Is Scotland really unique? – Part 1

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Assynt North-West Highlands
Assynt North-West Highlands

A response by Margaret Johnstone to Gerry Hassan’s recent article in The National, on those who voted No in 2014.

Gerry Hassan’s article records the views of a number of people in a focus group on why they voted NO in 2014. Some felt Scotland wasn’t ready, others felt there was insufficient information, some felt there wasn’t enough realism about the downsides of independence, then there was the currency issue, some just weren’t persuaded. Most feel unhappy with the union and are there to be persuaded that independence is the way forward.

I read Gerry Hasson’s article carefully as I understand the need to address the questions and fears of those who didn’t vote for independence in the 2014 referendum. But amongst the reasons given I found little beyond people who were afraid of change. Perhaps it’s just me, but to say there was insufficient talk of what independence means, and that what there was was confined to the political classes, I admit to finding strange. My memories of the two and a half year run up to 2014 was one where the print media, the broadcast media and social media covered it endlessly. Talk in cafes and pubs was about independence. Sure the specifics of what an independent Scotland would, could be like weren’t perhaps spelt out enough, but the exact shape of an independent country is down to its electorate, based on what the electorate wants, how each of us votes. If we didn’t know the possibilities then there was surely information online and on videos to get us started thinking.

In recent elections and referendums in England too many seem to have been swayed by snappy three word slogans that rolled easily off the tongue (Take Back Control!). Little thought appears to have been given to what, if anything, was behind them or what they might forecast. I don’t believe that was the case in 2014. I accept some people wanted more information, seeming reluctant to source that for themselves, though plenty was available, including the Scottish Government’s Scotland’s Future – too long and detailed presumably for many to read. But surely when it comes to the future of the country we live in it is up to each one of us to be proactive, to do the research, read the reports, ask the questions, discuss with others, for it’s our futures that are at stake.

No diverse voices said another in Gerry’s focus group, a lack of “people who do not sound like they have been put on platforms or scripted by political parties”. So how did a whole raft of people who had never engaged with politics previously suddenly find themselves in the spotlight? – bloggers, video makers, podcast makers, artists, performers, singers, poets, playwrights, those who appeared on platforms all over Scotland (like Women for Independence) to put their points of view, and those who knocked doors and manned street stalls – most of whom were not politicians and many had never been involved before with any kind of campaigning. They became the wider Yes campaign.

One of the biggest successes, engendering enormous publicity, was the Wee Blue Book, written (and distributed free in hard copy and downloadable formats to answer questions about independence) not by a politician but by a blogger who ran the website Wings Over Scotland. That diversity has thankfully continued, flourished. Just look at Twitter and the number of non-politicians promoting their blogs. These people certainly didn’t hear any message to  “shush for independence” or felt they were “being leaned on to keep quiet” and not “ask difficult questions”. It’s sad that someone in the focus group felt this and that they seemed willing to comply. I do wonder who was issuing these instructions to them.

There was, perhaps understandable, a demand from some focus group members for more honesty about the downsides as well as the upsides of independence. Maybe there should be added to that a demand for more honesty generally in politics, lies and misinformation having recently become the norm from Westminster Tories. Like everything else in life, changes can have disadvantages as well as advantages, but it’s up to our choices whether we deal with them wisely and come out stronger, or flounder. There’s no reason to believe a government of an independent Scotland would flounder.

We need to have trust in ourselves and in the politicians we vote into power. Every other democratic country in the world accepts the challenges of being independent. Is Scotland really unique in this context?

Photographic images are by the author of this article