This week the country faces a major change as Scotland votes in its independence referendum. Rarely can the result of a vote have such an immediate and significant result on a country or state, so whether Scottish or not, it is of interest to all.
It has been an interesting campaign. For a long time the ‘no’ campaign was well ahead in the polls, and the powers-that-be in Westminster remained relatively quiet, presumably safe in the knowledge that nothing would change. However, over the last month or so the ‘yes’ campaign started pulling ahead and recently has either had a small lead or is neck-and-neck with ‘no’.
This has sent the apparently previously presumptuous politicians into a panic. Having denied Alex Salmond a third option, ‘devo max’, on the ballot paper, David Cameron has changed his mind. Now he, Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg have said that they will give Scotland what was being asked for in ‘devo max’ if independence is rejected. A desperate move, the result of which means that whatever the result of the referendum, more power will move to the Scottish parliament.
So why are we now looking at the possible victory of the ‘yes’ campaign after it lagged for so long in the polls? Obviously there is an element of people not deciding until close to the ballot, but some blame has to lie with the ‘no’ campaign. Not only has it been relentlessly negative, attempting to scare people with stories of job losses, rising prices, or not allowing them to use the pound, but to do so it has been wheeling-out politicians hated by the Scots (and a lot of other people), George Osborne, Cameron, and other Tories that have little to do with anyone outside the wealthy metropolitan bubble.
I’m no PR man, but anyone can see that this was not going to work, and indeed it was likely to backfire. Scotland does not generally vote for right-wing politicians, and being the most right-wing government in memory, the current government is not popular there. Having figures such as Osborne telling the population that if they dare to vote ‘no’ he won’t let them use the pound simply turns previously neutral people towards independence. This isn’t unique to the Scottish referendum - many elections are lost and won by the electorate deciding to do the thing that the people they hate most don’t want them to do.
Of course, all of the main parties and UKIP, and almost all of the press are in the ‘no’ camp. This certainly makes ‘no’ the vote that the unpopular establishment are encouraging. Obviously the SNP are pushing for ‘yes’, but they are not the only ones. We Greens are pushing for a yes vote too. We believe that all decision-making and action throughout all levels of government, including international government, should be governed by the principle of subsidiarity: namely that nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well, or better, locally.
But my support for Scottish independence is about more than a belief in local decision making. The Scots are, in general, more concerned with social justice than almost any Westminster government that is elected. There is a mood for change, and an appetite for creating their own destiny. Doom and gloom predictions of big business and establishment politicians are nothing compared to achieving the freedom to have more of a say in your own future. And remember, that future is not an eternal Alex Salmond - we don’t know what future governments the Scots may choose to elect, but whatever government they choose will be theirs, and it will represent them - probably quite accurately as they’ll almost certainly choose some sort of proportional representation. They will sink or swim by their own decisions.
The last time part of the UK had a referendum there were similar nay-sayers who doubted it could work. That was of course in 1919, and Ireland has done pretty well since. They’ve had their problems of course, but then which country hasn’t? Nobody seriously questions their decision to become independent. After the initial shock (to some) of a Scottish ‘yes’ vote, people will adjust just as quickly.
And what of the rest of the UK? My hope is that if Scotland votes yes then a few things will happen. Firstly it will create a momentum for devolution of power within the remaining parts of the UK - perhaps an English parliament and regional assemblies. Secondly it will show people that getting engaged with politics can change things. The ‘yes’ campaign had few resources and the establishment didn’t take them seriously until very near the vote - it shows that strength of will is worth as much as the combined might of media and the establishment. Lastly, people in the remaining UK will be able to look to Scotland and see a country that used to be the same as theirs but now offers something different - a stronger voice calling for justice and fairness than for profits for the rich. If Scotland succeeds then the public in the UK can demand the same from our government - no tuition fees, no privatisation of the NHS, no ‘need’ for the City elite to call the shots. The cosy neoliberal lie that we must accept cuts to our wages and rrights while inequality balloons because ‘that’s just the way it must be’ will be shattered.
So good luck, Scotland. You have a once in a lifetime chance to change the path you are taking. Grasp it and don’t let go.