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Sara Sheridan: I’ve Completed My Journey To Yes

SARA

Four months ago I gave up reading fiction in order to dedicate myself to the non-fictional world of political discourse. I’m an historical novelist and I simply couldn’t make up my mind how to vote. I spend a lot of my time researching the past for my work but now, I realised, the important thing was to dedicate my swotting skills to understanding as much as I could about the present and the potential futures that might spring from it. I take the privilege of voting in our Referendum on September 18th very seriously and I wanted to be sure that I made a decision of which I could be proud. I wrote about the issues that were on my mind here

It’s been quite some four months. I’ve read a lot of articles both online and off, a lot of political papers and statistics. Some were recommended by people who read my January blog and pitched in with ideas. Thanks for that. I’ve probably read more material than I can remember. Just as importantly I’ve spoken to everyone I could think of about the issues. There’s a reason for that – at heart I’m a democrat. I know that people will make different decisions based on the same source material because people have different priorities. It’s never seemed to me that there was one right answer as to how to vote. For some people Yes will be right and for others, No will fit in with their values. The kind of country where everyone votes the same is not a healthy place. So as I’ve been trying to decide, I’ve been drawn to ask about other people’s thought processes as a way of trying to figure out my own.

The human brain has an interesting method of making decisions. Almost all the time we run on instinct and then compile material to back what we’ve decided in retrospect. It’s a method I use when I’m constructing fictional characters to make them convincing. We all do it (although many of us deny the fact.) This knee jerk decision making tactic applies equally to small and large issues – about what to have for lunch, for example, to decisions about how to vote in what is arguably the most important political decision our generation will take.

My own knee-jerk reaction when the referendum was first mooted was No. I spend a lot of time down south and I’m an historian (albeit to fictional ends). An independent Scotland felt as if it would be inward looking, small and parochial. It felt like an over-reaction to vote Yes and I wasn’t going to do it. I began on the process everyone employs – eyes peeled, I searched for material that backed up my decision. But as I got out there and opened my eyes, there wasn’t a lot that fitted the bill. I’d had the experience of living in Ireland when I was a student and I knew that small countries were able to look outwards. I read pieces by other Scottish creatives and practically no-one who was arguing for the Yes campaign was looking inwards. I realised that my knee-jerk reaction (or the grounds on which I’d made it) was (gasp) wrong. The reality just didn’t measure up and more than anything I didn’t want to base my vote on a feeling that was unreliable. I wanted to understand what I was gong to vote and why. That’s when I took the decision to stay consciously open minded for a few months and just see what I came to.

Most of what is available is propaganda for one side or the other. I haven’t found much in the way of truly balanced articles, blog pieces or clips on YouTube – for this or any other political issue. Actually, that’s much the same when you read history books. So I began to extract the facts from each argument and check them individually – the same set of statistics or source material is frequently used by both sides. After the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney gave a lecture in Edinburgh, for example, both the Yes and No campaigns claimed he backed their argument. The solution was always to read the original and make up my own mind and to run statistics through fact checkers to see how they had been compiled. I soon realised that news sources I thought were basically impartial, just weren’t. I’ve been a lifelong supporter of the BBC but the bias towards the No campaign has been shocking.

I’m not going to lie – it’s taken a lot of time to dig out small nuggets of truth I feel that I can stand behind. But I’ve really enjoyed it – I’m not the only person to discover after years of feeling depressed about politics and hopeless about the possibilities that are available, I could rediscover my inner activist. Politics has become interesting all of a sudden. I haven’t been at a dinner party or down to the pub recently without everyone round the table ending up talking about what might happen and in the process a rainbow of opinions emerging.

Often I see people still at the knee-jerk stage – whether they are a yes or a no voter – and if you ask questions about why they’ve come to that decision they quickly flounder. I’ve been told that we have to vote No because Scotland is a poor country (whichever way you or I end up voting I can tell you now – Scotland is not a poor country and there is masses of evidence to back that up). I’ve been told we have to vote yes or we won’t have any national respect (also nonsense, as far as I’m concerned – there’s plenty of national pride on both sides). I’ve been told we have to vote Yes/No because of Trident/the EU/the NHS/sterling. I once had the bizarre experience of talking to a No voter who insisted that Scotland was a third world country and when presented with real evidence to the contrary – that Standard and Poor has said Scotland will garner a Triple A rating if it votes for independence – then spent a long time running down Standard and Poor rather than challenge their own decision making process.

One thing is for sure. As a nation we aren’t going to agree. Actually nor should we. What’s inspiring is that everyone wants to talk about it. Between the extreme people who are dyed in the wool one thing or another there is an undoubted majority of evidence gatherers who are genuinely making up their own minds, weighing up good against bad (or more accurately what they perceive as good against what they perceive as bad.)

What I’ve discovered about myself is that I want change. That’s the catalyst for my decision. It’s my most important voting issue. For me this isn’t an argument about sterling or the NHS (although both those things are important to me as well) But at base, for me this referendum is an opportunity to leave a corrupt and hopeless system – the kind of political environment where Labour MSPs vote against free school meals for primary 1-3s just to spite the opposition or where a woman who inadvertently (we hope) takes over £45K of public money yet doesn’t feel the need to pay it back when the error is uncovered, or where UKIP can gain a hold over many English constituencies because people are so desperate for some kind of authenticity – no matter how abhorrent. I want a shot at doing things differently and at having my vote make a difference, which up until now it never ever has.

I’ve chatted to No campaigners who say change is possible within the current system but without a yes vote I just don’t believe that enough change will ever happen to satisfy my appetite. Westminster’s too entrenched in privilege, and while I don’t trust any politician (why on earth would you?) I’m more inclined to back a smaller system that can be more nimble on its feet – something with a point to prove. Something new.

My grandmother used to say that the things that feel right are the important ones – the no brainers. It’s been a long process for me to get to the heart of what feels right for me – a merging of head and heart. They say women are slower to make their decisions – well I’m certainly female! It’s demonstrable that women tend to have different attitudes to risk than men (from studies done about women on boards, for example.) I’ve assessed the risk of voting yes against the risk of voting no and I’ve come up with my answer – for me, the least risky, in fact. I’ve taken my time to do it but then, there’s been no need to make this decision quickly. I started well in advance and I’m sure that like many other women who are undecided, we’re just careful. It’s a big decision. We should be.

When my daughter was small I always encouraged her to back her view. ‘You might be little but we want to hear what you have to say,’ I’d say to her. This bit me back when she was a stroppy teen, of course, but now in her 20s she’s making her decision too, both of us aware that this is a vote the consequences of which will outlive both of us.

One surprising thing I’ve discovered is that I don’t want to let go of my newly discovered political engagement, I want it to continue. All those years ago I was encouraging my daughter to speak up but up till now I haven’t encouraged myself the same way. Before the referendum it seems to me, politics had become the reserve of extremists of one kind or another – propagandists with closed minds who were backing their positions no matter what. If we get a yes vote on 18th September I hope all the open-minded people who vote (whatever they vote for) won’t turn their back on the political debate. This decision though a big one, is only the first of many we have to make and keeping political engagement alive in Scotland whether independent or not, will depend on her people and their willingness to participate in real democracy.

That’s real change. And that’s what I’m backing.

Sara Sheridan
@sarasheridan
sarasheridan.com
Novelist

Samuel Best: ‘Rememberin’ the past, no’ celebratin’ it, an’ lookin’ tae the future’

Aye Have A Dream

To begin with, a disclaimer: apologies for the blatant plugging in the following column, but we’re all just trying to make a buck, aren’t we? Or should that be a pound? Or a groat? Or a merk? Whatever currency floats your boat. My understanding is that we can use whatever we fancy.

I recently released my first novel, Shop Front, on Fledgling Press. The basic gist of the plot is; a graduate can’t find work so he moves home with his mum and dad to work in Asda, and his life spirals into a mess of drinking, violence and hospital visits. One of his new mates, Niall, is massively passionate about Scotland. He straight up loves it here. At times I’ll admit he gets a bit too passionate and veers into a cringe-inducing ‘we’re braw cause we just are’ mentality, but by and large he likes it here because of the passionate culture and the sense of belonging, the same way a lot of people feel about their countries.

“See, I hink – an’ this is probably mair relevant now than ever – if we’re gontae be a strong, independent nation, we need tae shape up a wee bit. I mean, dinnae git me wrang here, Scotland’s no worse than maist other places, but it’s also no better, eh?” – p146

I recently saw a T-shirt with the slogan ‘I’m not perfect but I’m Scottish and that’s as close as it gets‘ and that makes me squirm more than when people sing ‘And sent him homewards tae think again’ louder than any other bit of our non-national anthem. I’m totally with Niall in his wee rant above. I’m a passionate believer in the average-ness of Scotland. Of the average-ness of all countries, for that matter. There is no bit of rock on this planet that being born upon bestows any kind of magic. And I like that. I like knowing that if I get talking to someone from South Africa, or Sweden, or Australia, they will have been born the same and will die the same as me. It’s an even playing field, in my eyes.

The sad thing is though, worldwide, it’s the bit in between being born and dying that isn’t an even playing field. Someone’s Mum gets them a job in her company, someone’s Dad comes from money, you know the story. People will always find ways to help out their nearest and dearest. And to some extent, that’s fine: I enjoy helping my friends out, and I will always be passionate about giving other writers exposure to the best of my ability. Where it’s not fine is when people who, frankly, aren’t very good at the thing they want to do get to do that thing just because of who they are.

Example: I’d love to be a barber. I’ve always loved cutting hair and there’s nothing as makes-you-feel-fancy than an old fashioned straight razor shave. But the reason I’m not a barber is because I’m not trained as a barber. I might be good at snipping my own quiff, but if I was actually let loose on the public there’d be blood and bald patches throughout every town and village in this average nation. The same way I wouldn’t ever have a bash at being Chancellor, or Secretary of State for Education. Because I’m not trained in how to do those jobs. But there are men – and they are almost all men, aren’t they David? – in extremely senior jobs in the UK government who aren’t qualified to be there. They’re there because of school ties, or family ties. And that’s dangerous.

See, my favourite thing about the Yes movement, perhaps even more than the possibility (or probability, am I right?) of a Yes vote, is that throughout Scotland, throughout the UK, throughout the world, even, I have seen people put aside their differences to come together. Yesterday I was at Croy train station and I saw four Yes badges. One on an elderly deaf man, one on a very posh looking businessman, one on a woman in her 30s, and one on me, a 24 year old writer. Throw us together in a room badge-less and I reckon we’d struggle to find common ground. But with the badges on we can nod to one another as we jump on the train to the Capital. I don’t know you, and – to go on appearances – you live a very different life to me, but we have something in common. Take a look at the Yes groups: Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, Academics for Yes, Radical Independence, Green Yes, the list goes on. Christ, even the Tories are getting in on it with Wealthy Nation, and good on them. We’re all different and we’re all the same.

I remember being in secondary school and receiving a visit from Nicola Sturgeon. At the time I wasn’t up for one drop of independence, seeing it, wrongly, as a grudge held by petty nationalists against a union that brought prosperity to these islands. But looking back on it now, not only do I see her logic in arguing for a Yes vote (petty historical nationalism is quite rightly absent in the Yes campaign), but I can also appreciate the gesture of her visit. Sigh, to think that I once asked the Deputy First Minister of my country why our vending machines were so badly stocked when I should have asked her about reasons Scotland could cope on its own. What a wasted opportunity, but what an opportunity anyway. I don’t ever remember any other politician taking the time to visit my school and speak to the pupils (certainly not when I was there, anyway), and now I can appreciate that that attitude – the idea that everyone should be welcomed into politics because politics is there for all of us – has grown and is rampant in the Yes camp as a whole. They’re the ones turning up to debates, holding meetings with regular people, and spreading the word through grassroots channels.

To leave you with another Niall from Shop Front quote, here are his thoughts on The Corries and, by extension, Scottish culture in general:

“The Corries are aboot rememberin’ the past, no’ celebratin’ it, an’ lookin’ tae the future. Bein aware ae the Scotland behind ye while ye look at the Scotland ahead. Nuthin’ wrang wi’ identifying wi’ yer ain culture” – p243

And more and more I am identifying with Scottish culture. Not in a Royal Mile tartan shop kind of way either, but in a more relaxed form that means I actually no longer look at books and see Scottish books, or authors and see Scottish authors. I see books that were written in Scotland, or authors who live in Scotland, and by doing what Niall suggests – by looking to the future, looking to an independent Scotland – I’m not even seeing Scottish people anymore. I’m seeing people who live in Scotland. And by doing what I have seen countless No voters suggest we are doing by voting Yes and by “making ourselves smaller”, we can actually make ourselves better, more outwards-looking. And that excites me. The world is our oyster and everyone on it is just as valuable as the next person. Westminster is busying itself sending vulnerable people ‘back home’ and debating whether we have too many foreigners here, but we don’t have to be a part of that any longer. Vote Yes and change things.

Samuel Best
National Collective

Photograph by Alex Aitchison

Album Exclusive: PoP Campaign – HAME

HAME is the third album by PoP Campaign and is released on Thursday 1 May by CARP Recordings. Above you can hear a preview of the first song ‘Aye Like’, and you can listen to the whole album exclusively via National Collective below.

Mark (PoP Campaign):

After the release of the last album, thoughts of the impending referendum were floating around my head. Whilst the previous record dealt with issues around British culture and its place in society, I wanted this one to reflect Scotland and our future as a nation.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no party political broadcast. It is the sound of memories, visions and ties with the Scotland I grew up in. The days I loved and the nights I’d rather forget.

The album is merely one track long. The first half focuses on the sights and sounds of Alba: an old man discussing memories places and events, the omnipresence of rain, the Tartan Army, clinking bottles and that feeling inside a club at 3am. The second half is dedicated entirely to a spoken word piece detailing a messy Ayrshire derby between Ayr United and Kilmarnock on ‘Saturday 15th February 1999’.

It weighs in at just over 26 minutes and is separated into sections:

Aye Like
TA on Trafalgar Square
Saturday Night, Paisley Road West
Aye Like (Refrain)
That’s the Fuckin’ Polis Here
Comin’ Doon
Saturday 15th February 1999

This is, by no means, everyone’s Scotland. It is very much a personal exploration and as a result, west-centric. This is my interpretation of HAME. I hope some of it resonates with you too.

We are extremely pleased to be giving the first snippets of the album to National Collective members. When thinking of a launchpad for the release, we could envisage no better place. This first snippet is from the very beginning of the album, the section entitled ‘Aye Like’. This track was created as a postcard snap of places I have visited in Scotland.

Listen to HAME in its entirety here.

PoP Campaign: Facebook | SoundCloud | Tumblr

Derek Watson: Independence Is The Only Way Forward For Scotland

banter

The Banter Thiefs have managed to craft a number of songs which boast a high level of musical ability, catchy melodies and a lyrical quality that allows lead vocalist David Clark to make local, Lanarkshire references and observations while still managing to produce songs which can strike a chord with those from outwith the area. The band have also managed to develop a confident stage presence and chemistry thanks to an ever-increasing experience of playing live over the past few years. And if that wasn’t enough, their loyal, loud and lively band of followers are ever present at gigs throughout the UK & are always ready for the party. Here, band member Derek Watson talks to National Collective’s Jenny Lindsay about his reasons for supporting independence.

Why do you think it is important for Scotland to be an independent country?

For me independence is the only way forward for Scotland.

I’m from Motherwell, a town which was once the steel capital of Europe; however, if you didn’t know its history, walking around the town today you wouldn’t believe it. Shops are being boarded up, pubs and restaurants closing, a high level of unemployment and 1 in 5 kids living in poverty.

I believe it all stems from the closure of Ravenscraig, a decision made by a Tory government that the people of Scotland never voted for. Since then we have seen Cameron’s Tory government impose policies such as the bedroom tax, which punish the most vulnerable in our society. A vote for independence would give power to the people who care most about Scotland.

I’m voting for independence as I believe it would allow us to create a fairer, more equal society.

Why do you think it is important that artists and musicians get involved in the independence debate?

The Scottish people have a very unique identity, with music and the arts playing a huge part in our culture. Currently the music industry in the UK is very much dominated from London. In an independent Scotland we may be able to create more platforms to showcase our talent on a global scale.

Overall, what are your hopes for a future Scotland?

I imagine a country free of nuclear weapons. A country that makes its own decisions and controls its own destiny.

Watch the newest release from The Banter Thiefs below.

The Banter Thiefs – Pretty Boys

Vive La Lunchbreak

peeps

Daniel’s pulled a news website up and beckons me across. I glance round the office before getting up. The boss, Gordon, might be carrying the weight of the world around his waist but he’s got a careful habit of sneaking up on you right as you’re breaking some company rule. Like using the internet for personal surfing.

‘What?’ I ask, and Daniel points at the second news story down, underneath the one about the Japanese tsunami.

‘Seen this? A revolution,’ he says.

The picture is a city square somewhere, like George Square but hotter looking. It’s full of people. People waving flags. People clenching fists. The headline says there’s ‘unrest’ in the Middle East. Daniel opens the story and we read quickly.

The Tunisian government has fallen. Egypt is in the hands of its people. There’s blood on the streets of Libya. Bahrain is in a state of emergency. Syria is predicted to crumble within weeks. The entire Arab world has erupted.

‘Crazy,’ I say. ‘That kind of thing would never happen here.’

‘Imagine if it did,’ Daniel replies, closing the tab.

I scoot back to my seat and a private message from Daniel pops up at the bottom corner of my screen.

What’s crazier is that all of this is happening and no one here has a clue except us. Ever wondered why they put the news on at 6? At 10? Because if anything happens between 8 and 5:30 no one hears about it. We’re all too busy.

I glance over at Daniel but he’s concentrating on his PC. He looks just like everyone else around here. Working hard, slogging away. Putting in the hours.

That’s a good point, I type back. I’d never really thought of it like that.

Exactly. No one ever does. We’ve got too much to worry about, don’t we? Mortgages, bills, parking fines. Our heads are all too full of the wee things to ever focus on the really important stuff. Does anyone even know what happens in Parliament on a day to day basis? See 25 miles away, there are nuclear weapons capable of destroying any country in the world. And Glasgow doesn’t bat an eyelid. Ken why? Cause we can’t.

So what makes the Arabs different? I type, before taking a sip of my coffee. It’s gone cold now and I push the cup out of reach.

Nothing. That’s the point. There’s no difference. They just woke up, is all. They started to take an interest.

My phone rings and I pick up after the second chirp. ‘Good morning, Steven speaking, how may I help you?’

There’s a pause on the other end, then someone coughing directly into the phone. ‘Aye, hello? Right, see if you can help me. I’m trying to get into my account but I think it’s locked me out or something.’

‘Okay sir,’ I say, taking a deep breath. It’s going to be one of those calls. I can just feel it. ‘Have you got your account details to hand?’

‘Eh? I’ve got a letter yous sent me here.’

‘That’s great. Could you please tell me the name and personal account number on the letter?’

‘The what?’

‘Your name and the personal account number. It should be listed just underneath your address.’

‘I don’t see it.’

I take another breath and look back at my PC screen. There’s a message waiting from Daniel.

What would you do if you looked out the window now and saw thousands of people marching towards the City Chambers? If you knew they were trying to take the government back for themselves? Would you join them? I know I would. In a heartbeat. We could march into the banks and tell them that we want our money back. The whole system could collapse within a day and we could start over.

Why don’t you then? Start a revolution, I mean. All these uprisings in the East must have started with one person, one conversation like this. Go for it. See what happens.

‘Hello?’ The voice in my ear makes me blink suddenly and I sit upright, wary of Gordon lurking around the office.

‘My apologies, sir, where were we?’

‘I’m trying to get into this stupid account you lot insisted I make, but it’s locked me out.’

‘Right, of course. Did I get your name and account number, sir?’

‘I cannie find the account number. Jesus, for the hundredth time.’

Another message from Daniel pops up. Would you join me? That’s how these things work. Would you down tools too, or would you sit and watch me try to get everyone riled up until I exhausted myself? We need to pick our moment, Steven. We need to work together.

We? I type. I didn’t say anything about getting involved. Look what happened in Cuba. They chucked their old government and now they’re an economic ghost country under Communist rule.

Is that right? How come Cuba has a far bigger economy than any of these Arab countries then? Did you ever think that there’s more to it than money? That they’re not concerned with if this revolution will make them richer? It’s about democracy, Steven. They’re sick of the old ways. And it’s unfortunate that blood has to be spilled for them to achieve their goal, but they don’t have the option of a peaceful vote.

‘My mistake, sir,’ I say. The headset presses hot into my ear and digs into my scalp. ‘I remember you saying now. Could I take your name and address then, please?’

‘What do you need my address for?’ the man asks. His voice is growing tenser by the second and I’m growing wary that the call is being recorded or listened to by Gordon. Or maybe Gordon’s behind me right now. I spin slowly in my chair, but my cubicle is otherwise empty.

‘If you provide me with your name and address I can search for you in our database and then find out what the problem might be.’

Money makes the world go round, Daniel, I type. The reason nothing will ever change here is because people are scared of change. It’s uncertain. It’s dangerous. We’ve got so much to lose.

Try telling that to the Arab Spring. They see change as hopeful. A force for good. They have so much to gain.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish them luck. I just don’t ever see this sort of thing happening on the streets of Glasgow, Falkirk, Dundee, you know? We don’t have it anywhere near as bad as these countries in the first place. They’re revolting against unelected governments, you know? Governments that oppress them and commit crimes against their own people. I’m happy enough that ours stay out of my life enough to let me scrape by ‘til I retire.

‘Well?’ the man’s voice makes me jump again.

‘My apologues, sir, I’m just searching for you now.’

‘Look, what’s the problem here?’ he says, his words clipped. Staccato and angry.

You’re so typical, Steven. Exactly the attitude they want you to have. Vive la lunchbreak, eh? TV dinner and binge drinking at the weekend. Dream bigger, man. There are alternatives out there. Better ways. The world is changing. We just need to change with it.

I look over at Daniel and he’s pulling his jacket on. It’s maybe time for his break, I think, but then I wonder if he’s going somewhere else. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is him starting something. He stands up and walks over towards the lifts. I read over our conversation again and then tell the man on the phone I’ll return his call when we’ve fixed the problem. I can hear him shouting before I hang up and grab my jacket. Outside the clouds are heavy but there’s a glimmer of sunshine breaking through somewhere over the Southside. Somewhere in the Middle East a country is being reborn.

‘Daniel!’ I shout.

I see him stick his foot between the lift doors to hold them open. Gordon’s office door swings open and he powers out, his face red and twisted, sweat rings round his arms. Daniel gestures with open hands. ‘What?’

‘Hold on,’ I say. ‘I’ll come with you.’

Samuel Best
samuelbest.weebly.com

Tackling Global Problems From A Local Perspective

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There have been several recent reports regarding where the world is heading and the huge challenges humankind will face if we don’t get our act together. However, when I think about the imminent tasks at hand, I realise we have a far better chance to act like responsible global citizens with the new decision-making powers we’ll gain in an independent Scotland.

Yes, solving climate chance, inequality and water and energy crises are shared global problems, but the prospect of seriously tackling any one of these threats while remaining part of the UK paradigm is bleak at best. Allow me to explain.

Last month a study part-funded by Nasa warned that our unsustainable resource consumption and economic inequality could lead our civilisation to collapse. We are all now very familiar with the shocking statistic that the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world, which is a huge cause of concern. Looking specifically at wealth disparity north of the border, one in six Scots – some 870,000 – live in poverty, according to Scotland’s Outlook – a joint campaign by charities including Macmillan, Shelter Scotland and Oxfam.

Having such a huge number of people suffering in our so-called ‘great nation’ – and not making solving this atrocity a top priority – should be a crystal clear sign that the Union is failing vast swathes of its population. Without being able to elect the government of our choosing, which would wield the decision-making powers of any normal European country, there’s little hope of tackling poverty within Scotland.

Another imminent global threat is the unsustainable growth of water and energy use, to the point that fresh water resources will become scarce in all regions of the globe, according to the UN’s World Water Development Report (WWDR). The report, released to coincide with World Water Day, highlights that since so many forms of energy production require huge amounts of water, an energy crisis will swiftly follow a water shortage, and vice versa.

As Ban Ki-moon puts it in the foreword of the report:

“Water and energy are inextricably linked. Water is essential for the production, distribution and use of energy. Energy is crucial for the extraction and delivery of safe drinking water – and for the very safety of water itself.”

So how does the report suggest we avoid such a crisis? By turning to renewable sources of energy, of course. Specifically sources that don’t rely so heavily on fresh water. Unsurprisingly, so-called ‘fracking’, a process that has been earmarked for many parts of the UK, is not a viable solution, as the report highlights:

“Uncertainties persist over the potential risks to water quality, human health and long-term environmental sustainability from the development of unconventional sources of gas (‘fracking’) and oil (‘tar sands’), both of which require large quantities of water.”

Unconventional gas exploration company Cuadrilla Resources this month announced that the volatile process of fracking could begin within four years if national state of emergency is declared in the Ukraine. Is this really how we will prepare for a fuel crisis? And, how many people must be in fuel poverty before we decide to act?

More than a quarter of Scottish homes suffered fuel poverty in 2012. In such an energy-rich country, this is appalling. Meanwhile, those in fuel poverty spend more than 10% of their net income on fuel, according to the BBC. With 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resources, 25% of Europe’s tidal potential and 10% of its wave potential, it’s unfathomable that any Scot should live in fuel poverty, and that we allow such risky methods of fossil fuel extraction to maintain our reliance on these finite resources.

We worry about the costs of renewable sources, but are our bills from conventional sources getting any cheaper? We’re only putting off the inevitable. Surely it’s time to cut the umbilical cord of fossil fuels and prepare for the future today?

I always find it astounding that both sides of the debate spend so long arguing about oil and gas: How many billions of pounds of oil remain in depths of our North Sea? Is there enough for fifty years, or are we running dry? Whatever the argument, it is neither a shortage nor a surplus that will be the main problem in the long-term future of an independent Scotland. It will be what we will replace it with, how we will use it to tackle fuel poverty and how we use full control of economic levers to dissolve the current crippling inequality.

Anyway, the final and most recent warning that has dominated my thoughts comes from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stressed that the effects of climate change will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.”

Irreversible.

By voting Yes on September 18th, I believe that we can begin building a better, fairer society, one that focuses on tackling the real, observable problems of climate change, energy and water resources and inequality.

Scotland can’t save the world alone, but we can help to set an example of how renewables can be used effectively to the benefit of a whole country, and how inequality can be tackled with local powers for the benefit of all. We must take these warnings seriously – and the first step is voting Yes.

Jamie Mann
@J_M_Reports
National Collective

Jamie Mann is a Freelance Journalist, Copywriter and Bassist, contributor for National Collective, and is currently co-writing a book on the social media paradigm.

Image from Ian Britton

Doomsday Message

END

In a doomsday address, former head of NATO and nuclear enthusiast, Lord Robertson, spouted alarmist terminologies such as “separatist”, “cataclysmic” and “the forces of darkness” to describe the independence movement. Time to put down the megaphone Lord Robertson, and listen to us.

In his patronizing statement, Robertson implied that we are perhaps naively unaware that a Yes vote would have wider implications out-with our borders, and that Scottish independence would undermine the UK’s global status. Ironically, weakening the UK’s influence on the global arena is one of innumerable reasons why many, such as myself, are fighting for a Yes vote.

Like most of my generation, I cannot recall a time when the UK played a positive, constructive role in the international community. In fact, I cannot recall a time where we had a foreign policy record to be proud of. In our name, Westminster has instigated immoral, unlawful warfare, often legitimized in the guise of humanitarian intervention.

I was 11 years old when the New Labour administration helped invade Iraq. My first memory of political involvement was attending a ‘No In Wir Name’ march in Shetland. There was no pre-war debate, no discussion by elected representatives, no heed paid to millions of voters. The sense of absolute moral injustice, dishonor and anguish felt by those around me was evident, as well as the misery at that once omnipresent local hero, the Labour Party.

Well over a decade on and our future in the international arena remains markedly bleak. We see the demise of autonomy in the UK international development sector as it merges with military operations, guided by a donor-recipient relationship.

We see promises by Libs, New Labs, and Cons alike to invest £100 billion in the renewal of Trident when the most vulnerable groups in our society are demonized and humiliated at the hands of austerity. This weapon of mass destruction is little more than an outmoded relic in today’s multi-polar, interdependent geopolitical landscape. So detached from global power struggles, so irrational is the investment involved that I can only presume this is little more than a last ditch attempt of a declining power to flex its military might.

Lord Roberson’s hysterical ranting aligns him with much of the mainstream media. They have done a grand job of portraying the independence movement as flag loving, anthem singing Nationalists, spurred on by one man’s pursuit to spread Wallace-fever across our nation. This is no accident. It’s a deliberate attempt to frame the debate, debase the range of pro-Indy opinion and narrow the appeal of a diverse, inspirational grassroots movement. Really, props to them.

In reality, it is internationalism that rests at the very heart of the movement for independence. The Yes Campaign is a great deal more than Scotland, or indeed the UK. And regardless of Lord Robertson’s presumptions, we are intently aware of this. Independence is an opportunity to start over, a clean slate as it were. I for one would rather be a small, progressive nation with a positive influence, rather than remain as we are.

Imagine a Scotland where our allies actively engage in the global peace movement. Imagine a Scotland where our foreign policy effectively tackles the root causes of conflict and helps alleviate global poverty. Imagine a Scotland that sets the precedent for nuclear disarmament, proudly placing welfare before warfare. Imagine a Scotland where commendable foreign policy fills an immoral vacuum, aiming to help not kill. Imagine a Scotland whose role in global politics has a smaller voice, but one that advocates dignity, compassion and understanding in the international community.

Scots like me are Internationalists, and Scots like me see independence as the best, indeed only way, of securing a foreign policy to be part of and to be truly proud of.

Miriam Brett
National Collective

D.J. MacLennan: We Can Be Far More Together With The Rest Of The World As An Independent Nation

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To a fearful child, the sight of that hulking black mass out in the Sound was paralyzing. Why do they do this? What is wrong with them? I play in sand and wave, with brothers; they lurk offshore aboard nuclear terror, threatening all that is dear to us.

From an early age, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was part of my life. Faithless, that forked symbol was my practical, protective talisman. Bearers of it wore bright colours; they smiled easily; they patted my small, worrisome head. Kindness radiated from them – strongly detectable by my oversensitively-crackling merit counter.

SNP and CND went hand-in-hand: the same people, the same meetings, the same cheaply-printed literature. I now realise how much I underestimated my parents’ radicalism. My father had broken with the grim, serried unionism of the Presbyterian church; my mother, with the conservative, authoritarian mindset that her Highland Gael father had attempted to instil, during her upbringing in Devon.

Had I realised the extent and moment of their bright ambition for Scotland, and had I looked beyond the cobwebbed historical symbolism that so bored me, I might have become involved sooner. As it turned out, the false radicalism of pop music was a much stronger early draw – ‘I am an anarrchaisst!’ (Well, maybe for now, John, but sometime after the road stops rising with you it’ll be the butter ads that pay the bills.) Sure, my parents’ revolution was a hard-to-spot slow-burner, but it was fuelled by much sterner stuff.

Now a married man, my residual (a)political posturing fell away as the devolution referendum loomed. This was real. It brought out the pragmatist in me, and I threw myself into the campaign. Without the widespread influence of the internet, however, it was an eerily quiet one. With only the flaccid mainstream media to turn to for information, I felt isolated – forced to thole the bombast of the banking fat-cats and other professional naysayers and miserablists who sought to wreck the fragile hopes of the Yes Yes community. They failed to do so. For when it mattered, the stalwarts were there, quietly, firmly making the case. They welcomed me in, providing encouragement, training and context. Together, we reasoned, we persuaded, we won.

My years of campaigning for an SNP government brought me into contact with politicians. Most came across as ordinary people, with very few airs or affectations. Much as I respected that – and their professionalism and commitment – I knew that I was not like them. I was too raw, volatile and troubled. Existential questions were tugging at my intellect. They would later turn me inside out, and make me a writer.

Activism, however, is a habit not easily broken. For some, it’s virtually a calling. There I was, bobbing along like a cork (probably from a bottle of cava) on a fathomless ocean of philosophy-of-identity, when the currents of activism and pragmatism began to draw me back to the independence movement.

My anti-statist friends (mostly Americans) struggle to understand it. But I’m working on them. And I see where they are coming from. They wonder why a futurist technoprogressive like me would have any regard for the statehood dreams of generations past. They wonder why we would wish to create new borders in this increasingly interdependent, ‘globalised’ world. Anti-statism is fun, in that it is, in some sense, anarchic. Nevertheless, it is also rather childish. They cry for change and the dismantling of government, but fail to explain how the resulting neoliberal morass would provide for the well-being of the newly-‘liberated’. It is a fixed view, where individuality is always paramount. Philosophy, however, tells us that it is no such thing. Identity is always mutable, and often deeply compromised. This applies just as much to nations as it does to people.

Empires are ugly structures, and we should be done with them. The naysayers still use the old weasel-word double-speak of ‘togetherness’, but the truth is that we can be far more together with the rest of the world as an independent nation than we ever could as part of this fatally-compromised ‘union’. Why? Because by voting for independence we will be grasping the plasticity to think ourselves anew. We will be bursting the filter bubble that has limited the scope of our possible connections for so long. Let them call us ‘nationalists’; they have no idea what we really are. The dimensionality of politics in Scotland has blossomed, leaving the Flatlanders of old Little Britain scratching their heads and failing – miserably – to abstract.

The optimism of our movement is well recognised. But there is also a kindness in what we seek. Though we must look to the future, we should remember that this movement was built upon the tireless efforts of generations of Scots with the heart to care and the vision to imagine something better. We must not let them, or ourselves, down. The flags and symbols were only ever something to rally behind; what we really seek is a mindful nation. In such a nation, we – the citizens – have autonomy, but we also recognise strongly our responsibility to provide for the needs of others: we strive – always – for equality and liberty, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable that may be.

The complementary aspect of a mindful nation is, however, harder to grasp: we must recognise that the new nation that we will build will not – in any sense beyond the abstract – exist. Like personal identity, it will be merely a useful illusion with which we can get things done. Why must we recognise this? Because thinking that a nation is something more than this can lead to old-style arrogance and inflexibility; to diktats and posturing; to viral mutation of laws, towards suspect ends; to arming beyond the teeth with hulking weapons of mass destruction. And we know how unpalatable – and how very frightening – those things can be.

I’m ready for the mindful nation. We’re ready. Open your eyes. Stand up. Breathe.

D.J. MacLennan
@extravolution
www.djmaclennan.com

Further info:
D.J. MacLennan is a futurist thinker and writer. He lives on the Isle of Skye.

Editorial: The Beginning Is Now

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The above image (originally courtesy of Imaginary Foundation) and phrase ‘The Beginning Is Near’ is one which has been cropping up here and there online for a while now, and is particularly focused on in this Forbes interview with filmmaker Jason Silva.

The sentiment of this image and the interview with Silva are inspiring. It provokes excitement over our human potential and sparks the imagining of new possibilities. As Silva quotes of Imaginary Foundation:

“It’s our job as a species to imagine all sorts of delightful futures, pick the most amazing possibility and pull the present forward to meet it.”

It feels like the phrasing however misses out on something important. By ‘near’, it envisions some nearby ethereal future point over which we currently have no control, and are constantly in wait of. It omits that we are the present architects of our own change, and that the process of architecture is happening around us now. By implying that the ‘beginning’ is outwith our control, it puts us on hold. All action springs from spontaneity and to create good we need spontaneous acts of good will and positive change. Instead of looking over the wall we need to break through it to the other side.

When we look to translate that action into good results, we need to examine what has previously proven successful and look at ways we can reinvent those methods. Of all aspects of humanity, culture and the arts are one of the very few which have consistently produced exponential worth to the world thanks to radical experimentation.

Culture deserves a say in politics because it serves as a great example of what is possible. When you see the confidence of a close friend boom as a result of creative endeavours, or you see a creative group come together to achieve amazing things for their community (things even global economists would be impressed by), or the empowerment and inspiration art and creativity provide to people, young and old, across the globe, you can in no way deny that culture has not earned a platform on which to help model a better world.

So when we see the way that nations like Scotland are artistically flourishing (evident in the consistent quality of our grassroots music, the world class standard of our literature, the success of recent Scottish films despite domestic underinvestment, and in many more areas) we see a model which can inspire us to greater achievement in all of society. The enacting of self-responsibility through our culture and from there through our political system is both immensely brave and incredibly important.

There are risks in going independent. There are huge risks. But there is nothing so worryingly unpredictable about Scotland going independent which is not already unpredictable in the post-industrial era and indeed in any 21st century society (noting importantly that the economic potential for a strong independent Scotland has been made).  When it comes to a political risk such as this, what we tend to do is look to other countries to see what we could possibly become. But the thing is, we will never be another country. We will only be us; and what this country is and what it becomes is not reliant on the circumstances of anywhere else, it is reliant only on the decisions that the people who live here make for our society based on the resources that we have.

When we live in a relatively well off society, it takes a brave individual to imagine and suggest another possibility, a possibility where we can build and live in a society which serves better moral ends than those of the elite who run us now. We need to remind ourselves that a better Scotland and a better world is possible. A society where we don’t settle for fine but fight for good instead; a society which serves the good of humanity and the environment and governs itself in a fair and socially just way instead of settling for elite rule and class oppression. A society which never lets a child or adult go hungry, and stands up for this basic right across the world.

We have the chance to take power into our own hands and accept and challenge our own mistakes, whilst never giving up the fight for a better world. We can develop and create a new politics which is not just more accountable to the people but in fact a politics of the people. We can champion individual and press freedoms as a means of demanding better of ourselves and holding to account those who seek to rule.

If unpredictability is what we are worried about then let’s worry about the unpredictability of politicians we never voted for running our lives. Let’s worry about CEOs monopolising our economy without any sense of social responsibility, or energy giants with eyes for numbers and not sustainability. Whatever political problems we face in an independent Scotland we can deal with in exactly the same way any democratic country deals with its problems.

We can say no to a system which exerts unearned and unjust power over the weak, we can imagine a better Scotland and we can fight to make it happen. The state of the rest of the UK, and particularly the working class across it, will still be as important an issue in an independent Scotland as it is now, because rUK will still be our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, Tony Blair and New Labour severed the only means through which we were once capable of fighting for good in the wider land. We could cling on to the dying romantic ideals of nostalgic institutions, but there comes a time when we need to say enough is enough and deal directly with the problems around us. The solidarity we hold with our friends and families across the border will not weaken if we say no to elite Westminster rule. The idea that it would is nothing short of absurd.

And we don’t have to wait until 18 September to act. We can do it every single day until then, and we have a duty to carry on every single day afterwards. The decision of independence lies in our hands, we are in charge of our own futures and we determine our own lives today, however unpredictable or risky it might seem. We’re daring to imagine better and we’re refusing to settle for fine. We can say no the self-serving elitism of Westminster by being good to each other in society and in the economy, locally and globally, and by refusing to accept the cynical lies peddled at us about the ‘necessity of austerity’ or how our vital public services are being scrapped in favour of a less regulated and taxed private sector ‘for our own good’. In the face of adversity we can refuse to stay quiet.

A new Scotland doesn’t begin the day we go independent. A new Scotland is born every single day. The beginning is now.

Hamish Gibson
Arts Editor
National Collective

Building A Groundswell For Yes

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Right from the launch of Yes Scotland, almost two years ago, we knew our best chance of winning the referendum was to create the biggest grassroots movement in Scotland’s history. With only a few months to go, we are well on our way to achieving that aim, with an increasingly vibrant and diverse Yes movement in place and in action.

The core concept behind our social campaign is the idea of ‘conversion through conversation’, with our enthusiastic and informed volunteers and supporters becoming the primary advocates and ambassadors for a Yes. Each one holding a series of conversations with people in their social networks, breaking the issues around independence into manageable, bite sized chunks and then nudging people up the support scale from unconvinced or undecided to a clear Yes.

Our focus on engaging through people’s existing social networks, both on and off line, poses a real challenge to a No campaign whose dominance is solely in the traditional arenas of the Westminster parliament and establishment and elements of the old media, in particular the London based media.

Our belief is that out of the three communications channels – old media, social media and face-to-face – we will be well ahead in two of the three (social and face to face). So, never mind the headlines in some newspapers – the balance of those will give a false impression of what is actually going on – because Yes victories are taking place on a daily basis on dozens of Scottish doorsteps and around dining tables and in public meetings across the country.

There is no need for overnight conversions. The strategy is based on the belief that our volunteers will have three, five or even ten conversations about independence with people in their immediate circles between now and voting day. That means they can tackle people’s concerns issue by issue and can also provide very clear information about the benefits of a Yes vote, personalised to, and meaningful for, the individual they are talking too.

Alongside the overarching messages we deliver at a national level, we have real confidence that our volunteers and supporters, armed with the arguments, will make the best and most persuasive presentation of the case for the person they are engaging with face to face. We also know that what a person hears from a friend, colleague or family member is trusted way more than what they hear on the news, from a politician, or read in the newspapers.

Given our strength in numbers, this translates into our biggest advantage. Our aim, as part of building the groundswell, has been to ensure just one or two degrees of separation between an advocate for Yes and each and every undecided voter, so that there is that personal connection in place to supplement what is being heard in the wider national debate.

One of our most important tasks, centrally, is to provide our volunteers with the information they need to make the case and to do it in a format that is easily accessible and easily conveyed. We understand from our research that the primary barrier to a Yes vote is the misplaced idea that Scotland can’t actually afford to be independent and once this is overcome it is much easier to persuade someone that Scotland should be independent. This, therefore, gives us the structure for our presentation of the case: can, should and must.

In short, Scotland can be independent, because we are one of the wealthiest nations on the planet; we should be independent because the full benefit of that wealth isn’t currently felt by people living in Scotland and, we must be independent, because it is better to have Scotland’s future in our own hands, rather than in the hands of Westminster politicians.

Our volunteers have become increasingly adept at conveying the most appropriate can, should and must arguments and this three-pronged presentation of the case is also eminently understandable from a voter perspective and easily absorbed.

Alongside active conversations, there’s also a high level of engagement in other ways. As Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University has pointed out, we are seeing the return of the public meeting in a way that hasn’t been experienced for generations. For Yes, we have a public meeting in a different corner of the country most nights, with big turn outs – as many as 400 on occasion – and lots of questions, not about the supposed headline issues of currency or the EU but about what a Yes might mean for the things people care about in their day to day lives.

There is an enormous diversity of meeting styles, from Yes Cafes, where the chat is at small tables over coffee and cake, to the more formalised ‘Imagine Scotland’ tour, where some of Scotland’s best creative talent has been involved, designing a two hour programme of discussion and participation for undecided voters. There have been Q&As, traditional panel debates, head-to-heads and chat show style interviews and they are taking place in villages, towns and cities in all parts of Scotland.

To give a sense of the scale of public engagement, on 14th March for the month ahead, the No campaign had 72 events covering 14 of our 32 local authorities, while local Yes Scotland groups had organized 120 events covering 25 council areas. Of these, 4 of the No campaign events were public meetings (as opposed to campaign events like street stalls) while for Yes Scotland the comparable figure was 43.

One important finding in our research is that people who describe themselves as well informed about the referendum and independence are more likely to vote Yes and over the months we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people who feel they know enough. We see this too at our public meetings, where the opportunity to think about the issues, and be part of debate and discussion, plays a big part in moving people from undecided to Yes. People leave the meetings, hopefully with their questions answered, and then they go back into their own social circles and share their experience, which in itself has a powerful, additional effect.

Our public meetings also tend to involve people representing the many different and varied parts of the Yes movement. So a Yes Scotland speaker will sit alongside someone from Labour for Independence or Business for Scotland or Women for Independence. This diversity of voices has also proved to be a big asset for the campaign.

The various Yes-supporting organisations have, largely, been self-starting and this has been another crucial part of building momentum and the groundswell of support. Alongside the Yes Scotland campaign and the Yes political parties, we have vibrant and growing groups – bringing different voices and perspectives. Once again, these different groups are able to speak to people within their particular environment, in the most appropriate way, about the issues that matter most.

Among the most exciting and effective is National Collective, with 2,000 members in the creative sector, many in their 20s and 30s. There’s the Radical Independence Convention, representing a wide range of the Scottish left, which is working in particular to engage with the “missing million” – people who haven’t voted for years or indeed have never voted – often living in peripheral housing schemes. Business for Scotland now has around 1,500 members across Scotland’s business community and has its own programme of business engagement meetings. Alongside these are numerous others: Women for Independence, Scots Asians for Yes, Labour for Independence, Yes Trade Unionists, Christians for Independence, Farmers for Yes and Academics for Yes to name just a few of 25 so-called sectoral groups and independent organisations.

In the aftermath of the referendum there will be much that deserves further analysis and study. From a purely constitutional perspective we are already hearing talk of the ‘Scottish model’. The Scottish independence movement has always been peaceful and democratic, it is also a civic movement and one that positions 21st century independence in a plural and inter-connected world: what is sought is not separation but a new, more modern partnership on these isles. Alongside this new model of co-operative independence, the agreement reached between the UK and Scottish governments to hold the referendum, which included confirmation that both sides would accept and implement the result, provides a new global standard and one that has been referred to already in relation to events in the Crimea.

But there is another aspect to the Scottish model that deserves particular attention. As a civic movement, the case for Yes is made by groups and individuals representing all parts of society. There are many voices speaking with every conceivable accent. This is, by definition, an inclusive approach and a truly networked campaign. And so, alongside the constitutional lessons, there is also a clear campaigning conclusion: in Scotland’s case success is most likely when society is fully engaged and moves forward together and this is a hugely powerful thought, and example, for areas of constitutional dispute across the globe.

Stephen Noon
@stephennoon