Well, here it is. The post I’ve tried to stop myself writing for weeks. Probably no good can come of it… talking about politics on social media does tend to generate division and ill will, and I can see why many people don’t like it, but I’m now angry enough that I don’t much care.
I still find it almost unbelievable that it’s come to this. For most of my life I hated the idea of Scottish independence and was suspicious of the SNP and their motives. Yet now I find myself desperately wanting Indyref2 to go ahead, looking forward to casting my vote for “Yes” this time, and hoping that a majority of Scots do the same.
You might reasonably ask why. Conventional wisdom seems to be that independence was a bad idea in 2014 and is a terrible idea in 2017, what with the collapse of the oil price, and the release of GERS figures that show Scotland has a worse defecit than Greece. We’re constantly told it would be foolish to turn our backs on the UK in a misguided attempt to get back in the EU, because the UK is a much more important market for Scotland than the rest of the EU is, and because there’s no guarantee that an independent Scotland would get back in the EU anyway.
I can’t help noticing that those are all basically economic arguments. And I have to say, I think anyone who supports Brexit or who is happy to go along with what the UK government is doing now has got some bloody nerve to be lecturing anyone else about what’s economically sensible. There may have been some justification back in 2014 for describing a Yes vote as “a leap in the dark”, but as far as I’m concerned, now that the rest of the UK has thrown itself off the Brexit cliff, it’s forfeited the right to use that argument against Scotland for a very long time to come.
I also don’t accept that the economic arguments are necessarily valid anyway. The GERS figures, for example, are not particularly relevant here because they describe Scotland’s finances in its current situation as part of the UK rather than as an independent country. Surely the whole point of independence would be to run things differently from how they are now? “You must stay in this union because under the union’s management you have a huge gaping black hole in your finances!” doesn’t strike me as an especially strong argument in favour of the union, to be honest.
And no, there’s no guarantee that becoming independent would get us back in the EU. But at least there’d be a chance, and even if we didn’t get back in straight away, we would likely be on much more friendly terms with them. Staying in the UK now looks a sure fire way to have our ties with Europe drastically cut.
But in any case, economics isn’t my primary motivation for supporting independence. For me, it’s more about what sort of country I want to live in and what I fear Brexit Britain is going to look like. Specifically, I fear that we are going to become isolated from our neighbours, making it more difficult to travel in and work with Europe; that immigrants and other minorities are going to be made to feel increasingly unwelcome, no matter how much of a positive contribution they make; that the Tories will use the turmoil of Brexit as an excuse to cosy up to Trump’s America as they busily dismantle the welfare state, the NHS, employment rights and hard-won social and environmental protections; that policies that were until recently considered as pretty far right (like bringing back the death penalty) will become mainstream.
Now, I don’t want that. And I don’t want it strongly enough that I would rather break up the UK and risk further economic harm than live in that country. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’d rather Scotland dropped down to an average Eastern European standard of living and had to work its way back up from there than be dragged down the hellish ultra-right road I described above. (Though I don’t believe the economic impact of independence would actually be anywhere near as severe as that).
Of course, people will ask “But if you say you hate isolation so much, how can you advocate breaking away from your closest neighbour? Do you really want to risk a hard border between England and Scotland? Do you really want your friends and family down south to become foreigners?”. Ordinarily I would say no, and that’s why I ultimately voted No in the last referendum. But we’re not in an ordinary situation anymore. The status quo as it existed in 2014 is gone and it’s not coming back. I feel like I’m now being forced to choose between two options, neither of which would have been my first choice. I can either stay with the rest of the UK, which appears hell bent on shutting itself off from the world and reversing much of the progress of the last 60 years, or I can attempt to stay with the rest of Europe and build on that progress instead of throwing it away. I’d much rather I didn’t have to make that choice. But given that choice, I have to choose Europe and progress.
“Oh, stop being so over dramatic”, some will say. “Leaving the EU isn’t the end of the world”. I actually agree with that, in that it needn’t be the end of the world. If we were likely to be moving to a status similar to Norway’s or Iceland’s or Switzerland’s, I wouldn’t be anywhere near so concerned. It’s the manner in which Brexit is being implemented that I’m finding so alarming… the determination to go for the most extreme separation possible no matter what the cost, the absolute refusal to compromise an inch with the very nearly half of us who voted Remain, the total disregard for the promises made during the referendum campaign, the constant pandering to people whose opinions are based on tabloid scare stories rather than facts, the cavalier attitude to crucial questions like the Irish border, the growing anti-intellectualism, the open admissions that we’ll probably have to pursue significantly more right wing, free market oriented policies than we’re used to in order to survive outside the single market and secure the trade deals we’ll need. That is what I’m most worried about, not the simple fact that we’re leaving the EU.
To the unionist politicians: if you want me to change my mind and vote No again, you’re going to have to give me something positive to vote for. Just bad mouthing the SNP and threatening Scotland with economic disaster isn’t going to cut it this time. I will only vote to stay in the UK if you can convince me that the UK is still a place where open minded, tolerant people who want to engage with the modern world and try to improve it rather than running away and hiding from it are in charge. If you’re going to continue to steamroller uncompromisingly over the wishes of the 48% who voted Remain (and most likely a significant proportion of those who voted Leave as well), if you’re just going to keep imploring me to “unite” behind what I believe is the worst decision this country has taken in my lifetime, if you’re not able to reassure me that my European friends and colleagues aren’t going to be deported, then sorry… I’m out of here as soon as I get the chance.
To my non-independence-supporting friends and family: I know a lot of you sympathise with some of what I’m feeling and aren’t keen on Brexit or on the direction the UK appears to be heading in, but will tell me “More division isn’t the answer”. I have a question for you then: what is the answer? If Scotland stays in the UK, how can we avoid the outcomes I described above? Vote for a Labour party that cravenly rolled over and gave the Tories everything they wanted, and that’s now polling 15 points behind the Tories on a good day? Vote for the Lib Dems who completely abandoned all their principals the last time they got a slight sniff of power? Wring our hands a bit and go on some protest marches that no-one will take any notice of?
Yes, the pendulum of political opinion in the UK as a whole will probably swing back in a more moderate direction at some point. My worry is that by then it’ll be too late to reverse what our current government are likely to do in the next few years. If they burn our bridges with the rest of Europe and gut the regulations that protect people and planet from the worst excesses of capitalism, it’s not going to be easy for a future government to rebuild all that. Most likely they will, to some extent, have to make the best of the bad situation rather than reverse it. And that’s just not good enough, I’m afraid.
To the people who think it’s outrageous that the SNP are even trying to hold another Indyref and that they have no mandate for it: Yes, they have a mandate for it. It was right there in their 2016 manifesto, you know, the one they got elected on. I’ve heard people (even politicians who should really know better) try to argue that they have no mandate to implement it because they didn’t win a majority, but come on… seriously? Unlike in Westminster, majorities are rare in the Scottish Parliament (by design). If you’re going to argue that the SNP shouldn’t do the things they promised in their manifesto because they don’t hold a majority, you’re effectively saying that the vast majority of Scottish governments shouldn’t attempt to carry out any of the promises they were elected on, even if there’s a cross-party majority in favour of them in parliament. In which case what the hell do you expect the Scottish government to actually do?
“But most of the people of Scotland don’t want another referendum!” I hear you cry. And how do you know that, since we haven’t had a referendum on whether we want a referendum… ah yes, it’s opinion polls isn’t it? I should hardly need to remind people that if we relied on opinion polls rather than properly conducted votes, we wouldn’t have Brexit, we wouldn’t have a majority Tory government in Westminster, and Hillary Clinton would be in the White House.
Look at it this way: which is really the most democratic option? Do we (1) say to the 62% of Scots that voted to remain in the EU “Sorry, we’re ignoring your wishes and leaving the EU anyway”. Do we (2) say to the 55% of Scots that voted to remain in the UK “Sorry, we know you voted No, but we’re going to declare independence anyway because it’s the only way we can respect the wishes of the larger majority who want to remain in the EU”. Or do we (3) effectively say “OK Scotland, you voted for two things that turned out to be mutually exclusive, so you’ll have to vote again to decide what we should do now”. Many people seem to be claiming that option (1) is more democratic than option (3), but I’m struggling to see why, myself.
But then I don’t think the unionists are really pissed off because Indyref2 is an affront to democracy, whatever they might bluster. I think they’re pissed off because they’re terrified they might actually lose this time. Last time around, independence started the campaign with about 30% support and ended up with 45%. This time it’s starting from around 50%, and many of the Better Together promises (“Vote No for economic stability”, “Vote No to keep our EU membership”) are going to be a lot harder to argue. It’s certainly going to be interesting, if nothing else.
(While we’re on the subject, I don’t like the implication that the SNP are somehow wrong to be interfering with issues like Brexit and should stick to running the schools and hospitals. They’re running the Scottish Government… surely it’s their job to represent the interests of the people of Scotland? It’s not in my interest to have my EU citizenship rights snatched away against my will, and I’m very grateful that at least one political party is trying to do something about this. If I lived in England or Wales I’d be feeling utterly betrayed by the lot of them right now).
And finally, to the people that saw where all this was going and voted Yes last time: you can say “I told you so” now, if you like ;).
Update (1/4/2017): well, I’m a little overwhelmed by how much attention this post has got! I never expected all this. It seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. Thank you for all the welcoming comments. I’m sorry I can’t respond to them all individually but there are far too many for that now!