(with apologies to poet Hugh MacDiarmid for the misquote above)
I prefer emblems to flags and patriotism to nationalism…
Thistles grow in the wild and in gardens. And like her emblem, Scotland is strong and adaptable. Life persists in the economic wastelands as well as the richer business districts. Last week Scotland’s people, rich and poor, young and old, voted. Regardless of how they voted, theirs was a vote for change.
It has now been a week since the declaration of the result of the referendum on Scottish independence. It has been a week of celebration for some, but of grief for others. The question asked was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ Those who voted no, 55% of those who voted, were the ones reaching for the champagne, delighted that Scotland would be remaining part of the United Kingdom. Those who voted yes, who wanted Scotland to be independent of the UK and to have complete self-determination were gutted.
But is it now business as usual for Scotland? Will the status quo of the pre-referendum campaign era return?
I would answer no to both questions. It must be no, has to be no, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Why? Because the very act of having the referendum, of the unprecedented level of engagement with the questions raised, of the inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds in the voting process, of having a record 85% turnout of people placing their cross on the ballot paper–– has changed us, has changed Scotland. And I believe it has changed Scotland for the better. I even dare to hope it will change the whole of the UK for the better too. I hope people power, the grassroots, bottom-up approach to policy making and to politics that was reignited by the referendum, catches on throughout the UK . I hope all of us get a fairer, less centralised deal.
And besides that there’s the matter of the last minute promises made by the Better Together campaign. The major devolutionary measures (or Devo Max) promised to Scotland, including full tax-raising and spending powers have to be delivered if the three UK political parties who made the promises are to maintain any credibility. And I suspect it’s not just in Scotland that their credibility will be questioned if they fail to deliver. Who could ever trust them again?
Lots has been written and spoken about the above by wiser more qualified people than me. I’ve been particularly impressed by two of Scotland’s newspapers in their coverage pre and post referendum. The no-supporting Scotsman and the yes-supporting Herald offered fair, insightful and informative journalism throughout.
All I can offer is a personal reflection on the process. Like her emblem the thistle, Scotland now stands straight and tall. The well- documented Scottish cringe is nowhere in sight. My overwhelming emotion when I consider the referendum is pride. But it’s pride mixed with humility and gratitude.
I’m proud that the debate prior to the vote was largely carried out in a civilised and respectful manner. I’m proud and grateful that not only such a large proportion of voters turned up to vote, but that we live in a country where it’s possible to do so. And that’s the most humbling thing. Scotland (and the rest of the UK) gave a great show of democracy in action just by having the referendum. Not only were the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democratic politicians of the UK given a sharp, panic-inducing reminder of what people power means and what it can do, but other countries such as China could only watch open-mouthed at our demonstration of what it is to be free.
Yes, it’s all relative and Scotland seeks even more freedom from within the UK setting. Yes, there seems to be a feeling throughout the UK that federalisation and decentralisation of power from Westminster to the regions is the way forward. And yes, UK politics needs to be less about the vested, maybe even sinister and hidden interests of those who fund the main parties, and more about the interests of the people. Bottom up has to be the way to go.
But looking out at the rest of the world, how can we not be proud, grateful and humble.
Looking out at the Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq or South Sudan–– to name only a few–– is to gaze on a chilling prospect.
That’s why I believe the Scottish and the British have a lot to be grateful for and have something very precious that we must never take for granted. I think the main legacy of the referendum for all Scottish voters is the reminder it has given us about those very things. So let’s hold onto that, let’s keep working to make things better whatever side we were on, better for us and better for the rest of the world. Let’s not allow our politicians off the hook. Let’s not be cowed and return to the status quo. We have ability, power and freedom. Let’s cherish them, extend them and use them for the good of all.