One week today I will step into the voting booth and answer one simple question with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Should Scotland be an independent country?
Living in Scotland just now feels embattled and bewildering. It seems that both potential and threat abound in equal measure. The hurly-burly will be done in just seven days.
On the face of it, it really couldn’t be more simple but scrape slightly at the very public, very loud and very opinionated behemoth that is the Scottish referendum on Independence and that one choice really could not be more complex.
You can read a brief history of parliamentary union and devolution and the timeline to the current referendum. And there ends the history lesson. This is all about now. Now, when the shouting is over, the future shape of both Scotland and the UK will be decided by anyone aged 16 + who lives in and is registered to vote in Scotland.
Never, in my experience, has there been such engagement in politics and in voting (a 70% – 80% turnout is expected on polling day compared to a turnout of 34% for the European elections).
I’m not writing this piece to lay out the arguments for ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – they’re on their official websites, in every conversation I have, every news bulletin I listen to, every opinion piece I read… and they’re smacking me in the face whenever I glance at social media.
I am writing this to share how it feels to be involved in this referendum. These feelings aren’t solely mine. I have canvassed opinion from voters and non-voters both north and south of the border. Everyone has a view and feelings are strong.
In Scotland this debate has been raging (and, yes, I really mean raging) for several months. As summer fades away the hard reality of having to choose yes or no has become stark and enormous for many. The answer has been clear and simple for some: a long-held belief given, at last, an opportunity of expression. For many (me too) the question is fraught. Never have I approached making my mark on the ballot with such trepidation. It was far more appealing to head into my school and university exams than it is to anticipate entering the polling station on 18th September, yet still I relish the prospect.
I grew up believing two things about the vote. Firstly, that it was hard won and must be exercised. Secondly, that it is private. The first is easy to adhere to. The second, in this case, dreadfully hard. I have skirted, flirted and danced round the question of how I will vote – in the end “undecided” seems the easiest public face. Although, as a friend on twitter noted, when you are undecided “both sides WILL SHOUT AT YOU. BECAUSE THAT’LL HELP WON’T IT?”
Amongst my voting friends (by which I mean everyone entitled to vote ), many – like me – are undecided on their vote and are battling between head and heart. There has been a disillusionment with both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns.
People are so seriously engaged in the debate that they feel enormously frustrated by the lack of clear information – the pros and cons, if you will, about the potential gains and losses of voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
Many are finding the political spin and shouting (have I mentioned the shouting?) serve only to cloud the issues upon which they so eagerly seek clarity. Of course, this is the nature of the beast of politics but if there was ever a lesson to learn from this campaign it might be that activists and their rabid enthusiasm for their cause often serve to alienate the majority.
What people want in a time of turbulence, excitement and crisis is a little pragmatism, some measure and a sense of working together whatever our differences. Yet people also want passion and leadership. It has been clear to me that in terms of brand identity, awareness and social media integration ‘Yes’ has won by a country mile. Sometimes at the price of believing that all publicity is good publicity and that shouting (there’s that word again) will win the day.
Listening to those whose views I sought it is clear that empty rhetoric and threats from both sides have alienated them and that it is at the times of clear and calm debate that people have warmed to the arguments made by either side.
The most compelling swaying factor for many is that this is the opportunity to manage our own affairs in our own way. Scotland and the rUK are quite clearly different political animals and, for me at least, we are simply different. There is an identifiable culture, shared understanding and history as well as a way of looking out to and engaging with others that makes me feel Scottish and not British. And there is where the heart of the matter may lie.
When I canvassed the feelings of those who cannot vote there were two clear views. Firstly, “we don’t know enough about it but we just don’t want you to leave”. Secondly, “they (the Scots) are unable to manage their own affairs and lack the resources to run an independent country”.
On social media I have seen anger and bitterness. There is a definite air of “Jocks go home, we never wanted you anyway” in some people’s response to the referendum. I have noticed an upturn in these expressions on social media since a recent poll put ‘Yes’ on a level footing with ‘No’ for the first time.
To be really honest, I have been so caught up in weighing up how to vote I hadn’t yet taken time to consider how the whole question would make the rest of the UK feel. To be really, really honest I didn’t think the rUK would be that interested in how Scotland votes.
It seems like the proposal of a break-up is much more painful than I had imagined. For many I have spoken to, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the referendum. The pain and the passion that goes with it, the hurt feelings and the angry words, the fear of recriminations.
One friend asked “what does winning look like for either side? Is it 51% when nearly half the voters will disagree?” Others have speculated about what effect a possible ‘Yes’ would have in their area/country of the UK. What I hear is that it hurts, that it just feels wrong that we get to decide for them. To balance that, I do have to note that many in Scotland have for a very long time felt that their vote and their voice goes unheard in Westminster.
So to my friends all over the UK, whatever happens please let me tell you that I love you. That I think about you all the time. Sometimes a relationship runs its course and on this occasion it is very much not you – it’s us. We didn’t all choose to have a referendum (but that’s what PR gives us) and we really, truly are thinking hard and talking and shouting long about the decision we are going to make. Either way, the result will be hard-fought and hard-won and the price will be high.
One voice that is always (and rightly) heard during times of political unrest is that of Nelson Mandela. His words “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” are those that have pulled at my heart the most.
So, I am looking forward to next Thursday. For one blissful moment, the shouting will stop, the voices will be silenced, and in peace I can cast my vote.
When the battle’s lost and won.
Words and image Rosie Woodhouse