participation in democracy while also maintaining an efficiency of public service. We can reform local democracy now of course, but only with full powers being given to the Scottish people can we properly review the powers used at a local level and how they link with a Scottish Parliament. Could we give councils more control over welfare and taxation?

8. A chance to create a modern democratic system almost from scratch


Scotland already has a parliament, but a fully functioning democracy is more than just its main legislature. Independence means we have the opportunity to rethink our whole democratic structure from local communities up to the Scottish Parliament. We can truly develop a system that is fit for the modern world and which takes cues and lessons learned in other parliaments, not traditions and ceremonies. Placing sovereignty with the people, not the parliament, means our democratic system will be adaptable and able to be changed if the people of Scotland demand it. Few countries get this amazing opportunity for reform.

9. Scotland will no longer have policies imposed on it which its people and politicians oppose


In recent times, Scotland’s MP’s have voted as a majority against austerity, trident renewal, higher rate of VAT, the Bedroom Tax, welfare cuts and the privatisation of the Royal Mail. All of these have gone ahead in Scotland despite being opposed by Scottish MP’s in Westminster.

10. Policies that take into account Scotland’s geographic and social issues


The people of Scotland are just like everyone else in the world, on the whole we believe in a fair society and want to look after the poor or vulnerable within that society – just as many in England, Wales, Norway, France, USA, Egypt, Kenya and every other country in the world do. What makes Scotland unique is it’s combination of social and geographic issues. You can’t just implement policy that is designed for one country and hope it works in Scotland too.

Independence means we can elect representatives with a mandate to tackle issues relating to the higher cost of delivering public services in Scotland due to it’s vast empty spaces, the problems recruiting Health and Education professionals to rural locations in Scotland, the crippling poverty and health issues affecting our inner cities and so on. To properly tackle these issues Scotland needs to control areas such as immigration, welfare and even defence – for a small country like Scotland need not spend such eye-watering sums of money on weapons of mass destruction, when it has a male life expectancy in parts of it’s biggest city lower than that of Iraq. In the absence of federalism, Independence is the only solution to this problem. Scotland needs to control these levers so that it can properly bring industry back to rural Scotland; take action to stop young people leaving our communities; ensure rural Scotland grows and gives families the opportunity to grow up in the communities they hold dear.

Immigration means we can grow our economy as our population grows older by bringing in more tax paying workers. Controlling welfare means we can reshape the way our poorest and vulnerable are supported in society, and give communities the power to tackle the social issues which lead to our crippling health problems across Urban Scotland. Defence means we can cease spending on Trident and illegal wars, creating a defence force that is actually suitable for Scotland – small naval vessels and an air force designed for coastal patrol and support. This isn’t rocket science, it’s just making a democracy that recognises the different challenges countries face.

11. We will no longer be tied to the tradition, pomp and ceremony of the British State


Honestly, do we need Black Rod? Is it ok to spend tax receipts on the upkeep of palaces for the Royal Family? Does the speaker of the House of Commons really need a number of assistants in weird antique coats? It’s about time we entered the modern world and had a legislature that truly represented people in Scotland, not the landowners of a bygone era. We might one day even hold a vote on an elected head of state…

David Officer
National Collective

All images from Wikimedia Commons

A Woman Makes Up Her Mind


A horridly misguided attempt to appeal to undecided women voters by Better Together, has brought the issue of ‘Special Women’s Campaigning’ in the referendum uncomfortably to the fore.

This laughable parodying of an archetypal Scottish woman, who doesn’t know the First Minister’s name, and doesn’t want to engage in “politics chat” in the domestic realm, has provoked laughter and derision, as well as feelings of alienation and offense from women and men all across Scotland. The monologue complained about the lack of facts or answers, yet the ad contained no facts or answers, and resembled, more than anything, a very short soap opera from the ‘50s.

Despair and outrage have been accompanied by hilarity (because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry) with all manner of humorous memes proliferating, but for me there is a more damaging element to this ad which I just can’t laugh at. One side of this campaign is actively trying to reinforce an unacceptable idea – that politics is not a woman’s concern.

Just last week, before this ad was released, I was starting to become irritated by some campaigning aimed at undecided women voters – that elusive demographic that could apparently make or break our referendum result.

Instead of wider and more diverse representation of women’s views and their reasons for voting one way or another, I saw that women were being targeted with special campaign events and specific communications – this came across to me like women were legitimate targets for being told what to think.

Nonetheless, I felt that this campaigning was a well-intentioned attempt to engage with an undecided demographic by appealing directly to them and trying to engage them in the debate. Until this advert, which just seems like a barely disguised attempt to tell the so-called archetypal undecided woman ‘It’s OK not to involve yourself in politics. That world is not for you.’

However, I have my own suspicions about the polls that have returned results showing many women yet to make up their minds on their referendum standpoint.

I happen to think that the huge swathes of reportedly undecided women have a lot to do with a culture where women are told that they don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to politics. 
I’ve seen it routinely happen in conversation, not only in regards to the referendum, dismissal of women’s views and concerns, interruption and exclusion. And whilst it’s obviously healthy to have disagreement and debate, so many women don’t feel comfortable with adversarial discussions, with disagreeing or stating their own, countering opinions.
Some say “Oh I don’t know enough about it.” or become uncomfortable with “talking politics” – and no wonder, when their contributions to the debate are treated as less equal. There are wider social issues involved, such as pressure on women to seek approval, be the guardians of polite and gracious conversation, never disagree with men (or anyone) and be liked by all. Who can blame them if they feel excluded from the debate? Or disinclined to tell anyone what they think?
I am lucky enough to be a well-educated woman, who knows the issues and is totally confident of her opinions being valid, and I have experienced dismissal, scoffing and ridicule when expressing my views. Or sometimes patronising and indulgent smiling, followed by a kind lecture on why I am wrong. I have experienced men (mostly older men it must be said) turning their backs on me to discuss with other men. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that I don’t understand the real issues at stake, and confident as I am, I have had moments of doubt where I’ve thought, almost as a knee-jerk, “Maybe I DON’T UNDERSTAND ENOUGH ABOUT THIS?”

I can only imagine what it is like for someone who doesn’t have confidence in their views.
These thoughts are based on nothing but my own perceptions, and of course it doesn’t apply to everyone. But I do suspect that there are plenty of women who may just have made up their minds, but don’t want to tell anyone, and others who will struggle to make their minds up because they have been treated like they are incapable of such important decisions.

I can’t help but wonder, if a stranger can turn round and scoff at my views, why would he draw the line at his own family members, peers or colleagues? 

And whilst I think it’s commendable that campaigns are ‘listening’ to the polls and responding by trying to engage undecided women, isn’t targeting women just a bit like saying “Women, you don’t know what to think, so let us tell you what to think.”?

I’d love to hear thoughts on this from any women and men – this is not about pointing fingers, but about a wider culture and my sincere hope that Scotland can be a place where women can feel totally comfortable expressing their views – whatever they are. 

Claire Stewart
National Collective

Love’s Sweet Exiles


There are many reasons I support Scottish independence: from self-determination being the natural state of being and the assurance of always getting the Government voted for by the majority Scottish people, to removing nuclear weapons from our borders, rejecting illegal and immoral wars, to opening up the space for genuinely radical political change aimed at creating a fairer and more just society as opposed to the cronyism and corruption of Westminster, through which no alternative is, or will ever be, offered to the neoliberal consensus. However, although I’m passionate about all of these issues, the independence debate hit home most painfully for me when the politics of disenfranchisement had a painfully personal impact thanks to the Tory-led and UKIP-inspired changes to the UK immigration rules introduced in July 2012. These changes threatened my marriage and I believe robbed me of fundamental human rights which I hope can be restored to me in an Independent Scotland.

My wife is Jamaican, and prior to July 2012 there was no financial requirement for a UK Citizen sponsoring a Non-EEA partner to live with you in the UK as such: provided you had an income greater than income support level and your relationship was genuine, you would be granted a spousal visa (only the first step towards permanent settlement). When our relationship started around 4 years ago, it was easier economically for me to initially move to Jamaica in order for us to be together although after a while we decided that it would be best for us to try to make a move to Scotland. As an aside, I should explain that the rules for an EEA citizen sponsoring a non-EEA citizen partner to join them in the UK are more lenient and that situation remains the same: provided that the EEA citizen is exercising treaty rights in the UK (working or looking for work) their partner and any dependants can join them permanently, with no minimum income requirement.

As it transpired with the changes which took place in July 2012, the greater rights to a family life in the UK afforded to EEA citizens has admittedly chawed me, but remaining in the EEA has provided an essential counterbalance to the increasingly reactionary and punitive immigration policies introduced by the coalition Government. As Westminster veers ever-rightwards, with an impending in-out vote on Europe, it’s easy to see where UK immigration policy is headed with the prospect of a Tory/UKIP coalition, or sadly, even with a Labour Government. However, back to the July 2012 rule changes introduced by Teresa May et al. The effect of these rules was that I now had to find a job in Scotland which paid £18,600 per annum in order to be considered a valid sponsor for my spouse. There are other integral components which prevent the use of third party offers of support from friends and family in order to ‘top-up’ income levels and which also prevent, for most people, the use of savings to meet the threshold. For example, if I secured a job which paid £17,600, I would not be able to use £1000 savings in order to meet the threshold: I would, according to their formula, have to have 2.5 x the shortfall, plus a base level of savings of £16,000. So for this example I’d need to evidence £18,500 savings as well as a £17,600 per annum job, which was definitely out of reach for me. If I were to rely on savings alone and had no job offer, I would require £62,500 savings.

The Tory party line thus far has justified the introduction of these rules in terms that it is ‘acceptable’ to fall in love with a non-EEA spouse, and it is acceptable for that spouse to live in the UK, but ‘not at the expense of the British taxpayer’. The implication of course is that non-EEA migrants are claiming a disproportionate amount of DWP benefits and this fits neatly into the current scapegoating of immigrants and other minority groups, which the Tories and the coalition they dominate have been so keen to embrace in an attempt at appeasing the concerns of Middle England and capturing votes lost to UKIP. There is scant factual basis for these claims: a DWP study published in January 2012 estimated that as of February 2011, there were over 5 and a half million people claiming DWP working-age benefits, of which 6.4 % were estimated to have been non-UK nationals at the time they first registered for a NINO (National Insurance registration, which is the most reliable method the DWP have of estimating the numbers of immigrants who claim benefits). 25% of this 6.4 % were European nationals whilst the other 75% were non-EEA nationals. Of this 75%, UKBA statistics included in the study showed that 98% were subsequently matched to an immigration or nationality status entitling them to benefits. In other words, they were legal immigrants.

So in spite of all of the Daily Mail outrage and convenient scapegoating regarding illegal immigrants claiming benefits, at most 2% of this group had an immigration status which could make their benefits claims illegitimate. To combat this 2% (of 75% of 6.4%), the coalition government introduced a family migration threshold for sponsoring a non-EEA partner which at £18,600 for sponsoring the partner alone (the figure rises at substantial increments for each sponsored child for those with families) was far above the national minimum wage at the time of £12, 875.20 per annum and instantly created some of the harshest family migration rules in the world. Furthermore, according to evidence from the Migration Observatory, 47% of British Citizens in employment in 2012 would not qualify to sponsor a non-EEA partner on the basis of their earnings and because of their lower incomes, were unlikely to be able to afford the various ‘top-up’ methods I have already described. In Scotland, 48% of British Citizens in employment in 2012 would not qualify for sponsorship, in Wales 51% and in Merseyside 56%.

Interestingly, although according to Office of National Statistics, 38% of all UK residents born abroad are living in London, London is the least affected by the new financial threshold, because higher wages there mean that only 29% of London sponsors would be ineligible to qualify as a sponsor of a non-EEA partner. So whilst superficially appeasing Middle England, the coalition have ensured that their London city-state is least affected. Non-EEA immigrants are vital to London and this policy has ensured they can integrate there far more easily there than in the rest of the UK. The immigration levels in general have also been decreasing since 2006, which makes it even more difficult for the coalition to justify the implementation of these rules, which are completely disproportionate and seem to have little statistical/factual justification. To further counter the claim the non-EEA immigrants are a drain on UK resources, I should clarify that as the family migration rules stand, although they are allowed to work and pay tax after entering the UK on a spousal visa, a non-EEA family member is not permitted to claim benefits for a 5 year period after entry. Most non-EEA immigrants come to work hard, contribute and fight for a better life for themselves and their families.

On a personal level, it meant that a policy driven by a party with one MP in my country (Scotland) had effectively barred me from bringing my wife there to live with me. There are many others like me and as the Independence debate rages those who claim we’re ‘Better Together’ should remember that not all expatriate Scots who are ineligible to vote in September 2014 are abroad strictly through choice. I chose to remain in Jamaica with my wife because I love her and to return to the UK in search of work would have meant a period of indefinite separation causing untold strain on our marriage. So there was an element of choice, but it was a stark choice indeed. Furthermore, if I moved my base to Scotland my wife would have been unlikely to have been issued a UK visitor’s visa to come and see me, as UKBA would not have considered her a genuine visitor. Of course, the fact that I was in Scotland looking for work would also have meant that I did not have the resources to visit her in Jamaica. As time progressed it became apparent that since my job in Jamaica was threatened with closure, I would have to take the step we had dreaded. I had applied for literally hundreds of jobs in the UK, spending most nights and every weekend trawling through employment websites and submitting applications, to no avail.

The combination of the poor employment climate in the UK and the fact that perhaps my being abroad was off-putting to employers, meant that my efforts were fruitless. I’m not a fan of self-promotion, but I have a first class degree and several years’ experience in a specialised sector, therefore I hoped I’d be of use to somebody. Thank God that a couple of months ago I managed to secure a job in Scotland which pays the magical figure that Theresa May has declared is mandatory, so I can now sponsor my wife to join me in Scotland. I will have to wait until I have worked in this job for 6 months before we make our application though, because since my job in Jamaica did not pay £18,600 per annum, we could not make our application immediately. I don’t know how many people earn £18,600 per annum in Jamaica, but with a minimum wage which would not buy you a family meal in a UK restaurant, I can bet it’s not many.

However, I am very grateful and relieved that in time we can make our visa application and start our lives together in my country. I feel deeply sorry for the thousands of UK citizens split up from their partners and children because of these rules and the injustice of it continues to anger me. I have written to the Scottish Government about my situation and although I know that they obviously cannot provide me with the specific details of immigration in an Independent Scotland, they have assured me that their family migration policies will be based primarily on family reunion.

So what am I trying to get at? I’d like those who are undecided or who are voting No to consider what their British citizenship means to them. Flags are waved, militarism is celebrated and we are made to feel unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst if we question the British values promulgated by the Establishment which our forefathers have fought and died for. However, please bear in mind that the truly great systems and institutions which were built by people all over Britain such as the welfare state, social housing and the NHS have been systematically torn apart by successions of Westminster Governments of all hues in an epic paper-chase which had abandoned all ethics and principles in favour of profit. These are some of the key achievements which Britain can genuinely be proud of.

But if you are living in Scotland, are holding onto the principles behind these institutions as last bastions of an inclusive and democratic Britishness (which is long-gone and will never be re-established in the current system), as counterintuitive as it may seem, you absolutely have to vote Yes to Scottish Independence in order to protect them. Remember also that, as my story proves, your British passport does not afford you the basic human right to have your partner settle with you in your own country, if by accident of birth they happen to come from outside of the EEA and you are unfortunate enough not to have the prerequisite material resources (in common with half of the population).

There is effectively no right to family life in Scotland for thousands of people in my situation and while these rules are unfair to UK citizens across the UK, surely the fact that they are imposed on Scottish people by a party with only one MP here is a complete affront to democracy and as stark an example of our democratic deficit as you could find.
My wife has talents and skills which should be welcomed in Scotland and would contribute to our society in many diverse ways. But more importantly, I love her, we’ve made sacrifices to be together and it should be my right to have her live here with me in my own country. Moreover, although this is not the time and place to enter an analysis of Scottish-Jamaican historical relations, my fellow Scots should remember the contribution Jamaicans made in blood, sweat and tears to the coffers of the merchants of Glasgow in particular, the fact that many Jamaicans of all hues share Scottish DNA (largely through the brutalisation of their ancestors rather than free choice), that they have sacrificed themselves in combat alongside and inside British forces in many conflicts and that they have had a permanent and positive impact on the culture of the British Isles.

For better or worse, Scottish influence in Jamaica is evidenced by the preponderance of Scottish surnames and place names, the inclusion of Scottish phrases in Jamaican patois and in the subtle Celtic cadences of the language. Scotland can enhance her economy by welcoming people like my wife to live and work here and we can also take ownership of our contribution to the brutality of British Imperialism by voting Yes and putting the final nail in the coffin of that Empire: laying it to rest in mind, body and spirit. We can then concentrate on fostering a new era of Scottish internationalism based on mutual respect, peace and prosperity rather than sabre-rattling militarism and patronising paternalism.

National Collective

The deadline for registering to vote in the referendum is September 2. Click here to download a registration form.

Image from Matt Runkle

5 Things That Will Probably Happen If Scotland Votes No


1. Another Tory Government


Image from UK Parliament

Despite having hardly any support and only 1 MP in Scotland, the Tories won the last election and have since set about destroying the welfare state, wrecking living standards and persecuting the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, if Scotland votes to stay part of the UK, we’ll probably have to put up with them all over again. Polls show that the public don’t see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister material, and when you add in the prospect of David Cameron campaigning as ‘The Man Who Saved Britain’, things are looking grim for the 85% of Scottish voters who don’t vote Tory.

And even if by a miracle the Tories don’t win the next election, we’ll still have to put up with a system where they run Scotland half of the time while having practically no support here.

2. Huge Cuts – No Matter Who We Vote For


Image from UK Parliament

Despite the huge damage austerity has already done to Scotland over the past 6 years, both Labour and the Tories are committed to more of the same after the referendum.

3. More Powers – at a Cost


Image from Back Boris 2012

Boris Johnson – not a bad bet for future Prime Minister – has already complained about ‘ever more things we are giving Scotland’ and thinks there is ‘no reason’ for further devolution. Other leading Tories such as newly-promoted Priti Patel have argued that the referendum is a ‘good opportunity’ to slash spending on our essential public services.

The Unionist parties all have their own different and contradictory plans for further devolution after a No vote, but broadly agree that Scotland should have some more powers over tax. But, should Scotland vote No, why would English MPs vote for Scotland to be gifted more powers without asking for something in return?

The most likely scenario is that some limited control over taxes will be devolved – but at the cost of a cut to the Scottish block grant.

4. Tax Rises, or Worse Public Services


Image from xpgomes9

Should a reform in Scotland’s funding happen, there are two likely scenarios – tax rises or badly funded public services. Any future Scottish Government would have to decide how to deal with an increasingly squeezed budget, and our public services could struggle under the pressure.

The alternative would be tax rises to cover the cuts to our budget, meaning workers in Scotland taking home less than those in the rest of the UK – just to keep public services at current standards.

5. Scotland Will Become Really Boring and Depressing


Image from Smabs Sputzer

All of the above could have the effect of making Scotland a pretty boring place to live after a No vote, all things considered. Governed by a party we rejected at the ballot box, putting up with austerity measures not supported by the electorate, and seeing our public services go backwards as their funding is cut, leading to an entrenchment of existing inequalities in health, education and income. One possible outcome could be the Scottish parliament becoming unpopular as it faces the choice of cuts or tax rises – killing off public support for further devolution or independence in the future.

After the most dynamic, exciting period in Scotland’s history, this might be a bit of a comedown. But hey, at least it was our choice.

National Collective

The deadline for registering to vote in the referendum is September 2. Click here to download a registration form.

Main image from Patrick Down

Andy Wightman: Why I Am Voting Yes

On 18 September voters in Scotland will choose whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or becomes an independent country. I am approaching this choice from the perspective of how best to democratise political and economic power and for me, the past 40 years of British politics and the recent financial crisis informs this choice. During this period the UK has undergone a massive transformation in the architecture of political and economic power.

As James Meek argues in his new book, Private Island. Why Britain now belongs to someone else, in a little over a generation the bones and sinews of the British economy – rail, energy, water, postal services, municipal housing – have been sold to remote, unaccountable private owners. In a long essay in the Guardian on Friday, Meek argues that:

By packaging British citizens up and selling them, sector by sector, to investors, the government makes it possible to keep traditional taxes low or even cut them. By moving from a system where public services are supported by progressive general taxation to a system where they are supported exclusively by the flat fees people pay to use them, they move from a system where the rich are obliged to help the poor to a system where the less well-off enable services that the rich get for what is, to them, a trifling sum. The commodity that makes water and power cables and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the toll-keepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here.”

All of this was forecast by Jimmy Reid in his famous rectorial address – Alienation – in 1972.

Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the process of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies. Many may not have rationalised it; may not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it.” (1)

Little has changed. Were Jimmy Reid to be alive today, much of his diagnosis would still stand. Despite the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and the much good work it has done, the bigger picture remains one of elite capture of the democratic process, the alienation of the citizen, the cynicism of the ruling class and the impoverishment of the public realm. The threadbare democracy that passes for the UK Parliament is now in terminal decline – in hock to the hopes, fears, aspirations and prejudices of small numbers of voters in marginal constituencies. The ambitions and policies of the main political parties are now compromised by this narrowing of this bandwidth of political discourse.

In the film Scotland Yet a succession of speakers lament the failure of the Labour Government of 1997-2010 to use its majority to democratise Britain – to abolish the House of Lords, the aristocracy and the Monarchy, introduce a fair voting system, decentralise governance, and democratise the economy. Instead, the UK continued on a path where political and economic power is now no longer in the hands of the people but is exercised instead by unaccountable private interests of the kind identified by James Meek. The UK is now the most unequal country in the EU as the graph below illustrates (source: Eurostat Bulletin 29/2014).

In December 2011, at an EU summit in Brussels, the UK refused to back a new EU treaty to enshrine new rules on deficits and debt to chart a course out of the Eurozone crisis. As the novelist, Ian Rankin, noted in an acerbic tweet, the City of London exerts a disproportionate influence in political choices.

I believe in the capacity of people and communities to organise themselves in a manner that best addresses their needs. This potential has, for decades been crushed and demeaned by those who, on sunny days, pose as reforming politicians.

Readers of my blog will know of my interest in democratising land, the economy and society. These goals are what inform my choice on 18 September.

The referendum campaign, as highlighted in the Scotland Yet film, has energised wide swathes of the electorate. Whatever way the vote goes, this desire to play a more active role in how we are governed will not die. But there is a danger it may slowly wither away.

I want a Scotland with radically greater democratic control of land, economic affairs and politics. But I have no great faith in the state to deliver this. The nation-state is a relatively modern invention and, as I highlighted at the outset, it is increasingly irrelevant to the challenges we face in communities and around the world. Indeed, it could be argued that, given the ease with which it can be captured, it is actively hostile to genuine democracy.

And that is why the choice of yes or no doesn’t adequately addresses the great challenges of our time – peace, environmental degradation, human rights and social justice. The era of the nation state is, in my view over. It is a redundant  idea. But it is not going to disappear in a hurry and thus I am interested in any opportunity that provides an opportunity to completely rethinking governance.

In an ideal world I want to see power located at a local level with authority for confederal relationships at regional and national levels being derived from the people themselves rather than through the apparatus of state power. These ideas are encapsulated in the political theories of libertarian municipalism and democratic confederalism. (2)

Confederalism, in particular, is a far more realistic framework within which challenges such as climate change can be addressed since it proceeds from the principle of co-operation and mutual interests rather than individual state interests. In the medium term, the future for the British Isles is in strong confederal relationships. Ditto for Europe and the world.

But confederalism is not on the ballot paper on September 18th. The choice is a binary one between independence and the status quo. It has become clear to me that the means by which to build a society within which economic and gender inequality can be reduced, where citizens can be empowered, and accountable, efficient and democratic organs of governance created – is by voting yes.

It should not need stated, of course, that such ambitions are not guaranteed by voting yes. But it is more likely that they can be advanced with the powers of independence than by sticking with the corrupted state that calls itself the UK. The only way to tap the energy that has emerged during this campaign is to provide it with the channels along which it can flow freely.

That is why I will be voting yes.

Andy Wightman
National Collective


(1) Alienation. Glasgow University Rectorial Address by Jimmy Reid, 1972. Copy here (1.3Mb pdf)

(2) See, for example, Murray Bookchin, the Meaning of Confederalism and Abdullah Ocalan, Democratic Confederalism (1.7Mb pdf)

This blog was originally published on Andy’s website Land Matters on August 24.

Image by Simon Varwell.

The deadline for registering to vote in the referendum is September 2. Click here to download a registration form.

Loki: Poverty Is A Form Of Violence

By the age of 10, I was already well adjusted to the threat of violence. In some ways, violence itself was preferable to the threat of violence. When you are being hit or chased a part of you switches off. You become physically numb while the violent act is carried out. Angry people tire easy, so the key to enduring a violent episode at the hands of someone you can’t evade or fight back, is simply to submit and hope that you don’t sustain a serious injury.

The idealists may say otherwise, but high minded theories about dealing with violence are impractical when you are actually faced with it. The rational mind goes offline as your primal survival instincts upload, leaving your options severely limited.

Pacifism will always be trumped in the face of force, because morals are about the luxury of aspiration; violence is about the reality of power and fear.

Acts of violence are terrifying, but the threat of violence is far worse. If the violence occurs in the home then it’s something you feel in the air. A sense of dread accumulates over time until the aggressor snaps and loses their temper. When they do it’s almost a relief because life usually returns to something resembling normal following the violent event. You are, in many ways, glad to get it over with.

Afterward, there is always the faintest hope that the violent person’s genuine remorse, will be enough to change them for the better. Even if it isn’t – which is almost always the case – there remains a strange tenderness around those moments, when the person who behaved violently, expresses their regret. This rare tenderness could be interpreted as love.

Outside the home, violence is more like a public event. People stave off the threat of violence towards themselves by stoking it in someone else’s direction; whipping the playground into a frenzy until the first blow is struck. In both cases however, whether at home or in the street, when faced with the definite and unavoidable threat of violence, you will experience the worst possible type of fear. This fear is your real adversary.

I knew violence could not be avoided, so I learned to choose my fights wisely. There is no point in fighting someone at the location they stipulate beforehand. They usually choose that location because it gives them a tactical advantage. My biggest worry, when faced with an unavoidable conflict, would be that I may gain an early advantage that would throw the aggressor into a prideful, violent temper. This could raise the stakes and potentially lead to an extreme act of violence, like biting or head kicking, which I always wanted to avoid. But this was only the case because I always went into a fight with something to lose. Many other young people do not share that view. For this reason, I would always try to catch the aggressor off guard, in full view of the gallery and in close proximity to responsible adults who would break up the fight before it went too far. I could fight, but it was more instinctive than methodical, as is the case with most people. I certainly never took any pleasure from it.

Looking back now, I can see how calculated I was in my approach. To my adversary, the fight was a major event in the academic calender where they could demonstrate their physical prowess (value) to the rest of the community. For me, it was just another obstacle to overcome before going home, where the real problems were waiting.

Please don’t misconstrue the tone here as the telling of a hard luck tale. The real significance, if any, in my story is not that it is special, but that it’s so common. I possess gifts that allow me to express ideas and for years I’ve obsessively honed them while toiling over how my experiences could serve a greater purpose than my own meandering catharsis. I happen to believe I have been very fortunate in life and this gratitude has helped me overcome genuine adversity.

No matter how hard life gets, there is always something to be sublimely grateful for. For me it’s the blessing of a truly wonderful, loving and eccentric family.

We were always encouraged to express ourselves and showing emotion was not something to be treated like an ailment, as is the case in other families. I had lots of aunties, uncles and cousins who enjoyed playing around and as a large family, with grandparents as glue, we were very close and never apart for very long.

When you’re a kid the hot summers seem to last for an eternity. We were always out in the garden playing football or making capes out of bath towels and pretending we were superheroes. We scaled the surrounding hills like mountaineering explorers on an epic quest for treasure and when back at base-camp, we’d document our tales in drawings and poetry. Other children would come round to play with us and my Granny had an open door policy because she knew, for some of the neighbouring kids, it was probably best they get out the house for a while.

Those kids didn’t play like we did. They seemed more self conscious and even a little serious. They usually came round to ask for a piece and jam or to make enquiries about the availability of empty ginger bottles (money). I thought nothing of it at the time. If they came to the door I just let them in, but now I realise those kids were already learning how to fend for themselves. Clearly, their home life was pretty precarious. What struck me was how long they could be away from home without anyone coming to see if they were safe.

As the years went on and the summers grew shorter, they became the local hoodlums, or neds. In a housing scheme, everyone’s movement is subtly dictated by this young, but extremely powerful group. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. You don’t do very much without factoring in this rogue element, who are defined by their disdain for almost all forms of authority bar the one they impose on themselves. No velvet glove, just a cast iron fist.

The only way to deal with them is to show no fear, but this is a high risk strategy and often results in needless injury or death. People such as this value pride above all other things and backing down is a shameful act within their peer group, punishable by violence. Simply going to the shop for bread becomes a high stakes mind game where making a stand against the threat usually isn’t worth the risk, unless you find yourself in mortal danger.

For this reason, their unpleasant behaviour and lurking presence goes largely unchallenged until someone is brave enough to involve the police. But the police only have dominion when they are physically present and even law abiding folk are weary of cops.

Cops are the fortunate hoodlums, who exercise a moral form of force, but at the core it’s still just the threat of violence. Despite their legal legitimacy, they symbolise the same thing as the neds. They just enforce it with a more efficient kind of consistency. They are the real gang and rule the roost when they’re present, but as soon as they leave, the streets are turned back over to the real authority in the community: the feckless children.

Eventually my grandparents, who lived there for 40 years, had to move out. The children they once welcomed in off the street for respite from their families, were now terrorising them in their own home. The campaign of harassment culminated in a fire, which was evidently the last straw. They were one of the last senior couples to leave and they did so stubbornly. They struggled to rationalise the sense of injustice that they should be the ones driven out, when they had been such a cornerstone of the community since it was created in the 1950s to deal with the social blow back of the industrial-age. But Pollok was now a different kind of animal and not much could be done to remedy the situation but concede to the growing threat of violence.

It was another victory for structural poverty.

Poverty is a form of violence.

National Collective

Image by Daniel Birch

The deadline for registering to vote in the referendum is September 2. Click here to download a registration form.

Len Northfield: Let’s Show The Planet What It Means To Be A Successful, Compassionate Nation

So the games are over. Who among us didn’t enjoy the spectacle, and who didn’t feel at least a little bit proud and uplifted? You there, with your hand up, stop being a curmudgeon.

Then we had the big debate. I had been looking forward to this since it was announced so when it finally rolled round I, like many others on the side of Yes, finished up quite disappointed. Both combatants played true to political type and, apart from a few exceptions, acted as though the nation’s population would be happy with the usual parliamentary obfuscation and half truth. I don’t think we are happy with it though. I think we are well beyond that and it’s time the politicians caught up with us. But that’s what expectation does for you, eh? Ours for expecting better, theirs for thinking we weren’t engaged. The next one is on the 25th of August, maybe we’ll expect less and maybe they’ll up their game?

The battle is becoming more intense, it’s approaching its climax. In a few short weeks we’ll all finally get to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and I hope everyone who votes does so having seriously considered the question. I do feel confident that most voters will have looked more closely at this debate than they have ever looked at the different political positions in a normal election. That’s a good thing, a very good thing, and it feels to me like politics in Scotland has changed forever, for the better.

But this vote isn’t about politics, no matter how much the talking heads of the unionist camp attempt to make it so. They are all trying, and often managing, to bury the very idea of independent statehood in short-termist minutiae that are essentially irrelevant to the question of whether we should govern ourselves or not. The referendum is asking a question which should have us looking 50 or 100 years ahead: what kind of nation do we want our children and grandchildren to live in, but we are letting ourselves get in a mighty fankle about issues that really won’t make much of a difference in those terms. Will it matter in 50 years what currency we started our journey with? Will the EU even exist in 100 years? How different was life in Britain 100 years ago… 50 years ago… 30 years ago… 15 years ago? The future is uncertain and risky no mtter which way you vote, don’t let them persuade you otherwise, but a Yes vote is an enabler, whereas a No vote is a disabler. Surely what is important is that we get to decide every single issue for ourselves, with a government of our own choosing, rather than having the decisions made for us, miles away, by people who really don’t get what our country is about, or much care?

There’s a blight spreading across our nation; one that has been there as long as I can remember, but it is being sorely inflamed by the debate. It’s that deep rooted belief that we in Scotland are just not up to the task of self determination; we are ‘not genetically programmed to take decisions for ourselves’; we cannot possibly achieve what Denmark, or Iceland, or Switzerland, or New Zealand, or Holland, or Norway, or any other small independent nation on the planet can achieve. Compared to any other group of people we really are too wee, too poor and too stupid.

You and I, individually and collectively, are simply not smart enough or capable enough to stand on our own two feet and make a fist of things. Not a single anti-independence politician would say this openly of course, but their entire approach to independence, their questioning of our vision, their undermining of our aspirations and our abilities, their condemnation of our hopes and plans, says this loud and clear to everyone listening. This pernicious argumentation is infecting the debate, affecting the people, and it’s what may just lose us the referendum. Not facts and figures, not hope for a better future, just fear that we aren’t good enough and need to be looked after by our big sister. The Scottish cringe writ large. How awful is that?

Here’s a question though, what are Alistair Darling’s plans in the event of a Yes vote? What about Jim Murphy? Danny Alexander? There’s a paucity of information about their intentions beyond the 18th of September. Could it be that, if we choose Yes, they will all head back north, steal seats from sitting MSPs, and take up their ‘rightful’ place ruling over us in our independent parliament? Surely not? Can you imagine the howling hypocrisy of Darling or Murphy or Alexander standing for election in an independent Scotland, having just spent two years trashing the very institution they want to enter and the people they want to govern? It would be laughable if it wasn’t so real a possibility. Watch this space. Though if any of you, Yes or No, have any shred of decency, should these charlatans show up, send them packing with their cocksure tails between their legs. If we are too wee, too stupid and too poor to run our own affairs, but choose independence in spite of that, then maybe we’re not too stupid to give these opportunistic, carpet baggers the bum’s rush.

I’m constantly pulled up short by the way our minds work, by the way my mind works. We don’t remember things linearly, we remember things almost randomly. Firstly, the major moments get tucked away, the joys and disappointments, the traumas and the wonder. Then, perhaps, the little moments get tucked away in between these big memories and remembering little things often triggers a memory of bigger things.

When I hear Darling, or Cameron, or Osborne, or Murphy preaching, telling us how rosy the future will be within a union that will protect us and look after us and our children and our children’s children, I remember things from my own past. I remember the politicians of the 70s and 80s telling us what was good for us, from the safety of the Westminster redoubt, many miles away. I remember my own home town turning into an economic wasteland of unemployment, boarded up shops, litter and despair. I remember the mines shutting down, the factories closing, the steel furnaces switching off, the shipyards shutting their gates. I remember the utter barrenness of the employment sections of the papers. I remember bringing friends from England to visit my Mum and feeling ashamed at the state of Scotland. I remember feeling inferior. Scotland was sick back then. We had been made sick. Yet, at the same time, we had the resources to be on of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Can you imagine where we would be today, as a country, if the McCrone Report had leaked in 1979?

I honestly don’t understand how anyone in Scotland this summer, knowing how the Westminster government lied to us back then, hid the truth from us, manipulated facts and figures to prevent us taking charge of our own resources, can possibly believe what they are now telling us about our prospects as an independent nation. Or about the rewards we will reap from staying ‘better together’.

Throughout my lifetime, the treatment the Westminster ruling elite have meted out to Scotland has consistently been at some point on a sliding scale between unremitting indifference and relentless contempt. How is it possible that so many of us can be so blinded to reality? What the unionists are currently telling us is this: “If you choose to vote to have no real power over your own affairs, we will give you a little more token power than you have just now, but not enough to permit you to make a significant or lasting difference to your society, or to make us in any way uncomfortable”

Please, don’t let the constant questioning of our abilities get you down, don’t be dragged into doubting our purpose, don’t be bogged down by the incessant negativity. Keep your eyes on the prize, because we really can be that nation we all believe in. Make no mistake, we are big enough, and rich enough, and smart enough to carve out our place in the world and show the planet what it means to be a successful, caring, socially progressive nation with a conscience.

Len Northfield
National Collective

Image by Alex Aitchison

The deadline for registering to vote in the referendum is September 2. Click here to download a registration form.

Dominic Hinde: And Now For Something Completely Different

It is an irony not lost on Patrick Harvie and others in the Scottish Green Party that the independence referendum has given Green politics and its sympathisers a place in the Scottish media few had been willing to provide until now.

The hustings, news reports and general media scrum around the referendum has meant that green ideas have reached new audiences. Sitting somewhere between the newspaper-quoting dogma of the SNP and the Lenin-quoting independence far left, the opportunity to articulate a particular Green vision for Scotland has been priceless to both the Greens themselves and people who share their vision an ecologically and socially sound Scotland.

An epiphany for many people, including the press, has been the realisation that the general green agenda is not just about the environment as traditionally understood, and that the vision for Scotland expressed by both the Greens in Holyrood and the likeminded groups of people around Scotland in the environmental, technology and maker movements would not have everyone reverting to the dark ages. For all its embracing of renewables and talk of community empowerment, mainstream Scottish politics still occupies a very narrow and unenterprising zone that can be both deeply conservative and unwilling to tackle the root causes of the country’s problems. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tug of war between the UK and Scottish governments over oil.

Given the SNP and UK parties’ fondness for oil, the green economy would focus instead almost entirely on renewables. There would be a transition plan to make sure that the jobs provided by the oil industry did not suddenly vanish and an emphasis on putting the profits from renewable energy into the hands of communities instead of multinational energy companies. Together with plans for land and tax reform, this would mean lots of small local energy companies paying back into the communities that built them. This is already the case on places such as North Harris in the Hebrides.

There would also be huge decentralisation, with power handed to regions and individual cities in a more conventional European model of democracy. Whereas the SNP have centralised public services, green Scotland would seek to open up more rural areas of the country, increase economic diversity and stop depopulation. This could mean growth for places such as Fort William, Stornoway, Wick and Dumfries that are currently largely forgotten about by politicians and not considered important enough to break the dominance of the Central Belt.

In economic terms, this might lead to lower levels of overall growth than an oil-intensive economy concentrated in the North-East would, but it would also more evenly spread economic benefits across the country.  Likewise, the Scottish banking sector could be broken up into a series of regional banks and become less reliant on the volatility of international markets.  A line often trotted out by Better Together is that Scotland is too small to support its own banks, but both Denmark and Sweden weathered the banking crisis by separating their assets into domestic and overseas investments on a fundamentally different model.

Similarly, the debates around currency are given more prominence than is reasonable given its impact on the economy. As Kirsteen Shields, a law lecturer at Dundee University, has said, the idea that economics is used to define sovereignty shows a very narrow frame of reference. The Greens favour an independent Scottish currency, and organisations such as the New Economics Foundation suggest that local currencies could have serious economic benefits. The state of the world economy only becomes a serious issue when your material interests are interwoven with the fate of investment markets.

Instead, investment in Scotland’s internal assets could well be as productive in green terms. Time would be called on the landowners who still dominate Scotland, with agreement about replacing council tax with a land value tax, or LVT. LVT is similar to asset taxes in Denmark that prevent people banking their wealth in property and sporting estates without developing either.  This would guarantee a huge increase in the amount of money flowing to local councils to pay for schools, transport and community facilities as well as allowing communities to more effectively manage land.

Socially things would change substantially, with more of a Nordic-style welfare system that facilitates childcare and shared parenting beyond subsidising private nursery costs for working mothers. Instead of having to nervously wait for unemployment and housing benefit to be paid into your bank account when looking for work, the government would attempt to introduce a guaranteed basic income and provide services to help people find work instead of hitting them with financial penalties. Lessons from across the North Sea show that facilitation of jobseekers and people staying at home makes both economic and social sense.

With green economics Scotland would probably start to look very different too. At the moment many of the homes and buildings that pop up are constructed quickly and cheaply by private developers, with people often being an afterthought. Housing is often used instrumentally in the Scottish economy as a means of fuelling construction booms – a key platform of SNP policy at present. There is famously one new development on Glasgow’s South Side supposedly built with the proceeds of drug money and signed off by the council as part of their hands-off regeneration strategy which will, in the words of one planner, ‘become the slums of tomorrow’.  Changing some aspects of how and why Scotland builds would not even require independence, just a change of direction in Scotland’s two big political parties.

Taking a long-term view of the built as well as the natural environment can produce better outcomes for all.  Good quality housing is an effective way of improving the quality of people’s lives whilst helping the environment. Instead of yuppie flats and suburban estates Scotland could look forward to high-quality modern tenements and an end to the tyranny of private landlords and insecure tenancies.  Walk down Leith Walk in Edinburgh and the sportscars parked in the bus lanes across the street from credit-brokers and short-lease flats remind you that Scotland is not a poor country, just a dysfunctional and unequal one.  In a country that has managed to combine the worst aspects of council housing and private renting, it is a tempting prospect for anyone under forty for whom a secure home is often a worry. Small increases in private wealth are a blunt instrument compared to the high prices and poor quality of huge swathes of Scotland’s housing stock, whilst public buildings need to be designed for the people who use and work in them.

The vision of a decentralised but interconnected and just society where quality of life trumps the endless pursuit of growth and people gain more control over their own lives is one that everyone can buy into. The real question is whether Scotland’s political class will relinquish the power to let it happen.

Dominic Hinde
National Collective

Homage To Catalonia

Long distance relationships aren’t easy. But distance can provide the time and space to reflect inwardly and quietly about ourselves. To reflect on the things that really matter. To reflect on what a new identity might look like and ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’. This cautious contemplation suits the Scottish way of things.

Over the last twelve months, I’ve reflected on a personal homage to Catalonia. I’ve met new friends and observed another independence campaign.

The Catalan campaign for home-rule after over 300 hundred years of union with Spain is well documented and has gained in populist support following the economic crash of 2008. There is a growing belief that the comparatively rich Catalan State of 7.5 million is propping up a flailing and inept at best, or corrupt at worst (depending on your political standpoint), centralist government in Madrid. Last 11 September, on the National Day of Catalonia, a 480-kilometre (300 mile) ‘human chain’ of linked arms stretched across the ancient Via Augusta from the French border on the Pyrenees down to Alcanar in central Spain. Seemingly every motorway flyover, railway sidings, or rock-face is suitable canvas for ‘independencia’ or ‘liberta’ graffiti. Barcelona balconies proudly cascade with red and yellow stripes and star flags. This is the via Catalonia, or Catalan way.

Catalonia boasts year-round sunshine, historic and cosmopolitan cities, and internationally renowned cuisine. Yet Catalans look on with envy at the choice facing Scots this September. Earlier in April, after months of constitutional debate and seven hours of debating a Parliamentary motion, Spanish MPs voted overwhelming to deny a referendum vote on Catalan independence with the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, warning that a referendum would be “an economic disaster” for both Spain and Catalonia. Catalan authorities plan to press ahead with a regional referendum in the autumn of 2014 regardless. Meanwhile Rajoy, anticipating the winds of change across the North Sea, is lobbying against prospective EU membership for an independent Scotland.

When visiting Catalonia, I am frequently asked about the Scottish Referendum. It is unusual to find dissenting pro-independence viewpoints amongst Catalans. At times, and with the ignorance of an outsider, it can seem a bit of a blinkered world view. This is a country still weighed down by the living memory of a military dictatorship, civil war and economic ruin. There is strong anti-Spain sentiment in the press and media, in a way that I’m relieved and proud we haven’t much tread (aside the unfortunate colonists and settlers arts debacle) regards anti-England in the Scottish context. Thatcher, the bedroom tax, and even the lop-sided BBC weather map do not equate to decades of Franco. He banned their language, murdered their poets and separated families. Progressive and positive politics in Spain will require forgiveness on an entirely different scale.

One of the most positive outcomes of a Yes vote in Scotland would be to let go of our own underdog mentality. For me, waking up to a Yes vote on 19 September will not herald in a Caledonian honeymoon but the beginning of reconciliation and greater understanding between former constituent parts of the UK. If we aim high, we must lessen the gap between have and have not, and commit to relationship-building with those on all sides of the IndyRef debate.

Relationships that last are about responsibility; taking the decisions that affect us most locally, taking the initiative to change unjust laws and policies; not waiting for handouts, put downs and naysayers. We know this to be true in Scotland because we have had the experience of devolved government and political maturity for nearly sixteen years. The Scottish Parliament – designed by Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, and bearing striking resemblance to the Santa Caterina market in El Born, Barcelona- has housed our national coming of age.

The world will be watching Scotland this 18th September. Watching most closely and cheering from the side-lines will be the Catalans. Homage to them, and the many others seeking the right to self-determination, means engaging in the debate, registering to vote and casting a vote in the ballot box whether a yes or a no.

Some relationships last, some don’t, but we are forever different as a result of the experience. The people of Scotland will be forever different as a result of the present independence debate. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about recently when daydreaming in the pine forests of Gaia, northern Catalonia; smelling the scented drifts of thyme and rosemary and listening to the cowbells of cattle gently passing by the start of a new season. And that is why, in order to be better together in our constitutional relationships, I’ll be voting Yes to Scottish Independence in five weeks’ time and supporting my Catalan friends to take the long, pragmatic road to ‘Si’.

Jemma Neville
National Collective

Image from

Janice Galloway: This Is An Opportunity Like No Other

Let’s start with the facts.

I was born 1955 in Saltcoats and spent my childhood yearns in The Swinging Sixties. This term is a slogan, not a Fact. I was there, and Saltcoats never swung. My upbringing stressed the importance of 1) reining oneself in; 2) the pressing obligation to develop self-doubt and openness to shame; and 3) a sidelong appreciation of human absurdity. Refrains as reinforcement were common, the top three being 1) Who do you think you are? Princess Bloody Margaret? 2) I suppose you think you’re special? (with or without the optional ending “you with your nose in a book?”) and 3) Who asked your opinion? You’re not entitled to an opinion: you’re entitled to shut up. Gleaned from having only just survived the war, large families, life-endangering work and stoutly defended class divisions, these refrains were not open to question any more than were the Laws of Physics. They were crucial training in the survival skill of knowing one’s place in a hard world. And one’s place was wee.

Putting your head above the parapet was asking to be shot down while ambition was a sure way to tempt fate. Those whom the Gods love die young etc. Don’t draw attention.Teaching your children not to expect too much was for the ultimate good of all. My mother’s exhortation - stop reading books all the time; you’ll get funny ideas – was a warning sprung from love. By turns a domestic servant, mill worker, clippie, newsagent, cleaner and dinner lady, my mother’s work had been circumscribed by type. Reining in expectations was insurance against disappointment. When her regrets hit home (all the more as she aged), she blamed herself, her marriage and, most of all, Scotland. It was the place’s fault. It never occurred her own sensation of weeness was a frame of mind: not at all. It was bound up with the country’s literal size.

Small meant weak. Easily crushed. As a working class royalist, the thing she valued most about the British Empire was its bigness. Inside it, she felt blessed with trickle-down glory: without it, she’d have been smaller still.

My education left me a bit stranded as well. History, stories, poems, songs and books at primary school gave the impression the bulk of it, even in my country, was about other places. History was full of great stories about those places nonetheless. “Doing” the Battle of Hastings in P6 led to my writing a very bad play and a bleak first novel, both set during the Norman invasion of the flaxen-haired Angels of Bexhill-on-Sea. Only in my version, Harold won. Best of both worlds – on the side of the Angels and ultimate victory. Bugger being wee.

At 18, I cast my first vote following the traditional rules of affiliation: council-house-mining-background Labour. If a monkey stood for Labour round here, the monkey would get in, my mother laughed. Haha. Landladies along the front with guest houses voted for the Tory monkey. That was how politics worked. The Highlands and Borders voted Liberal to dissociate from the Central Belt as much as anything else, but also because Liberals were trustworthy on the grounds they’d never have real power. These voting patterns, like the refrains, were Facts.

At 19, I wrote a letter to the local paper supporting their showing of a scandalously sexy art film and my sister gave me a black eye for giving her a red neck. I also started University where the loss of my music teacher (a dedicated Englishman who said “There’s nothing stopping you: you can be good at this if you want to”) proved very difficult indeed. I suffered a serious depression. Fallout. Graduated at 22, I became a teacher myself in a giant secondary school in Ayrshire and – surprise! – I loved it. Teenagers were ingenious, cheeky, raring to go: teaching them was fun. But the job was changing. Every five minutes, the job was changing. The most important thing, increasingly, was assessment. I got depressed again, but it was only when my mother died that I had the nerve to leave without another job to go to. Thinking I was Princess Bloody Margaret and funny ideas from books – I knew, I knew. But I did it anyway. I told none but those who worked beside me and hid in Glasgow.

It was years before my sister found out from a newspaper, I was writing stuff. She did something exceptional. She phoned. If I thought I was ‘It’ I had another think coming, she said. Do you hear? I felt 11 again and almost wept. But I was not 11. I was 37 with a baby and she didn’t know my address. I hung up. Keeping night terrors at bay, aware I owed a baby something worth having, I read a lot about child development. Alice Miller and Piaget and Blake and Duras – lots. Multiple guilt complexes, a tendency to depression and a fierce requirement for obedience, it turned out, was a shit way to bring people up. Novels, poetry, plays. The importance of permission. There’s nothing stopping you.

Now, my son is a man with a job of his own, and my notions of possibility are practised. The present referendum was surely an opportunity for interesting debate. The No campaign would seize the chance to denounce centralisation, undo the ghastly Blair make-over, present a case for electoral reform and new thinking. Better still, they’d defect. Who’d have thought the tactics they chose instead would have been so small-minded? Ideological interpretation presented as Fact, belittlement of aspiration, and an old refrain to blend seamlessly with those of my childhood: There’s no going back, short-arse. Don’t say you wereny warned. Who’d have thought?

Here’s another fact. Uncertainty is what most of us meet and deal with every day. I am not terrified of financial risk if that is the cost of gaining more credible social justice. Wealth is not the only thing (no, really) that most people wish to prioritise: the financial future is unpredictable in general. Imagination would have made a powerful difference to the No lot’s credibility. Or care. Anything but cheap shots and a kind of “it was only a joke” shrug. Maybe I am sentimental, but I hoped there would be a trace of the UK spirit my mother had loved from their rhetoric. I am still waiting.

Years after the ghastly rhetoric of “trickle-down” economics (a theory beloved of Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives in general, Republican Presidents, banks and big-government Neo-cons world-wide) I had thought what was worth saying was obvious. How about a difference for my son’s generation of twenty-somethings? Something to encourage the public-spiritedness of the kids I remember teaching in the Garnock Valley? How about small government where nothing that swindles the public is too big to fail? Or politicians who live not only close enough to see and experience the effects of their policies first hand but are reachable by bus?

The most unassailable fact here is that there is no such thing as the status quo. Check Heraclitus: everything changes, nothing stays still.

Fifteen years from now I hope my generation have more time to read, talk to people we don’t know in the street, teach or learn abroad. We might form a community choir, work for the political party or pressure group of our choice – if we hang onto it that long, we might even volunteer for the NHS. In the blink or an eye, our children’s children will be in charge of the tough stuff. What do we want to pass on?

This is an opportunity like no other. There’s nothing stopping us. Yes. Yes, Yes.

Janice Galloway
National Collective