For Those Who Never Wished For It

This is a guest post by @bunniesforindy whom all of  you on Twitter should go and follow.

Independence will be won by those who never wished for it

I’ve wished for independence for a very long time.

As a kid, I waved Saltires and joined in with half-weepy, half-ironic renditions of ‘Flower of Scotland’. I drew the Lion Rampant in my notebooks. One of my most vivid memories as a teenager was staying up to watch constituency after constituency vote YES-YES for devolution in 1997. So for me, the 2014 referendum was immense fun. The flags, the foam pointy fingers, the laughter and hope and celebration.

The morning of 19th September is best passed over; if you’re like me, you know how it felt. But we recovered, and we fought on. For folk like me, Scottish independence is a lifelong dream, an uncrushable hope, and an absorbing hobby. I think I hoped what many others hoped, that we would gradually, organically win people over to our point of view. Perhaps Home Rule would be a step on the path, which might be long and winding, but in the end, would take us where we wanted to be.

That future has gone. That ship has sailed. That became abundantly clear as I watched Phantom Power Films’ latest “Journey to Yes” video.

This is the first of the ‘Sector’ series of films, and has a different tone from the others. Starting with shots panning across farming landscapes, it combines statistics about Scotland’s dependence on the sector with personal thoughts from Hilary and Carey, a farming couple from South Lanarkshire, about the impact of Brexit on farming. The effect it had on me was quite different from the other films, which are joyful and uplifting. This one was, from the very outset, grim.

Hilary and Carey voted No in 2014, primarily over fears that independence might mean leaving Europe, but also because it’s clear that self-determination isn’t a driving force for them. Carey is English. They have family from down South. They think in international, not national, terms, and despite the positive impact of devolution and the SNP government on farming, they were simply not convinced of the need to throw their eggs into the nationalist basket.

It would be lovely, for someone like me, if they moved to Yes by becoming more like me, by developing a passion for the nationhood of Scotland, a sense of joy about building a new future, and even a developing a mild allergy to the Union Jack. But that’s not what happened. As they continue, it becomes clear that their decision is hard-headed, pragmatic, and centred around the same motivation as their previous vote: Europe.

As they describe their feelings on the morning of 24th June 2016 – their paralysis, their grief (“we cried for two days”) – as they describe eloquently the history of the Common Agricultural Policy and enumerate the effects its loss will have on their business and on farming generally, this all starts to feel very serious, very real, very global, and very much bigger than just a joyful political project for enthusiasts like me.

This is not a fun video. It’s hard to watch. The destruction of the lamb industry through loss of markets. The loss of EU funding. The “new clearances”. It all carries absolute conviction, and Hilary and Carey’s conclusion is utterly compelling. These are the kinds of decisions the foresighted are making now, and this is the kind of ground on which the next referendum will be fought. Not on the idea of branching out from the familiar to the thrilling, or terrifying, unknown, but on the prospect of escape from a trajectory that is so damaging, so ill-conceived and ill-managed, that even those who will shed a tear for the Union Jack, and those with no time for flags at all, will be forced to see independence as the only credible choice.

So what does this mean for us, the dyed-in-the-wool?

It means we need to be sensitive. We need to accept that Scotland will gain her independence through the votes of many who never wished for it. Whether because sacrificing their Britishness feels like a very real loss, or just because they were happy with the way things were and didn’t ask for this upheaval, there will be people, on the morning after the last independence referendum, who feel the way we felt on September 19th, 2014. Some of them will have voted No, of course, but others will have voted Yes. Either way, far be it from us to crow. We’ve been there and we know what it’s like. Let’s show more grace than our opponents did to us.

It means we need to be pragmatic. Many of us, behind the foam fingers, are in fact very hard-headed, very pragmatic. It’s a fine feature of the Yes movement that it can be at times wonderfully exuberant and at other times boringly down-to-earth. So let’s show our best side to those who join us reluctantly. They voted No out of prudence, and that prudence is one of our great assets as a nation. We need to recognise it and value it, whatever our own frustrations over that first result. We need these people. We need all of Scotland.

And it means we need to be realistic about how urgent our situation is. I hear people saying things like “we need to accept the timetable might slip, another referendum in 5 years would be fine.” No it wouldn’t. Not if, in those five years, we lose not just our EU membership but our membership of the single market and customs union, our EU funding, and the residency and voting rights of our EU citizens.

Continuity of full membership would be nice, but if we lose it, we can rejoin. Continuity of these other aspects is crucial – we simply cannot afford to lose them, even temporarily. Even if a transitional deal is set up, every year that goes by means thousands of migrants who give up hope of a secure life here and choose to live elsewhere. And if those who stay are disenfranchised, the referendum vote will be skewed and may be lost.

I’m confident the Scottish Government understands the urgency, but I’m not so confident it’s well understood by activists, and certainly not by the general public. It’s a message that we desperately needs to get across. Many polls have indicated that a majority of people believe independence is inevitable. We need to communicate that it can’t be put off. “It’ll happen eventually…” I’m sure it will, but if we don’t take the chance now, and hold a referendum before we lose our EU benefits, the country that becomes independent 10, 20 years down the line will be damaged and diminished by what’s happening right now.

Independence is not just a project for the enthusiast. it’s a national escape plan, and the clock is ticking.




One thought on “For Those Who Never Wished For It

  1. Thank you for making these excellent observations on our film. It was hard to reveal ourselves to the world like this but we did so for all the reasons you give here, especially your final one that we can’t hold off much longer for independence. I’m ashamed to be British (I used to like being Scottish, British and European at the same time and in that order) but I have no illusions about the road to Scottish statehood being anything but rocky; the challenges of forming a state from a nation can’t and shouldn’t be underestimated. To think that it could be easy would be to ignore reality as the Brexiteers are doing now (though without their repellent right-wing nationalism). And leaving will be sad, as necessary changes always are. But that is not a reason to fear it and I look forward to it with such massive excitement and renewed energy. I will never wave a flag, any flag – but neither will I waver from the path to self-determination.


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