Hi, my name is Cindie, I’m one of those “New Scots” you hear people talking about from time to time, and I’m going to vote Yes in 2014.
Born in Wales with an English father and Irish grandfather, I’m probably the epitome of “Britishness”. I moved to Scotland from London in the late 1980s after almost ten years of Conservative government – ten years which had already changed the country that I grew up in beyond all recognition.
My dad was a Londoner, a true Cockney. He loved London, and when he’d moved us there from Wales when I was nine, it felt to him like coming home. But within those next ten years it had changed so much that he felt like a stranger. The world that he knew had already disappeared.
By the time we moved to Scotland, all anyone ever seemed to talk about down south was house prices, or how much they earned or what their latest gadget was. I lived in Brixton during the riots. It was there that I saw racism first-hand. I’ve been called a “n****r-loving whore” because my friends were black, and seen them dragged into police custody through ‘sus’ laws.
(Those openly racist laws no longer exist, and it’s now purely coincidence that sees black youths stopped by the police 28 times more often than white ones.)
In London we were unhappy – we felt there had to be more to life than spending three hours a day travelling to and from our jobs (though we only lived seven miles from the centre.) Even in the 80s people we knew had to move further out of the city and travel for longer, because no-one could afford to live close to work. We thought that such a lifestyle was unsustainable, that it didn’t seem reasonable for people to have to go to such lengths in order to live a normal life. We decided it wasn’t for us.
My husband is half-Scots and had always wanted to live here, because he liked the Scottish ethos and values and wanted any children that we might have to grow up in a culture that wasn’t all about money. Scotland seemed to me an old-fashioned place, like another world. I was that person who’d never really been north of the Watford Gap.
And it really was the old cliché – people didn’t lock their doors, everyone knew everyone else and they spoke to me in shops. Instead of travelling for an hour and a half my husband was home from work in 20 minutes. There were downsides too – as a young mum I was somewhat isolated, as my own family lived so far away. But I went to mother-and-toddlers and volunteered at playgroups and made friends quickly.
Later on I worked in a small local library, which was very much a part of the community and tutored people with mental health problems. Then about ten years ago I helped set up a small social enterprise, supporting people to retrain and get back into volunteering or employment. Along the way I’ve met some wonderful, passionate, caring people, who wanted to help others and support them to help themselves.
But if the rural communities in which I’ve lived have many positives, they have negatives too. People fall out, and can hold grudges for generations! There’s gossip and poverty and high prices and poor roads and over the years I’ve seen so many brilliant, capable kids leave because there is no work for them and nowhere to live even if they could get a job.
When the 1997 referendum was held I was busy being a mum to two small children and I had no real idea of what devolution meant. I did some reading and talked to my friends because I didn’t want to vote without knowing more about what it was all for.
My view was that the place in which I was living was very different from the London that I’d known. Scotland really is another country. As well as all the practical differences – education, law and the like – the culture is different. So it made sense to me that decisions should be made in Scotland and I voted for devolution.
Since then things have changed in Scotland too. There’s been a cultural flowering, thanks to things like the Feis Movement, to the investment in arts and language. There have been very good developments in Mental Health and Social Care, such as the introduction of legislation of the Scottish Mental Health Act and the Social and Community Care Acts, which enshrine principles of care in legislation. There’s been land reform and investment in renewable energy and a reformation of further education, which has helped ensure that people can access learning opportunities in remote and deprived areas.
There’s been a restructuring of the qualifications system via the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Agency and the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which aims to strengthen the education system. All these developments have the welfare of the people of Scotland at their core, and have been developed with consultation (I know, I’ve been part of the process more than once) and cross-party support. There’s a way to go in many of these areas, but the change has been very real and palpable.
Why am I listing all these things? Because they’ve been my experience of some of the many positive developments that devolution brought to Scotland. There’s much negativity in the media at the moment about job losses and austerity and a lot of articles about how Scotland would struggle to go it alone, how we couldn’t share currency, or depend on inward investment or any support from Europe, how there’d be passports at the border and our families would all be foreign and whatnot.
But I don’t believe any of that to be true. Would hard-pressed UK and European businesses really want to jeopardise access to five million customers by being awkward about currency? That doesn’t make any sense. They’re trying to scare us and they’re lying, and if I can’t believe them on any of these issues then why should I believe them about anything else?
I’ve been a long time coming to the Yes vote because of my history. I would have definitely voted for devo-max and couldn’t believe it when David Cameron took that option off the table – didn’t he realise the risk that he was running?
Taking devo-max away as an option meant taking away our choice; instead we’re expected to gamble on what we already have and vote No, and then to take the goodwill of the Unionist parties on trust. The Westminster government may hint at new powers, but if they delivered, anything devolved would be the choice of the politicians in London and not necessarily what we’d want. That’s not democracy: it’s paternalism.
For a long time I was a Don’t Know. I wanted more information. I went on “Better Together” sites with questions that were never answered, no matter how many times I asked. They didn’t seem to invite debate, offering only relentless negativity and censorship if anyone dared to disagree.
I watched everything I could on the mainstream media, but balanced, informative articles were few and far between. I couldn’t quite square what I was being told – nats are nasty, nats are scary, nats are anti-English etc – with my own experience. I’ve never experienced anti-Englishness here, not once in twenty-five years, even though I still have an English accent.
So I object to the claims and insinuations that the Yes movement is anti-English or racist. Nationalism is a very emotive term, linked so often with the far right of politics, but the Scottish version is different: it was and is simply about self-determination. I know what racism is like and the SNP and the Yes campaign are not it.
I also couldn’t understand why Alex Salmond was being demonised, because in my experience he and the SNP have done a pretty good job on the whole, under appalling economic conditions that they were landed with from almost the moment they took office in May 2007 (the run on Northern Rock which kicked off the economic crisis in the UK consciousness came just four months later).
So I carried on searching online. I did that with a great deal of trepidation, because, according to what I had read such sites were biased and racist (that word again) and run exclusively by the SNP. But what I found couldn’t have been more different from what I’d been led to expect.
There are a range of ideas and political beliefs. There are discussions and articles and videos available that made me think and that helped me come to my final decision. And that’s why I’ve written this article: because scare tactics are being used to hide the positive side of the debate and put people off finding out for themselves.
In the last ten years, I worked in Social Enterprise. Not many people know what that is, because it doesn’t get a lot of press time on the whole, and I’ve not seen it mentioned in this debate yet. According to Social Enterprise Scotland the definition of a social enterprise is “an innovative, independent businesses that exists to deliver a specific social and/or environmental mission“.
These are social businesses which provide training, goods and services and sometimes all three. There are hundreds of them, all over Scotland. And I mention them because a big discussion which is taking place in that sector is that of “globalism versus localism”, and for me that’s the essence of what the independence debate should be all about.
It’s got nothing to do with Braveheart or Bannockburn. It’s about people having to deal with global economic and cultural change whilst living and working in a myriad of diverse local communities, be they urban or rural. A solution that works in one part of the world will not necessarily work in others. Sustainable communities have to work for the people who live there. They need to be free to make decisions for themselves, based on the options that are available in each place; it leads to innovative solutions, creativity and sustainability.
Recently, Alistair Carmichael was quoted in the Daily Record as saying that the biggest danger for the No campaign was that of the emotional appeal of nationalism beating rational arguments against independence. I couldn’t disagree with him more.
For me, it’s the other way round. I’m voting for independence because it makes economic and cultural sense for Scotland and because in my experience, the Scottish Parliament has delivered interesting, innovative and creative advances in the areas of government which have been devolved to us.
But the reason my journey to Yes took such a long time was because I feel a great deal of emotional attachment to Britain, my childhood memories of it, the things I liked about it and to my friends and family in England and Wales. If I was voting purely on emotion I might not be voting Yes.
But all of the things that I love about Britain will still be there. This isn’t about the past, it’s about the future, and logically staying in the Union makes no sense.
I don’t believe that Scotland is too small to be an independent country; there are plenty of examples of countries that are a similar size to ours. But within the Union Scotland is tiny; our entire population is far smaller than London. The Westminster parliament is elected to make decisions for the majority of the people who vote for them, and that majority lives in England.
Devo-max may have been one solution to that problem, but it’s not on the table and there’s little chance that it, or anything like it, will ever be. The No campaign wants us to vote for the much vaunted “status quo”, but there isn’t one. They say that there are no guarantees on a huge range of issues, should we vote Yes, but we don’t know what will happen in the UK either. Would the UK leave the EU for example?
One thing we DO know is that both main parties say austerity is here is to stay. I know people who are disabled and have felt bullied and intimidated by cuts to benefits, to the point that they’ve become ill again. I know families who are struggling to make ends meet, who are exhausted, desperately worried about the future, under far more stress than they need to be.
According to Shelter there will be almost 5,000 children homeless in Scotland this Christmas. We have no power in this matter; we are disenfranchised against policies which I and so many others believe to be shameful. Scotland is a hugely creative, innovative and yet pragmatic society. There have already been so many positive changes since devolution; I think that a Yes vote would allow us to do so much more.
I don’t read much into the polls. Before so publically outing myself on this site, if anyone had asked me how I was voting next year I’d probably have told them I didn’t know, even though I actually made my mind up several weeks ago.
At first I wanted to write this piece anonymously. I’ve never been political, have never been a member of any political party and have voted variously for MPs, MSPs and Councillors who were Labour, Lib Dem, Green, independent, and SNP depending on where I was living, policies at the time and the individual concerned. I didn’t want to stand up and use my own name for a variety of reasons.
Speaking out is hard for me. People that I know will be able to read my views and opinions, I have no idea what (if any) reactions I’ll get and I’m a very private person on the whole. But I’m sharing my journey to Yes because I think it’s time to be counted.