The home stretch is upon us! 18/09/2014- a date that shall live in infamy- the United Kingdom was suddenly and deliberately voted upon by YES and NO forces of Scotland. Yes, it’s now 2 days until the big decision. If we vote YES, come October negotiations start between the Scottish and UK governments, Scottish Independence Day will arrive on the 24th of March 2016, and on May 5th the Independent Scottish General Election will take place, cementing a place in the history books forever. If we vote NO, Cross party talks will commence on greater powers in Hollyrood, April 1st will see the Scotland Act 2012 come in, giving extra Tax raising powers to the Scottish Parliament and come May 7th, the General election occurs, with Scotland voting on it as part of the union.
So! A lot to take in huh? A lot of unknowns, a lot of promises and claims on both sides. Walking through the streets of most cities and towns there seems to be a strange air hanging over the country, with independence in every conversation, campaigners on every street, claims and promises printed on every leaflet, flier and poster. I can’t say with certainty if it’s an air of excitement or one of fear, but I somehow imagine it’s probably a 51/49% split depending on which you poll you look at. It’s very strange how quickly we’ve gone from a people who so often would joke about those getting too involved in politics, a certain grumpy pride in not getting overly passionate, serious or patriotic about such affairs, to a country bubbling like revolutionary Revolutionary Catalonia in the 1930s. It’s certainly great to see, certainly, in a time when voter turnout rates were plummeting across the board (and in true hipster style I do often wonder where half these people complaining about representation were in 2011, when the pathetic turnout for the Scottish Elections was barely 50% and the winning party only received 45% of that), people becoming interested and passionate about politics again is very encouraging. My hope at least is that this same passion sticks with us no matter which way we vote, but I can already feel the discontent and disillusionment with a vast majority of campaigners if their referendum horse happens to come in last. It with this in mind, and a horrible feeling I’m going to be bombarded with campaigning and articles to read, I have to admit I still haven’t decided what to vote.
Look, before you crack your knuckles and prepare to send me all your bookmarked pages arguing in either favour- hold up. I want to dispel one myth that’s been annoying me before I get labeled as some sort of ignorant head-in-the-sand student again. I’ve read it. I’ve read it all! I’ve been following and reading all these white papers, articles, independent journals, live debates and ‘impartial’ committee reports and point/counterpoint arguments since 2012. I’m a history nerd obsessed with the wars of independence and the Darien Scheme. Hell, the reason I started my old blog was originally to publish a gigantic essay on the pros and cons of independence with some solid facts and predictions experts could agree on (oh naive old me! Guess what? Turns out there wasn’t any solid facts and predictions experts could agree on!). I’m not trying to sound holier-than-thou, honest! It’s just that the moment I mention I haven’t yet decided, people on both sides of the debate look at me with a mixture of pity and disgust before trying to coax me to try this short pamphlet that’s full of the-facts-no-really-don’t-listen-to-those-lying-sc- Listen up, bub! I’ve read your reports, I’ve not been spending my time with my head buried necking bleach to numb the pain of not having a political stance, I’ve just not decided. Undecided doesn’t mean ignorant, it means undecided.
But I’m not alone, and not just that apparently I’m the key to this entire debate! When you get down to the line like this, we enter swing vote territory. This is when things like polls and surveys get even more unreliable and useless (hey maybe we should just poll everyone! Say, this Thursday maybe?), and it means that us several thousand undecided voters are now the key to what happens to Scotland on Thursday, just like that film where Kevin Costner decided who got to win the US elections! (No seriously, that’s a real film). Well, that certainly doesn’t help relieve the pressure guys. Sometimes I do wish I had the conviction to fall into the YES or NO camp and just know that I was right. I have so much respect for these campaigners out on the street who can so passionately argue their points and who they honestly believe that they are 100% right that Scotland should stay or go,and well, damn! If they’re sure, it makes me certain in my reassurance that there are people out there that will fight to prove that whatever decision we take is the right one. But… that still doesn’t really help me very much.
See when I was little right, I was terrified of plague. Yeah, like bubonic plague. Pretty much at 13 I shared the same fears and worries of a 1300’s peasant farmer in Shropshire. I used to constantly stress about the idea of plagues and diseases that could wipe out humanity- hell the reason I’ve avoided taking pills or antibiotics most of my life is out of a fear that I’d build up some kind of immunity that would kill me off like those poor schmucks you see in the first wave of zombies outside the mall. Soon though, my parents taught me to “stop worrying about things that were out of my control” and I’ve pretty much followed that philosophy ever since. I tend to think that things don’t change overnight and my usual response to “What do you think it’ll be like living in an independent Scotland?” has usually been a shrug and “The Same? Maybe more rants on Facebook (although that’s looking pretty true regardless of the vote)?”. If I were to jump 30 years into the future, or wake from some three decade coma, I’d be taken aback by the changes to society- technology, events and disasters, wars, births and deaths that had happened instantly to me as I looked back over the decades I missed. But as we slowly trudge there, day by day, nothing seems very revolutionary. We don’t know any different, we have no idea what would have happened if say, that vote swung the other way, we can’t really tell when we’re living in a time that will be looked back on as revolutionary or important. We forget what we thought 30 years in the future would look like once we get there, we just arrive after a long series of inter-connecting narratives unsurprised. Time and the future is determined, it’s laid out in front of us like a track on the ground and although we can’t see it, it’s there in front of us and no matter how much we change it, the inability to see the other options or what would have happened had we picked a different path makes every outcome the same. I’m still not trying to sound holier than thou and above all this, really!
I’m getting way too philosophical here, so I’ll pull it back. What I’m trying to say I just don’t have a horse in this race. I love seeing all this change in front of me, I love watching the debates and experiencing this awesome spectacle, but I don’t feel I can make a decision on which outcome I want to see happen, much less which will benefit us years down the line. Furthermore the sheer razor closeness of this entire referendum doesn’t feel satisfying in any way either. Who am I to cast of vote that might drag just less than 50% of the country in one irreversible direction? My choices leave me condemning almost half the country to stay in this union they so desperately want out of, or dragging almost half of Scotland by the heels away from the union and into this new country. Not a great start to a new nation, and not a great way to put a debate to bed. I guess I just follow the crowd at the end of the day, because if I saw 70% or more of the country behind independence, I’d almost certainly forget my reservations and vote YES. It would be proof to me that the country was in favour of a new start. Similarly, if NO was clearly (and in uselessness of polls means all this would have to be very clear) polling at 70%, I would be certain that the YES vote hadn’t yet had its time, but I’d certainly hope for another one the moment public opinion for it started to really build. When it comes down to it, I love being part of the UK. All these years I’ve never felt pressured or ignored by the big government in Westminster (If anything, I’ve more been annoyed at the crap turnouts to each election before hearing about a ‘lack of representation’- you can’t have both, non-voters!). If anything, I love this weird unbelievable union we have between a bunch countries that have for so long fought and even now, resent and love each other in equal parts like a bunch of weird competitive siblings. “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world … it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history” one historian said. It is true the scale and power that Britain has risen to is, while maybe not something to be so proud of considering our… less than wonderful track record to human rights during that whole empire, is certainly something to be impressed and awed by. The United Kingdom as a union has achieved so much, and the tradition lovin’, nostalgia geek in me would be heartbroken to see it go. But I’m not meant to be looking in the past, I’m meant to be looking in the future. Looking at questions like could we improve? The answer of course being, yes! And what would an improved, fairer society look like? What would a better, more representative Parliament look like, with a fairer voting system and closer ties to those it represents? Eh… actually it would look like the Scottish Parliament, of which it’s vastly better voting system and party representation I’m all in favour for, and of which we actually failed to improve in Westminster. Oh. Well in that case… damnit! I’m back to where I started!
Finally though, I can’t just not vote. That goes against everything I’ve ever argued for, and I’m sure my old Modern Studies teacher would probably track me down and beat me for taking part in the democratic process, but I do now see why some people simply… don’t vote. I don’t agree with people not voting just because they think it’ll make some kind of bullshit ‘statement’ when in fact guess what guys?! You’re the people that the guys you want out of power are hoping don’t vote, because they know you wouldn’t have voted for them and it makes their job easier, ya stupid gullible chumps. Like I said earlier, not knowing who you want to vote for doesn’t always make you ignorant, it just means you can’t decide, and it’s never something I’ve had to face before this vote. I guess I could always spoil my ballot, so it’s still counted but registered as nothing. I guess could always pick at random, or possibly ask someone to decide for me. But none of these feel right to me, in fact they feel decidedly wrong, and go against everything I’ve ever thought about democracy. I wish I had the fanatical confidence and resolve to know what was right, to know that Scotland needs to vote YES or NO, not out of a bank of ‘facts’ that both parties have built up like a pile of bricks to throw at each other, but the passion to believe in a cause and fight for in spite of there not being a logical ‘right answer’. Unfortunately, I’m both plagued with the feeling that either both choices don’t matter, or that they both matter so much that I don’t have the nerve to make the choice.
Anyway, I’ll see you at the polls come September 18th. I’ll be the one frantically rolling a dice on the ground and sobbing quietly.