A lot of American friends have been asking me what's up with the referendum, especially now that the media is bombarded with predictions of economic Armageddon in the event of the yes vote.
As a graduate of a Scottish university (a result of privilege and circumstance rather than merit, I would say), I have a deep and profound appreciation for the nation and its people. And so while I am not Scottish, I am definitely of Scotland, and it is on these grounds that I write now.
My friend Adam Ramsay, co-editor of OpenDemocracy, posted a brief entry in his Independence Blog this morning that captures a lot of the sentiment behind the youth “Yes” vote that is eclipsed in most media coverage of the referendum. I’ve posted it in full below (the bold text is my own emphasis).
“When the Better Together campaign talks about uncertainty, it's important to remember this. For a huge chunk of the population, including a significant portion of young people, our whole lives are uncertain. We are expected in a Westminster-style neoliberalism-on-steroids economy to walk a tightrope to work every day. Gordon Brown, back when he was Chancellor, said that he was all about “rewarding the risk takers”. Amongst my generation, that's pretty much all of us, but we don't see much reward.
It's not just each of us, individually, who lives a precarious life. The whole British economy is teetering on the edge. It's built on a housing bubble in the South East of England which could burst any time and on a financial sector which magics up billions by gambling with debt. As Peter McColl has pointed out, the deep irony of the British State lecturing the Scottish people about risk is that they run one of the riskiest economies in Europe.
They've done nothing serious to prevent another credit crunch, and they expect young people to start families without any certainty we'll have a job in six months time. They do almost nothing to plan for the future – they have no industrial strategy and no real labour market strategy – it's for the whim of global capital to decide our fate.
As they make us walk across this tightrope economy, they are rapidly cutting the social safety net beneath us. Extending the period before you get JSA, a bizarre regime of sanctions which leaves people starving,no benefits for the under 25s – they are at war with social security, and yet tell us that if we stick with them, we'll be more secure.
Yesterday, in the street, I met a man who I would guess is, like me, in his late twenties. I asked him if he knew how he was voting. “I realised in the shower the other day” he replied “that hope is too valuable a commodity to throw away”. For my generation, Westminster has built a world of risks and uncertainties. A no vote leaves us with all of those. A yes vote, on the other hand, at least gives us some power to start planning out our future together.
The “Better Together” campaign clings to a belief that Scotland can come out on top of things in spite of all the economic turmoil of the last few years if it only pledges to remain in the union. It is headed by prominent members of the Labour party (the ruling Conservative Party is too unpopular in Scotland to lead it), and specifically by Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown, whose inadequacy in preventing the financial crisis led to the loss of Labour’s majority in the UK parliament. Disillusionment with Labour, not just on their economic failures but also with the Iraq war, is the real reason for the rise of Alex Salmond and the SNP. The coalition government (mostly Conservative with some Liberal Democrat influence) that runs the UK hasn’t done much to redeem itself either when it comes to economic affairs. For all the talk of market crashes, supermarket price rises, and job losses (all of which were anxieties leading up to the launch of the Euro) in the event of a yes vote, the appeal to put faith in the status quo isn’t all that appealing.
The SNP and the “N” word
Salmond and the SNP aren’t saints either, but a “Yes” vote isn’t a vote for the SNP. Moreover, the impressive Radical Independence Campaign is poised and prepared to turn into a movement to push an independent Scotland away from the neoliberal sympathies that Salmond is known to have. A “Yes” vote also isn’t in a vote favor of the type of pig-headed, Sassenach-hating, selfish nationalism most frequently cited by the London-based national media sources. “Reject nationalism!”, the Scots have been told again and again. But, as Adam Ramsay has pointed out repeatedly, the referendum is a choice between two types of nationalisms, although a Yes vote shouldn’t be seen as a choice between Scottish and British identity.
Scotland has had more than its fair share of nationalisms, arguably going as far back as the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. The existence of nationalist sentiment in pre-modern Scotland* is hotly debated by historians; those who argue against it tend to do so with the understanding of nationalism in its modern context. Academics on the other side of the disagreement assert that our understanding of nationalism as a historical force is too constricted. During this campaign, we’ve seen a number of different types of nationalisms on display, the most bizarre being the thousands of Protestant Orangemen marching through Edinburgh over the weekend, singing songs about killing Irish Catholics while denouncing the evils of Scottish nationalism.
I don't think that a type of nationalism that is emboldened by anti-war sentiment and a commitment to take care of one another is a bad thing. Whether this is really nationalism or just a desire to be like more like the Scandinavian countries, with are more similar to Scotland in population, political identity, and natural resources, is a question worth asking.
Towards my final year at St Andrews, I was invited to a presentation for the Fresh Talent Scheme. During its brief existence, the FTS offered foreign graduates of Scottish Universities the chance at a job placement and two-year visa with a Scottish company, under a process designed to lead towards settlement and eventual citizenship. An ageing skilled work force had prompted the creation of this program, which was later merged with a UK-wide two-year graduate visa, which I was a beneficiary of after graduation. This visa program was scrapped by the Tory government. Scotland’s ageing population is a particular problem because it brings an increased burden on the NHS and other social services, along with a decline in tax revenues unless more young people move to the country. This is actually a problem across Britain, but it is most keenly felt in Scotland.
An independent Scotland is likely to put together an immigration policy that allows graduates like me to return to live and work in the country. It would certainly be an exciting opportunity to play a small role in a new chapter in Scotland’s history, and I know of many people inside and outside of the UK who have expressed a desire to move to Scotland, should the country vote yes. And there have been ripple effects across the United Kingdom, in Wales, Cornwall, and the North of England, where people are daring to envision a referendum of their own. Further afield, campaigners in Catalonia, Spain and Okinawa, Japan are following the situation very closely (in the latter case, the referendum would be to kick the US military base off the islands). Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s vote, Britain will never be the same again. And that’s a good thing.
*Broun, Dauvit, Richard J. Finlay, and Michael Lynch, eds. Image and identity: The making and re-making of Scotland through the ages. John Donald Publishers, 1998. Also see Morton, Graeme. William Wallace: Man and Myth for an overview of the many ways that William Wallace has been made and re-made over the years for various political and cultural purposes.