#YesScotland: 5 Ways to Continue the Fight

Originally published on Novara Media on September 22 2014.

The day after the referendum, walking to university after two hours’ sleep, I was glum. I’d campaigned for independence and I’d been disappointed. Edinburgh was full of rainy pathetic fallacy and I passed people openly weeping in the streets. It was grim. On my way back home later that day, I saw some ‘yes’ posters in somebody’s window which had been added to over the morning. Silently, defiantly: ‘still yes’.

It would easy to look back at the campaign for Scottish independence and be filled with anger at Westminster and their empty devolution promises, lies and scare tactics, and be upset and pessimistic about the future now that the visions we all spent the last two years thinking, talking, and campaigning about aren’t going to come to light. However, there was always going to be life beyond the referendum, and yes or no, visions of the future aren’t much good when practical action doesn’t follow. Yes – we lost. But what we have won is an incredibly politically engaged population across Scotland, many of whom for the first time in their lives have felt like fighting for a better society might actually make a difference. And that is something we cannot afford to lose.
So rather than looking back, I want to look forward, and here are my top five recommendations for continuing the fight for a better society.

1. Maintain solidarity.

I can’t say this enough. One of the most amazing things to come out of the yes campaign was the conversations and bonds formed between people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life. From people who do quite well under neoliberal capitalist patriarchy to those right at the bottom of the pile, the project of imagining a future Scotland where all could prosper gave people who would normally never cross paths a common cause to unite around. Just because the referendum is over doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do – political engagement goes beyond a lost vote. Whilst the temptation may be to concentrate on how to continue the independence campaign, the most disadvantaged areas of the country (not coincidently, the areas which did vote yes to independence) are suffering austerity, cuts and oppression. Working with these communities to maintain political engagement in a practical way is of paramount importance now, from encouraging workplace organisation to fighting cuts to essential services for women and parents. Continuing to learn how to stand in solidarity without crushing the voices we are trying to elevate must take priority as we move forward.

2. Focus on the issues.

Most of Scotland, myself included, probably never wants to hear the phrase “currency union” again. But many of the other issues debated on throughout the referendum remain keenly relevant, both in Scotland and beyond. Now that the referendum is over, issue-based campaigning on food banks, Trident, climate change, austerity and so on can continue anew; refreshed, because people have dared to imagine a society where these issues no longer exist. They don’t go away because the independence question has gone away (for the time being) – and a revived energy from people who now know what it feels like to believe they can change the future is exactly what many of these long-standing campaigns need.

3. Keep young people engaged and active.

71% of 16 and 17-year olds voted for an independent Scotland, which means that almost three-quarters of the 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland have just witnessed their dreams of a better future snatched away from them predominantly by the voting habits of older generations. This referendum was the first opportunity the UK has ever given people aged 16 to have a democratic say over their own future, and they have proved that they should not be patronised by ‘adults’ who believe that young people cannot be trusted to handle politics. The defeat felt by many teenagers in Scotland right now is crushing: keeping young people engaged, treating them with respect and allowing them to keep having a say in their own future is the only way we can ensure we don’t end up with a generation lost to a pessimistic apathy.

4. Form new alliances.

Yes, there are a lot of angry and upset yes voters in Scotland right now. But there are also a lot of no voters who are already watching in horror as Westminster reneges on its last-minute devolution promises. No longer having to split people into two camps is not a bad thing, and I would personally be wary of any movement that tries to maintain a division between groups of the population depending on how they voted on 18 September. Since the referendum, there has been no shortage of writing from throughout the UK on the broken state of the Union and Westminster-based politics. People across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are calling for more control over their lives and their futures. New alliances can be formed between grassroots activists challenging the status quo, and in a post-referendum society this is only going to be easier. Leave behind the grudges – show people that the fight can continue, and it can benefit everybody.

5. Don’t give up or give in.

When was the last time you can remember that an entire nation was engaged with political debate, and people felt like they had the right to comment on issues and envisage a better society no matter what their background was? When was the last time that the Westminster establishment ran so scared that Gordon Brown was forced to help out a struggling David Cameron? When was the last time that people really felt like they might be able to stick it to the power?

We can still do this – we can still make them run – and the yes campaign has shown that the way to achieve this is through grassroots engagement, collaboration across campaign groups, linking up the issues and refusing to give in to lies and scaremongering. We’ve spent the last two years imagining a better Scotland – and we don’t need to live in an independent state to start making it happen.

Why I’m voting Yes

On Thursday 18 September, I’m going to be voting in favour of Scottish independence. In no particular order, a few of my reasons are below – but before that, I want to say something about the Yes campaign.

When I arrived in Scotland a little over a year ago now I wasn’t sure whether I would get that involved, or passionate, about the campaign for Scottish independence. I didn’t know much about it, I had some doubts about whether (as an English person) it was “my place” to get involved, and I didn’t know much about the issues at stake. But the past twelve months have changed all that. I’m not sure how to put into words how amazing it is up here right now. The atmosphere is totally electric. Almost every conversation I overhear is about the referendum. People actually believe that they have the power to change their future. And the Yes campaign has been the cause of that. The Yes campaign has been the one knocking on doors in deprived areas informing people about how to register to vote (the No campaign has had no voter registration drive – makes you wonder whether they actually trust the Scottish people to decide the future of Scotland). The No campaign has the entire power of corporate media, Westminster and the BBC behind it (to the extent that the BBC have actually edited out footage of Alex Salmond giving an answer to questions about the referendum to make it look like he didn’t have the answer – you couldn’t make this shit up). The Yes campaign is made of over 350 independent campaigns on every issue from Trident to food banks, and its grassroots power is evident. It’s a coming-together of people to stand up to vested interests and powers-that-be, and it’s snowballed like nothing I’ve ever seen. Giving people hope, giving them inspiration, giving them something to fight for. The Yes campaign is people saying no to scaremongering, no to governments that don’t represent the people that vote (38 out of the last 68 Westminster governments were ones that were not voted for by Scotland), no to fear. I can’t put into words the atmosphere in Scotland right now. Last night I danced in the sold-out Usher Hall with thousands of Yes activists of all ages and backgrounds and genders and the atmosphere was amazing; the atmosphere was an atmosphere of hope and excitement and possibility; the atmosphere was, finally, after so many years of despair and misrepresentation by politicians, the atmosphere of a people that have united to take their future into their own hands. This has been the most amazing thing to witness – and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

I’m voting Yes on Thursday.

I’m voting Yes because I don’t believe that working-class and anti-capitalist solidarity is contained by borders. A Yes vote is not a vote to leave the rest of the UK to its fate. A Yes vote is proof of people power in the face of corporate- and state-sponsored propaganda. A Yes vote is proof that grassroots movements can actually make a difference, and that ordinary citizens can stand up to take on vested interests, and win. I’ve marched in solidarity with Palestinians, with the victims of global austerity, with people affected by climate change around the world – this isn’t going to change in the event of Scottish independence. It’s going to be a source of inspiration around the world. My hope would be that a yes vote will inspire people who have been oppressed and downtrodden by the ConDem’s austerity throughout the rest of the UK to use Scotland as an example and get involved, get active, and fight for a better future.

I’m voting Yes because an independent Scotland has the power to force the UK’s hand when it comes to Trident – and refusing to host Trident on Scottish soil will almost certainly be the final push that Westminster needs to give in to international pressure to get rid of its outdated, useless weapon of mass destruction.

I’m voting Yes because Scotland has the potential to be a world leader on fighting climate change, and the volume of the Green Yes voices across the country is high, and they have the potential to influence policy and the outcome of a constitution that could enshrine protection of the environment and commitment to a low-carbon future. It’s not about the North Sea oil – it’s not like Westminster offer a radically environmentally-friendly position on the issue. It’s about the potential to create change, and there’s far more of that in the case of independence.

I’m voting Yes because I’m bisexual, and an independent Scotland would enshrine my right to fall in love with who I fall in love with, in a written constitution that homophobic political parties would not have the power to edit at will. The rise of UKIP across the UK and the platform that they’re given to voice homophobic hate speech has cemented this Yes for me: I vote for freedom against persecution, or I vote for the possibility that my rights are going to be crushed.

I’m voting Yes because I don’t think that a Yes vote is the answer. I’m voting Yes because it’s only the beginning – and the chance to actually build a better society, to actually cause a shock to that old boys’ club of Westminster, to show that, sometimes, money and power and scaremongering just isn’t enough to suppress spirit and hope. It’s not going to be easy or smooth. But the status quo isn’t easy or smooth either: just ask somebody depending on food banks, or a victim of the bedroom tax or ATOS tests.

I’m voting Yes. But whatever the result, it’s impossible to deny that something has happened in Scotland. Something powerful. And it’s not something that’s going to go away in a hurry.

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Image via National Collective of the Night For Scotland gig on Sunday evening.