Four hundred miles
This is the one post I’m going to write here about the Scottish Independence campaign, promise. Indulge me, it matters.
‘You have to take responsibility for the choices you make. You end up feeling more disillusioned but also more grown up. It’s a bittersweet outcome. There are still follies and delusions but at least they’re your own. This is the real choice. The options are not economic misery under the union or permanent boom-times under independence. They lie more in the realm of collective psychology. Do you want to have the safety net of an auld enemy to rage at when policies don’t work and world turns mean? Or do you prefer to look at yourself in the mirror, in all your glories and stupidities?’
- Fintan O’Toole quoted in Gerry Hassan’s ‘Caledonian Dreaming, The Quest for a Different Scotland’
On the evening of 9 April 1992, I sat on the top deck of an orange Glasgow bus heading to the South Side to watch that night’s election results with my best friend. That morning, I’d cast my first general election vote in Glasgow Hillhead for - of all people - Labour’s George Galloway, smiling broadly at the red rosette wearing teller to indicate that I was one of them. And as the bus headed down Eglinton St, I found myself at a red light staring at a ‘Labour’s Tax Bombshell’ poster and the sudden, sinking realisation that it wasn’t going to happen. Labour wasn’t going to win.
The months that followed were my initiation to political engagement, attending Scotland United meetings and rallies before the collective energy to fight inevitably waned. Four years later, I was headed south again, not to the South Side of Glasgow where I’d grown up, but to London and a permanent job, and it’s where I’ve lived ever since.
When I left, it was in the seventeenth consecutive year of Conservative governments and there was no Scottish Parliament, however small or powerless. Most of my friends had either already headed south or were making plans to. Glasgow back then wasn’t the hardest place to leave.
I was fortunate to move to London when I did, towards the end of a time when someone on a decidedly middling income could afford to buy a flat. I’ve been equally fortunate to have had a decent career here and to be living in the sort of tolerant, liberal neighbourhood tribe made possible by London’s scale. It’s possible to both love living in the kind of communities that London feeds and to feel distinct unease at the inexorable concentration of the UK’s economic and political focus on one single city at the expense of others, including my own home city.
I chose to move to London. I’m not sure moving back, whether to Glasgow, Edinburgh or beyond really is a choice that’s now open to me. Regardless of whether I ever get the opportunity to move back or not, I want to be sure that this and future generations of designers in Scotland have chance to do their best work in their own country without feeling compelled to leave it.
It’s with a distance of time as well as physical location that I find myself avidly watching, reading and listening to the unfolding independence referendum campaign. Whatever your view, this is an extraordinary moment for Scotland and for Scots wherever they are. A moment to reflect on the type of country you belong to and the type of country you want to be. How many countries even get the opportunity to think, to discuss and to vote quite so directly on that?
Thinking about these issues have been a process of challenging my own views and political positions, thinking hard about my identity and that of my immediate family (none of whom were born in Scotland), re-engaging with Scottish arts, considering what I’d do in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote and I feel utterly refreshed and changed as a result.
The mainstream debate has, beyond the White Paper launch, been largely uninspiring fare - claim and counter-claim, accusation and mock outrage, campaign grids, voter identification and hammering home The Message. While this campaign dominates most of the mainstream media coverage it obscures the extraordinarily energising stuff happening on the margins courtesy of what Gerry Hassan calls ‘The Third Scotland’ - an unruly coalition of the left, the arts and often unheard voices in the usual political discourse. It’s independent in every sense. Independently crowd funded, independently published as well as independently minded. It’s to be found in the work of National Collective and Yestival, of The Reid Foundation and Common Weal, The Bus Party, Bella Caledonia, Radical Independence Campaign, Wings Over Scotland, The Scottish Independence Podcast, Scotland Yet, in the writing of Lesley Riddoch, Iain McWhirter, Gerry Hassan, Pat Kane and in the very welcome reappearance of Jim Sillars.
There’s a hope and an optimism, an ambition and a belief, a self-awareness and an ability to look hard at itself but - critical this - look forwards that Scotland just didn’t feel ready for, or capable of, back in 1996. And it’s exciting to be a part of and to contribute to, even from four hundred long, long miles away, daring to believe, as the slogan says, that another Scotland is possible.
Whatever the result in September, something special is happening in Scotland right now - not the protest cries of Scotland United all those years ago but a louder, more sustained, more lyrical, eloquent re-finding of voice.
Scotland, I couldn’t be prouder.
Further reading (and viewing):
- Scotland Yet: A film about independence
- Vonny Moyes: We Might Be Wee, But We’re Not Stupid
- Documenting Yes
- Kenyon Wright: Why I now believe a Yes vote is the only way to create the new Scotland I want to see
- James Robertson: The News Where You Are
- Fraser Nelson: You can’t reduce a 300-year-old union to a mushy peas analogy
- Kieran Hurley: Aye Talks
- Lesley Riddoch: Still time to change minds to Yes
- Libby Brooks: Magnitude of the question galvanises debate
- Jonathan Rowson: As an exile I can’t vote in Scotland’s referendum, but I know I’d vote yes
- Mairi McFadyen: An Open Letter To J.K. Rowling
- Miriam Brett: Aye Talks