When I heard the news of the YouGov poll on Scottish independence at the weekend, the one which showed Yes in the lead for the first time, an unexpected, sudden rush of emotions ran through me. The predominant one was actually sadness.
I believe that the decision on Scottish independence has to be for those who actually live there, with a possible addition of those who were born there. And I don’t want to be one of those southern English softies who think they have an absolute right to interfere. I lived north of Glasgow for over four years, and have loved Scotland for many years. I try to find excuses to visit, and with the growth of my business acquiring a couple of Scottish customers, there seem to be more of them. And my mother’s mother always claimed she was Scottish, despite being born in what was then India. I don’t think she ever set foot in the country.
My understanding is that, for many Scots, the idea of independence is a heart issue. There is a belief of some core Scottish values that are, somehow, distinct from English ones. There seems to be a strong sense of social justice that has somehow evaporated in many places south of the border. A sense that co-operation has many benefits over raw competition. A desire to be masters of your own destiny rather than be subjected to the vagaries of the markets, which are so remote that you feel in thrall to invisible masters. It’s important to note, as Gordon Brown said yesterday, that Scotland is actually already its own country, with distinct laws, different property regulations and its own education system.
Yet the No campaign has attempted to get its message across in terms of raw economics. “But how are you going to pay for all this” comes the repeated, plaintive wail. A wail which seems to be driving more and more people away from them.
My immediate emotion at the weekend was one of disappointment. If I was still living in Scotland, I would probably be in the Yes camp. Scotland has become more progressive on human rights and diversity issues than England. For people like me, the legal and medical landscape is easier north of the border – so much so that my wife and I have talked, only half-jokingly, about moving northwards again.
So why the disappointment? Because it feels like losing something. The thought that I will only be a visitor in a foreign land should I choose to travel to Edinburgh or the Highlands. And I guess that shows a view of ownership which is what the Yes Scots are rebelling against.
Even more than that I feel disappointed in the political debate south of the border. This unquestioning view that a United Kingdom is somehow automatically better than allowing people a say over their own destiny. It’s a visible breakdown of the political order that has been built up ever since I’ve been an adult. The Yes Scots seem to have had enough, and want out of this system they see as remote and corrupt. It’s insufficient to warn them that Holyrood may end up the same way – because “may” is not the same as, and may not end up the same as, “is”, and “is” is how Westminster is seen. And it’s this frustration with an unrepresentative, unco-operative, unvisionary system that would probably have seen me vote Yes.
Barely a week goes by without me receiving an email asking me to sign yet another petition complaining about corporate or political greed, complaining about unfairness and discrimination. Whether it’s TTIP or deporting gay asylum seekers, whether it’s fracking or bedroom tax, the overall impression is that there’s no-one in power sticking up for the little guy any more. It’s this feeling which seems to be driving people to UKIP and the Greens, and away from the mainstream political parties. The latest polls consistently put the non-Con/Lib Dem/Lab vote at around 30%. That’s a lot of dissatisfaction. Our politicians and media have failed, and failed badly.
When I started this blog, I put in the title “potential politician”. I’d had many conversations with people who’d asked whether I’d consider standing for Parliament, including one jaw-dropping one in the tea room in the House of Lords. I started looking into it, and discussing the possibilities with people with experience of campaigning. But I started to withdraw from that idea as I started to understand the compromises I would have to make in order to become a member of a political party and stand on a platform defending policies I either didn’t understand or actually objected to. I didn’t want to have an opinion on everything. One comment I received was that politics was currently for those who put ambition above principles. So, last year, I shelved those ideas. That’s not to say I won’t revisit them, but I can’t see myself wanting to co-operate in the system as it currently is.
In a conversation yesterday I noted that I seemed to be more and more left-wing as I aged, and then mused that maybe it wasn’t me, but that our society has moved more and more to the right. Election campaigns seem to have become arguments about who can manage the economy best and less about what kind of society we actually want to live in. Our society seems to have idolised money at the expense of community. It seems, again, to have been driven by our media – pushing consumption, living short-term, looking out for number one.
I fear what’s happening to England and, should Scotland leave, I fear it even more. The heartless policies pursued by the Conservatives, demonising the poor and incapable; the relentless desire to measure and target pushed forwards by the Labour Party, attempting to know the cost of everything but seemingly forgetting its value; the inability of the Liberal Democrats to stand up and be counted, placing government unity above their social principles; the rise of UKIP and the little Englander view that engenders, demonising immigrants as well as the poor and incapable. The future, to me, seems bleak indeed if we carry on down this path.
England, maybe it’s time to shut up and listen? Listen to what the Scots are actually saying through this blunt independence referendum. Listen to your own hearts. And maybe, just maybe, start to revise how we do things.