Scotland’s butterfly

It’s the morning after and Scotland’s butterfly couldn’t fly high enough.

Andrew Mac via Bella Caledonia
Andrew Mac via Bella Caledonia

Christine de Luca’s poem The morning after is available in full on the Scottish Poetry Library site and ends:

We’re a citizenry of bonnie fighters,
a gathered folk; a culture that imparts,
inspires, demands a rare devotion,
no back-tracking; that each should work
and play our several parts to bring about
the best in Scotland, an open heart.

My journey to Yes

Ciaran Murphy via Bella Caledonian
Ciaran Murphy via Bella Caledonian

I’m English. My parents are Scots, but I was born (1957) and brought up in the North of England so I’ve always identified as English. In 1986, jobs brought my husband and me to Glasgow and we’ve lived here ever since. If you’d asked me in the 80s or 90s what I thought of Scottish Independence I’d have been firmly against. I remember saying to a friend (also English) that if it happened, I’d need to move out – I can’t even begin to understand now why I felt that. I reminded him of this recently and he remembered too – however, he’s still a No and I’m now a Yes. This is a narrative of how that happened. I’m not making detailed arguments – there’s plenty of information out there¹, and to those who say they don’t have enough facts to decide I would reply a) you’re not looking hard enough and b) some things can’t be facts before the vote. The No Camp is obsessed with currency and Europe, but how can the Yes Camp give definitive answers when nothing will be decided until after independence negotiations are concluded? Although I’m reasonably convinced that we will keep the pound and we will stay in Europe, for me the question is one of principle: that Scotland is better governed by the people who live and work here.

So how did I get here? When I moved to Glasgow in the 80s, I was surprised at the idea of one homogenous “Down South” that most people seemed to have. I thought that the part of the world I came from had a lot in common with Central Scotland – I’d lived in Consett, for example, which was devastated when the steelworks were closed down under the Tories. But, no, I was just from Down South. I only once suffered from actual anti-English feeling though, when I put my head above the parapet by writing to the Herald about an instance of it they had reported. I got anonymous letters and phone calls in the night – very unpleasant, but I think that sort of anti-Englishness is much dissipated now. Being in favour of independence is not anti-English, it’s anti-Westminster rule and pro-self-government.

For a long time, I still felt overwhelming loyalty to my roots, to the point that in the devolution referendum in 1997 I actively chose not to vote.  I couldn’t bring myself to vote No because I didn’t like my fellow-travellers (mostly the Tories) but I felt, as an English person, it wasn’t really my decision and I was worried about the consequences. What would happen to the North of England, also generally left-of-centre, if devolution eventually led to Scotland leaving the Union? Would the rest of the UK be condemned to Tory rule forever? The answer is no – there have only been 3 instances since the 1832 Reform Act of the UK Prime Minister depending on Scottish MPs.² I’m sorry, of course, that those in England who live in areas which consistently fail to get the government they voted for do not have the same chance to change the system, but the unit of government is nations, not cities or regions. Scotland is a nation, we do have the chance to vote for a better system and I now think we should grasp it.

When did my views change? I remember saying to another friend some years ago that maybe I would start feeling more Scottish when I’d lived here half my life. The context was the Calcutta Cup (rugby match) – I always supported England against Scotland. Then in 2012, I suddenly realised I was rooting for Scotland to win! I had lived in Scotland for 26 years and I was 55, so not quite half my life, but near enough. From that point, I was aware of myself thinking more as a Scot and beginning to question the way we were governed.

It seems to me that Scotland is already more democratic than the UK. We have no unelected second chamber and a more proportional form of representation – which has actually benefited the Tories, who were so firmly against devolution. But we still have to work within the constraints of Westminster budgets (and no, we are not subsidy junkies and our services are not paid for by English taxes)³, so although the Scottish Government can, for example, mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax, welfare is not devolved so we can’t get rid of it altogether. Ed Miliband’s view is that if we vote Labour next year we will have a more socially just society. Even if that were true, and I’m not convinced he will win, nor that Labour would know social justice if it bit them on the nose these days, what about the election in 2020? 2025?  We could be back in the situation we are in now. He’s also mistaken in trying to make it a party political matter. It’s not. If we want to vote the SNP out after independence, we can. With independence, we can make sure we get the government and policies that Scotland votes for every time. That’s the big reason why I’m voting Yes, and I look forward to casting my vote next Thursday.

Notes:

¹For the Yes case, The Wee Blue Book is an excellent source. I follow several blogs such as Bella Caledonia, source of the image at the top of the page (winner of a competition for an Indy Poster – there are 20 entries which are free to download and share) and very informative, and Wee Ginger Dug who makes me laugh and cry, sometimes both at once, but always manages to be uplifting.

²For more information on Scotland’s lack of influence on the outcome of UK elections, see Adam Ramsay’s article England, do not be afraid on the New Left Project blog and the Principles and politics section of The Wee Blue Book which detail the few governments which have depended on Scottish MPs.

³See the Economy section of The Wee Blue Book for facts and figures.