This article was first published on The London Economic on 16 September 2014.
This week will be one of the most significant in British history.
Three days out from the vote on Scottish independence, there is much to celebrate and admire from the process. An unprecedented number of Scots are expected to go to the polls on Thursday. Even those who don’t know how they are going to vote (and they are many) will be making their way to their local voting station. Sixteen year olds will vote in the referendum. The level of civic debate in Scotland has been astonishing, and a heartening break from the apathy that courses through the whole of the UK during general election cycles, where citizens increasingly complain that they are voting for the lesser of nobody cares. Even though they will not be voting, English, Welsh and Northern Irish residents are talking about the referendum. These are all, in theory, positive things.
That it has taken a referendum on breaking up a state to inject a body of voters with an overwhelming sense of civic duty is, however, an extraordinarily sad state of affairs. It is an indictment of a system that is bankrupt in the eyes of millions of disenfranchised people across the four nations of the United Kingdom. The no campaign, ‘Better Together’ (which in itself sounds like a local radio advertisement for marriage guidance counselling), has been led by a well-meaning, broadly honourable man who possesses little charisma and is several years past his political sell-by date. That Alistair Darling has been the best thing about Better Together is perhaps to labour the point about how extraordinarily out of touch the campaign is, and how much it represents an old guard living on the ventilator of late capitalism. When Thursday has been and gone, and the campaign holds a post-mortem (win or lose), it must surely ask itself why it did not have a no vote sewn-up by polling week.
If I was a resident in Scotland, I would be sorely tempted to vote ‘yes’ on Thursday in order to break-off and start anew, away from an emphysemic state built on aristocratic entitlement and the vulgar wealth of the few. The temptation to flip the Vs at Clamerband and their ilk and say ‘no thanks’ to their three saccharine, repulsively out of touch political parties would be almost too great. I could see myself bounding smugly to the polling station to tell the goliath corporations that have threatened the Scottish people in recent months exactly what I think about their threats. This is because it is easy to see the yes campaign led by the left-leaning Scottish National Party as a leftwing political movement. The campaign’s positive themes have rung out loudly: it has framed the referendum as a chance for the people of Scotland to lead themselves toward a brighter future built on fairness, equality and social justice.
Meanwhile, Better Together has not given off the impression that it has a vision for a better Scotland until very recently when it sensed a sweeping change in the tide of public opinion. Alex Salmond, the public face of the yes campaign, is also the leader of the SNP, whereas the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster have been absent in the work of the No camp until last week – when David Cameron cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions in order to join Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in a show of unity that by that point begged the question: “where have you been all this time”?
Even in spite of all of this: I would not be able to vote yes because I abhor nationalism. Along with organised religion it is the primary cause of all human misery and suffering since someone said ‘let’s build a nation’ or ‘let’s organise a religion’ (I’m not keen on states either, but a stateless world in my lifetime probably stretches our evolutionary capacity a little too far). A friend of mine summed this up to me the other evening when I was trying desperately to articulate to her why I would encourage a yes vote. She said that in the 21st Century we should all be doing everything we can to be global citizens, rejecting any new system founded on nationalism and led by an overarching charismatic figurehead.
At the time, I didn’t accept the premise of her argument, but the more I think about what she said, the more I acknowledge that Scottish independence is not the answer to Scottish social problems. I fear that the vote is lining-up to be a mechanism for disillusioned Scots to stage a misguided protest vote against the system at Westminster, without really having any guarantee of a more positive future in an independent Scotland. The SNP has also trumpeted an unhealthy reliance on oil revenue as the basis for a flourishing Scottish economy after independence: not only would this leave the Scottish economy more at the mercy of global markets than it is already, it is also highly unsustainable and diminishes the Nationalist’s green credentials.
The yes campaign and the SNP – for all the credit they are due for giving Scots a channel through which to vent their frustrations at a broken system – have spoken an infinite deal of nothing over the past few months, and I am not convinced that they are any better for people living in Scotland in the long-term than the United Kingdom is, and for that reason, I’m out.