The recent past has been the most enlightening time of my life. It’s been like a second adolescence; enlightening because it has taught me an entire new language and has forced me to decide what is most important to me in a democracy; a second adolescence because it’s as if I have escaped childhood and been forced to understand what the impact of big grown up things might mean for the rest of my, and my family’s, life.
I don’t consider myself politically knowledgeable; sure I can spout left wing or right wing bluster same as most of us, but until now it has been no more than that.
I’m a political minestrone: I like a bit of left wing this, some centrist that and quite a lot of right wing garnish too. Maybe that’s why I’ve considered myself a Liberal for most of my voting life.
But the Scottish Independence Referendum has no room for minestrone.
It’s in. Or it’s out.
I’ve said for a long time now that the Independence vote is not a political decision, many passionate Scottish writers say this too. It’s a decision about self determination; not a political commitment.
But that’s not true. Is it.?
How can it be in the current UK political paradigm that is so sick, so indulgent, so misguided; in so many ways?
Yes, the outcome will be self-determination for Scots and the main benefit will be self-determination and the ability to make our own decisions for ever more; good or bad as they may be. But the decision-making crux, for me, has nevertheless been very, very political.
I was never a Nationalist, and certainly not a Separatist, when I was younger. I was proud to call myself British (indeed my mother called it crass to write ‘Scottish’ in the box on a form that asked your nationality).
I was too young to vote in the 1979 referendum – I was still an adolescent – but had I been able, peer pressure would no doubt have pushed me into voting a resounding No!
But 1979 was a very different time.
In 1979 Labour was left wing and Conservative was on the cusp of Thatcherism. The UK was about to change forever and that, fundamentally, is why I am voting Yes on Thursday – because the resultant and consequent change has become intolerable.
In some ways we can look back on Thatcherism as a unique period in our times. David Peace captures it magnificently in his miner’s strike novel, 1984, with stunning venom. But it’s not. Today we are mired in Thatcherite legacy like nobody could ever have imagined. We now live in a neo-liberal state that appals me.
In the great chess game that is British politics every move has to be anticipated and countered. Pre-Thatcher the game wasn’t chess it was draughts.
Black versus white, right versus wrong.
Only one direction of travel and an opposing one at almost every move.
Now, however, the battle lines have become so confused it’s as if there is no overall goal. No black and white. 50 shades of grey. Politics is no longer about winning, it’s about taking part. Staying in the game.
And that blurring of distinction, in which Liberal and Labour alike have had to secede principle in search of staying in the game has resulted, firstly, in New Labour in 1994 and secondly a Con/Lib coalition in 2010.
Where next? I shudder to think.
The two main opposition parties have become pale imitations of the enemy they despise. And the result is a neo-liberal blancmange that Westminster simply cannot escape.
Give me minestrone over blancmange any day.
As part of my decision making process I read Stephen Maxwell’s excellent Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risks and Wicked Issues, the absurdly unwise Scottish Government manifesto White Paper, Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence (superb), Wings Over Scotland, many, many blog posts including two in particular that stood out; Bella Caledonia and Business For Scotland. Whilst these undoubtedly had a nationalist bias most were backed by credible sources and most acknowledged the inherent risks of separatism.
I also had the great privilege of attending hustings and debates with all sides of the debate represented. I went out of my way to take in the Orange Order’s Grand March through Edinburgh and enjoyed a soupcon of Trotskyism in the form of Tommy Sheridan’s brilliant Hope over Fear tour.
So I consider my decision reasonably well informed.
Of course we’ve had the official campaigns to ponder over too. The Yes campaign has been positive and enjoyable (if light on facts) and the No campaign a horseradish bitter tirade of disingenuity and hopeless rhetoric.
I come back then, on the eve of voting, to what has swayed my decision.
Certainly it was not the official campaigns; either of them. Nor my reading, although that helped inform me. No, what did it for me was under the bluster, the ridiculous rhetoric and the lampooning of Westminster that made up Tommy Sheridan’s sometimes pantomime posturing lay a truth that I cannot avoid. A truth that will probably cost me money as I look left, not right.
But then, a principle’s not a principle until it costs you money I was told.
What Tommy Sheridan laid bare for me was the hopelessness that neo-Liberal governance is creating. No-one benefits from this. Least of all the under-privileged.
I’m not going all Socialist Worker on you here. All I’m saying is that Tommy articulated a truth that I truly believe in. That Westminster politics is no longer fit for the purpose of governing Scotland
In an independent Scotland I look forward to a political landscape (left wing dominated but with a vocal and electable right) that rids us of neo-liberal posturing; that opens the door of the debating chamber to well argued and intensely held beliefs, that socialism and conservatism both have good things to offer, that liberalism steers a course through the middle and that the decisions that come out of that chamber are argued with focus and relevance to the people that live within its range. The people of an independent Scotland.
I’m sorry I have bombarded you with months of social media postings. But that’s what the un-friend button is for my friends.