“It’s time to go now. You’ve done your duty. You can do no more. Abandon your cabin, it’s everyone for himself.”
I’m getting ready for a fight. Wolverine t-shirt for a gi, faded jeans and some scabby DMs barely bound together with frayed black laces pushed through the wrong holes. Clammy palms, belly bubbling in nervous anticipation, I’m sprawled across my old wooden floor with a placard, a jar of pastel coloured Sharpies and an idea. As each careful stroke leaves the tip of my pen, and each over-sized rainbow-dipped character inks the clean, white paper, I feel calmer. Focussed. Brimming with positivity. You see, tonight, the neo-fascists are coming. Well-spoken Etonians, disguised in designer suits and ties, coming to my city to spread their poisonous message of hate and intolerance. They’re coming to my city; a place of refuge. Somewhere I found acceptance of my less-marginale proclivities. How fucking dare they.
A good friend once showed me what democracy meant; on paper and in practice ’Democracy’. Greek words “Demos” meaning “the people,” and “Cratos” meaning, “power”. Democracy is people power, not political power. Words he lived by, but few of the rest of us do. Did we forget that definition somehow, or were we just never taught?
I’m part of Generation Disenfranchised. As I grew up, my political awareness consisted of afternoons cocooned in my grandparent’s immaculate floral living room, closely observing my Papa as he deftly interpreted the squalling rabble of monochrome suits on tiered green leather. It made less-than zero sense, and it did nothing to foster my at that desire to speak fluent MP.
I was as vaguely au courrant as most wee folks. Just aware of Maggie Thatcher and John Major, pieced together from glimpses of Spitting Image on the erratic bedroom portable and snatched titbits from grown-up conversations I didn’t quite understand. I’d heard there were bombings in Ireland, planes falling out of the sky in Lockerbie, and Dads in the Gulf-though I had no idea where or what that meant. Later on there was some rubbery-faced dolt dancing along to D-Ream and claiming to have the answers to all society’s ails. From this ameliorated patchwork of misunderstandings and half-truths, was the genesis of my political views. All I knew was that I didn’t understand politics, and what little I did, made me want to get as far away from it as possible. This was a world for grown-ups, and grown-ups with a particular predilection for boredom and sensibility. No thank you; for the time being I’m going to focus on Pogs.
So what changed? How did politics permeate my life so much that I’m about to stride across the city with this massive, inconveniently-sized placard to tell some numpty from down south to politely ‘get tae’?
I’ve just had enough. Of all of it. But that wasn’t always the case.
Sure, my days as a dreadlocked/vegan/pain-in-the-arse student exposed me to a world beyond my BBC-shaped parochial vision of UK politics; but I’d never done much about it. As I grew out of my retrospective insufferableness, passivity submerged me- like I’d gotten it all out of my system. I didn’t feel the need to paint signs on my mum’s council-house lawn, bus it up to Gleneagles, sleep in a spider-riddled tent on some waste-ground, and get frisked—twice—by well-meaning officers who were convinced I was hiding weed/weapons/opinions in my hair or cardigan, just to shout at some people who didn’t acknowledge my existence.
The extent of my political grousing had dimmed to nothing more than self-satisfied Guardian-reader grumbles in the pub, and the odd satirical barb. The system was well and truly FUBAR as far as me and mine were concerned; the continued rhetoric of bluster, spin and downright lies had fostered a sort of diluted political nihilism. A general ennui around anything to do with Westminster, except for the largely accepted nothing that [insert current figurehead] was a tit. I’d developed an internal rejection of what existed, but hadn’t had enough exposure to meaningful UK political issues it to really give it much thought.
Then the referendum was announced. 18th September 2014—the day Scotland decides. Hang on, that’s about us. That one little phrase sparked a vestigial reflex it in 5.3 million politically dormant Scots. Ears were well and truly pricked up; or at least pointing in the right direction. Suddenly, our largely ignored little battalion in the North have been given an option. Not a pick-the-least-nocuous option; a real option. A definitive yes or No question. Better Together, or Better Off Alone? The clarity of this one question has done something that no amount of pandering PR campaigns, party political broadcasts or accidentally-hilarious Cameron tweets could do; it’s reinvigorated democracy. Some Scots are defending their umbilical grasp on the Union with all their might, some are desperately trying to pry 300 year old fingers open, and others are floating around in the middle feeling ignored, uniformed and indecisive. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, everyone has knows what’s going on— and most have an opinion. This is a beautiful thing. Politics is happening (to us!) and people actually care about it. And if people care, then things can happen.
Independence has become our Watershed moment; and it hasn’t even happened yet. We’ve seen everyone take a stance, politicians fighting, lies, attacks and documented bias from our biggest news provider. We’ve had ordinary people expressing support for a better future, truculently rebranded ‘cybernats’; Machiavellian linguistic ammo for the intolerant and ignorant. In this debate alone we’ve watched with disbelief as the Prime Minister of Great(?) Britain begs us to stay with them—from an arena in London. The very same man who so publicly is clings to this parasitic union yet downright refuses to come here to debate the matter with our First Minister. Come on Dave, are you having a laugh?You’re supposed to be in charge, mate. It’s your democratic duty to come and defend your views. If you think you’re hard enough? You can’t claim you want us, and then refuse to engage with us. The cognitive dissonance is dizzying.
Even if it hasn’t been fully grasped it yet, we can’t deny Scotland is waking up to democracy. This country has been cracked in two, regardless of September’s outcome. With each new lie or paper-thin guarantee the fissures deepen and spread, fracturing old beliefs; as each day inches us closer and closer to that one little question, the chasm between Holyrood and Westminster widens. Take a look around. We have UKIP threatening to take yet more seats in the European Parliament and pollute British politics beyond repair with their nutty, fringe agenda —a party who guzzles cash from rape deniers, misogynists and homophobes, and whose has local councillors want compulsory abortion of disabled infants, and euthanasia for octogenarians.
We have the Tories vowing to scrap the Human Rights Act (just take a moment to digest that…)and punt people out of the country, while Labour leader Ed Milliband obsequiously declares he’ll govern the UK like Thatcher if he’s given the chance. Maggie, who systemically destroyed Scotland’s communities, while simultaneously hoisting her party by its own petard. Yes, my friends, this is the sorry state of Britain’s political affairs. This lot haven’t got a clue, and with any of them at the helm, we’re going down too.
Though, in the last six months I’ve witnessed something special. The mood of this wee country has changed so tangibly. She’s beginning to assert herself, stand up for truth and realise exactly what she’s worth. We’re witnessing Scotland’s self-esteem flourish. And with this new sense of worth comes determination. The more we start to take stock, value what we have and wake up to the fact that our decisions haven’t been our own, the louder our voices get. We need a fully functioning parliament; a leadership system that is more than Westminster’s ventriloquist dummy, spouting regurgitated, watered down ideas spawned far from the land it’s supposed to benefit. The more we remind ourselves of what is going on, the dafter it seems, and the more ordinary Scots will take notice, and unite to reject a system that socially stratifies our people, and widens the equality gap by the day. Identikit capitalist politics does not fit our tenement-hardy, working-class, short-changed country, and I refuse to be told that there’s anything wrong with wanting the power to make our own choices—and the dignity of accepting our own mistakes.
No, waking up to democracy is not enough for us. We need to keep going; as hard as it is to keep pace when swimming against the unrelenting tide of lies and negativity. Don’t allow the naysayers to dampen your spirit. And don’t let them tell you this spirit is nothing more than misguided national pride. We’re beginning to understand that we have got what it takes to make this work- that has heehaw to do with nationalism. Above all we are a land of thinkers and doers, built on a legacy of the same, and as capable as anyone else out there—and probably a lot better placed. No one can give us our voice; and neither they should.
Cast your eye internationally to Ukraine, Palestine and Tibet, and it’s hard to process that we’ve been the victims of political oppression. What’s is going on here isn’t even remotely in the same ball park; but that doesn’t mean we should accept the injustices relative to our society and what we expect and can realistically attain. In Scotland, we’re victims of ruling class politics, gammy electoral systems and tethered freedom. With so few hoarding our critical sources of wealth and power, and so many of us unable to influence the use of these resources, we’ve been left powerless. Disenfranchised and apathetic. For too long we’ve nurtured the septic belief that we are powerless to change the current system; a notion unwittingly passed down through the generations, resulting in those not only unwilling to fight for change, but utterly unwilling to believe that it’s even possible. The union, despite its benefits, has taken away our voice, and the No campaign is doing its best to capitalize on this. They’re banking on us continuing to internalize their negativity, whilst refusing to believe that collectively, we can make a difference.
You can only take democracy back with action. I’m not suggesting you bust out the marker pens, paint your face, grab a megaphone and join me at the Corn Exchange to boo some bigots; but I am urging you to be vigilant and involved in the final straight. That could be as vigilant and involved as educating yourself outside of the mainstream media, or a well-meaning debate with a friend over a cup of tea. Whatever you’re prepared to do, just make sure you do something. And as September creeps closer, I urge you to be prepared. Be prepared for nastiness, dirty tricks and embittered slurs. By now it’s clear that Better Together have no interest in showing us a glowing case for a promising future in the union. Between now and then, we’re going to be reminded of our faults, flaws, failures and fears. Secret shames will be schlepped out for public scrutiny, and we’ll be reminded of all the things Westminster does for us. Don’t be deterred. We are capable. We can do this.
It’s time to abandon the good ship UK; a ship that they don’t even realise is sinking yet. To those who dismiss our optimism as nothing more than romantic temerity, it looks like we’re all just jonesing to skinny-dip in the North Sea. We know something they don’t though; we do have a plan. We have no intention of jumping to certain death; we’re pretty sure there’s something much better in the other direction. Away from stratifying, right-wing selfishness, and towards fairness and accountability and the ability to deal with our own problems. For the first time in over three hundred years, Scotland has a real chance to magnify possibilities for creating our own destinies. We know ourselves, love ourselves better than anyone, so can take care of the future without parental guidance, and it’s only when we embrace autonomy and the possibility of better, that we can act on it.
The water might be baltic, but I’m going swimming.