By Rob Connell
As Stephen Noon has written about so convincingly, it is important that the pro-Independence campaign be a positive one. After all, the goal is not Independence in itself, rather it is the positive effect self-determination can have on the people of Scotland’s lives.
But, purely on a personal basis, I feel that some of the people of Scotland are letting themselves, and the rest of us, down badly – and frankly it’s not bloody good enough.
I do a fair amount of street canvassing for the referendum, and while there are engaged, informed people on both sides of the debate, I feel the need to admit an ugly truth. There are some people, even a lot of people, whose complete lack of any grasp of the relevant facts borders on wilful negligence.
With just over a year to go, notwithstanding the importance of the vote, this is understandable for those who are undecided and are taking their time ahead of the big date. My problem is with people who think they have decided how to vote on this defining moment in our history, but who haven’t made the slightest effort to learn about the consequences.
Let me say up front that I know several ‘No’ voters who have looked at the arguments, and have decided that while Scotland could of course be successful as an independent nation (as even the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign agree), they would prefer to remain under Westminster rule. Mostly, their preference comes from ‘feeling’ British and believing that this will be lost, or the fact that they are actually quite happy with the outcomes of the governance we receive from Westminster.
This is a perfectly reasonable position, and since it derives from priorities which while being different from my own, are sincerely held, it is probably impolite and certainly futile for me to argue with it (although I admit, some of my friends have had to put up with me doing just that).
In contrast, I have had people who are not at all happy with the outcomes of successive Westminster governments tell me they are voting ‘No’, and give justifications for this which I can only describe as being based in almost total ignorance. It never ceases to amaze me how people can decide that they have incredibly strong opinions on something, despite displaying so little interest in the matter that they have not bothered to find out any of the facts.
So many are prepared to hold forth volubly and strenuously on subjects which they, with a moment’s questioning, turn out to know little or nothing about. The list is endless – the EU, currency, spending, defence, passports, and so on ad infinitum, all held up as insurmountable problems without the slightest knowledge or consideration.
Several people have told me that they will be voting ‘No’ as they “don’t trust” Alex Salmond. It’s true that Salmond often comes across as being smug or a bit too fascinated by his own self, and it’s probably healthy to be sceptical of politicians who can seem too polished to be ‘real’.
But of course, it’s just nonsense to decide whether you feel Scotland would be better running its own affairs on the basis of your liking for one temporary First Minister.
By this logic, you would have to declare that you trust in David Cameron, or Tony Blair, or Margaret Thatcher, more than you trust in Alex Salmond, to justify voting ‘No’. Obviously, this is absurd. You might answer that you don’t trust any of them, which is fair enough – and indeed is the point.
Trust yourself, and take responsibility for yourself. Trust your friends and neighbours in your own country. If you don’t like Alex Salmond or the SNP, don’t vote for them in 2016. It’s got nothing to do with whether you should vote for Independence in 2014.
I have also met people who are so dissatisfied with their current governance that they would like to change everything, root and branch, but intend to vote ‘No’ because they won’t get everything they want on the day. This effectively condemns them to never getting any of it.
They say “so we’ll still have the Queen / The Pound / The EU / NATO /, that’s not Independence, you’re kidding us on”. Again, wake up to yourself. The Independence Referendum is just that: A vote to decide IF you want to be independent to decide everything else.
Right now, no-one can offer Scotland a vote on any of these issues. After independence, any and all of the existing arrangements are subject to your on-going approval. If you want to see fundamental change in these or any other constitutional issues, only Independence wins Scotland the right to change them.
Many people have said to me that “we couldn’t make it on our own” or even asked “what would Scotland be without England?” As anyone following the debate would know, even David Cameron and Alistair Darling concede that an independent Scotland would not only be viable, but has every reason to believe it would be successful.
The politicians trying to prevent Independence limit themselves to claiming that the Union is beneficial to Scotland, in the certainty that predicting doom for an independent Scotland in serious debate will only result in ridicule in the light of the facts. However, on the streets of Scotland, many people still hold these irrational and unsubstantiated fears. In the battle for many hearts and minds, ignorance reigns.
This frankly embarrassing state of affairs is not only visible in people intending to vote ‘No’. I have had a couple of people tell me that they would be voting ‘Yes’, and to give a direct quote, that “as soon as we’ve got rid of the English, we should get rid of the rest of the foreigners too” before descending into the same tired old drivel about “taking our jobs” and how “they” get better treatment then “we” do – the desperate blame game that sustains the BNP, the EDL and UKIP.
Apart from the fact that we don’t want people voting ‘Yes’ for those reasons, what strikes me is that these people have obviously not been paying any attention at all to the debate. Even a quick dip into the messages being pumped out on both sides would make anyone realise that the emotional appeal to nationality is being made by the ‘No’ campaign, and that the pro-Independence side want to build a society of world citizens, not ‘Little Scotlanders’.
I tried to explain that this insular, discriminating attitude is not at all the intention of Independence for the vast majority on the ‘Yes’ side, and indeed that all voting patterns would suggest that Scotland would be a far MORE inclusive and outward-looking country than the UK currently is, but to no avail.
So perversely, if people with this parochial view get the Independent Scotland they intend to vote for, it is almost certain to deliver a shift in the opposite direction to what they want. Ignorance is dangerous to all.
It is easy to say that the basis for these opinions is ‘given’ to people by the constant misreporting of the issues, and so to blame the mainstream media. But really, this just isn’t good enough. Media outlets have their agendas and paymasters, as they always have. It is not the media’s responsibility to ensure that you know enough to make an informed decision on Scotland’s future. It’s yours.
It’s your (and my) children’s future you’re deciding here, and you shouldn’t be doing it in ignorance. You might be able to forgive yourself if you choose to remain uninformed about the consequences of a ‘No’ vote, but I don’t know how they ever could.
The people of Scotland have never, in our long history, had the chance to choose our own arrangement of government. It’s a heavy responsibility you carry, and it is also the greatest opportunity any Scot has ever had.