As far back as I can recall, I haven’t believed in anything.
I’ve had no over-riding passion for change, I’ve felt jaded and disconnected from the establishment, from the institutions. Westminster and the political scene of the UK was framed by a “they’re all the same” mentality. All I saw was greed and corruption in people who didn’t represent my view of the world, but that’s just how it is, right? It’ll always be the same, we can’t change it.
But maybe we can.
I’m 24 years old and entering the 4th year of my university course (English & Film – I’m one of those creative types we apparently can’t afford in a recession). I came to university as a break-out attempt from the realities of life. I didn’t want to go straight after high school, as careers advice was less than helpful. Unless you wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer there was pretty much no help forthcoming. You had to have a clear goal in mind, and if (like me) you didn’t then you were on your own.
So before I made the jump to uni I worked the 9-5 at various office jobs and then spent a few years as a CCTV and computer engineer in the east end of Glasgow. My childhood had been split between Scotland and Wales, and as far as I recall I managed to identify myself as both Scottish and Welsh. I went to high school in South Lanarkshire and I’m still trying to figure out my role in life.
My first year of uni finished just as the SNP won their 2011 victory. I didn’t know much about Scottish politics then and had no idea about upcoming policies or referendums (except free tuition, of course). I only became aware of it during some pub sessions with a friend who essentially told me how this whole referendum thing would go. It was background info though, something that still only really sat on my periphery.
I ran through my own version of the Scottish Cringe during this time – “We can’t be independent can we? We’re Scottish”, I recall telling myself. “We cannae run our own affairs ’cause we’re too poor. We’ve no’ got the brains to do it.”
That didn’t come from a cultural standpoint – I was far more aware of Scottish culture than most people my age thanks to my family upbringing (being Scottish in Wales probably helped my mother and father understand themselves and where they came from more than if they’d stayed in Scotland). Yet I still believed that we weren’t up to the task and that London probably knew best.
The summer passed and negative news story after negative news story arrived like rain in a monsoon, torrential and neverending. I was an avid reader/viewer of the BBC back then but I was beginning to get a little suspicious of the diet of anti-Scottishness. Why were our own media doing their country down so? Why were there no positive sides to the independence thing? If people were fighting for it surely they had their reasons?
I can’t recall preciously the story that tipped me over the edge – some lie that Alex Salmond had supposedly told – but it broke my apathy and I went to the internet in search of answers.
This next part of my journey is probably very similar for most of you. The internet opened my eyes big-time. Newsnet Scotland was my first port of call and there was the BBC story refuted, with sources, in black and white. The media had blatantly lied. The Scottish media had deliberately lied to the Scottish people.
While I was aware enough of media manipulation to know not to trust everything the media put forth, for some reason this really hurt. I read the BBC website daily, I enjoyed a host of programmes and articles and radio shows. I endorsed the BBC, it was a part of my daily routine for years. This is how they repay me for that? Why would they lie?
From then on it was a slow trickle of checking the news against the likes of Newsnet and then Wings. I sincerely hoped that the false news story was a fluke, a hiccup in this debate. I naively believed that the BBC would set things straight. Needless to say, they didn’t. What followed was a barrage of negativity, lies and scaremongering.
I fact-checked everything online, I found the refutations, the anger that was stoking the fires of the public and I even started watching FMQs so that I could hear first-hand the FM knocking down whatever rubbish Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson shot at him.
My case for voting Yes was coming together slowly but surely, piece by piece. The comments sections opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even known about – McCrone, The ’79 referendum, Blair moving the coastal boundary. As I took all the information into my referendum arsenal I was being pushed further and further to a Yes vote.
I had been led to believe all my life that those who supported independence had simply watched that Mel Gibson film and donned their kilts to hate “the English”. I was rapidly coming to realise that the use of that stereotype was deliberate and manipulative. Surely those who banged on about how great London was, waxed lyrical about WW2 and waved the Union Jack around were just as guilty? Why was one “nationalism” worse than another?
The picture was beginning to come together – I say “picture” but it was probably more like a detective’s whiteboard, documenting every deceit, every affront and every dismissal of the Scottish people. Scottish Labour, PFI, the BBC, Trident, McCrone, the truth behind the Acts Of Union. I was beginning to see it was all connected. I was beginning to realise that the only way to properly understand ourselves as a people was to get free from the shackles of Westminster, to run our own affairs, to have Scottish people looking after the interests of the Scottish people.
Every passing week brought further reinforcement to my new position. I wasn’t anti-English so why were “Better Together” claiming I was? I wasn’t selfish for my voting intention as I was thinking of other people, my fellow citizens, the future generations and my future children. I was thinking of my family.
I wasn’t SNP so why were they saying I was? Why were the media parroting everything “Better Together” said while hardly letting Yes Scotland respond? I didn’t run around the streets shouting “Freedom!” and chucking haggis at passing English people so why were the No side painting me as some sort of racist Scottish redneck?
I was growing frustrated, angry and saddened by the level of the debate. Mostly no-one I knew was even interested in it or knew much about it. Most of their ideas were the same that I had before I began my journey but they weren’t interested in having their fears dispelled. My flatmate was a Rangers supporter who still believed independence was ‘”all about the oil”. At a family gathering the subject of independence was raised, rather drunkenly, but after what seemed like hours of discussion it became pretty apparent – we were all voting Yes.
One of the key areas in this debate that people often say is lacking is the inclusion of women and their voice. Let me tell you now that my mother, probably your standard representation of a working-class Scottish maw, puts that to shame. She’s worried about the bills, about the house and about the future of her children. She’s worried what will happen tomorrow and in the coming years.
But she hit the nail on the head when she said (as accurately as I can remember it) that “faced with uncertainty, and problems and all the manner of things that might or could go wrong, surely it would be better if we had all the powers to address and solve these issues rather than just a wee bit?”
When 20,000 Scottish people of all walks of life take to the streets of the capital city in support of a cause then you would expect that country’s own TV stations to report it. You don’t expect to have to go to Iranian and Russian television for decent coverage. The BBC and the media in this country should be ashamed of themselves. We deserve so much more than this.
When people pester you about what a Yes vote means, the answers are pretty clear. Scotland in Scotland’s hands. A No vote on the other hand is far more terrifying. Westminster will do everything in its power to make sure independence never raises its head again. There will be no “extra powers” and from the recent talk you can kiss devolution goodbye too. Best of both worlds? Aye, right.
In essence I’m voting Yes for hope. I’m voting Yes because we deserve to look after ourselves. I’m voting Yes for my family, for their children and for all of us. But also for our cultural dignity – I’m voting Yes so Scotland can finally get to know itself, to understand who it is.
I don’t want nuclear weapons while a quarter of children live in poverty. I don’t want the gap between rich and poor to continue to grow while the unemployed and disabled and forced into slave labour for a pittance of benefits. I don’t want our culture to be sacrificed in case it might fuel “nationalism”. I don’t want the poor or the disabled to be criminalised as being sub-human by people who never had to work a hard day in their lives. I don’t want to be seen as parochial or xenophobic for enjoying my own country and its infinite supplies of beauty and wonder and character.
My mindset often reminds me of Data from Star Trek – “I aim to be better than I am”. That’s the Scotland I want to live in. That’s the future we need. Don’t wait for others to do it for you. Get out there and speak to people. Get our country voting Yes.