The Saltire Blues

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I don’t tend to get depressed.  Or at least I haven’t gotten depressed very often in the last twenty years or so.  Certainly deaths, the weather and supporting the Edmonton Oilers for the last twenty years can get a person down, but such troughs have never lasted long with me (though the Oilers loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006 was a monumental bummer).

This week I was depressed.

It was the 55% that got me down.  The percentage of Scotland’s electorate that opted not to take a chance on change.  While my gloom wasn’t as intense as a colleague who concluded that ‘Scotland is dead’, it was pretty intense.  I thought I could rely on my kids to cheer me up, but they only made me think of their future, and that it wouldn’t be in an independent Scotland.  All that hope that had built in the weeks leading up to the 18th transmuted into just a dead, empty feeling.  I could see it in others, too.  Not surprising, seeing that more Glaswegians than not had voted Yes.

I also felt angry, which in my experience can be a nasty sidekick to the blues.   During the week, I heard of many people whose employers had warned them that a Yes vote might cost them their jobs.  They, understandably perhaps, voted accordingly.  How was that democratic, I asked myself?  And of course those who felt the least secure in their jobs were probably the easiest to convince.  If that happened in a general election, they’d be calling for UN observers.

The real low point, however, came early.  On Friday, we went next door for a party – their daughter was heading for university in England.  We were there with the kids and, after about an hour, Michelle and I decided to head to ours to put them to bed.  She followed suit, but I headed back.  Bad decision.  I caught up with a cadre of fellow mourners (all men – it seemed as though most the women had voted no) and we drank and kvetched and kvetched and drank.  All of the sudden it was early the next morning and I staggered home.  I didn’t think I had drunk that much, but the hangover said otherwise.  I did my best impression of a fire hydrant for the next 15 hours, making me a perfectly useful father and husband.  No, it didn’t feel good.

The gloom finally lifted when I headed off to the library on Thursday to officially start my new research project on social psychiatry.  Maybe it was the smell of musty old American Journal of Psychiatry volumes, maybe it was finally starting a project I’ve wanted to do for a decade, maybe it was the fact that two of my students were in the quiet part of the library with me, starting on their dissertations; whatever it was, I was smiling again.  Hopeful.  The next day I played a game of basketball and the other players commented on my energy.  I thought it was probably that my body had been purged of damn near everything on Saturday, but perhaps it was also a fresh start of sorts.

So, if we’re starting again, where are we going?  Well, having just watched some of the highlights of the Ryder Cup, I have an idea.  It was amazing to see the joy on the faces of the victorious Europeans when they realised they had won.  These, the most solitary and independent of sportspeople, in the most exclusive of games, usually have to celebrate solo.  But the Ryder Cup gives them the chance to compete, struggle, lose and win together.  When they triumph, they triumph as one.  When they lose, no one is alone.  And so it should be.  In life as it is in the Ryder Cup.  That’s why I voted Yes.  And that’s the way forward.

 

Bullets, Bins and Ballots

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Bullets

0620: I walk downstairs with Solveigh a little bleary, but better rested than most days.  After I put the coffee on, I realise that it’s the big day, the 18th of September.  I put Solveigh in her high chair, give her some grapes after checking to see how her first tooth is coming in, and turn on the radio to hear if there’s any news about the referendum.  But instead I hear a report from Syria.  A BBC reporter has been given access to the Syrian Army on the frontline, where they’re battling either IS or the Free Syrian Army – it isn’t clear. The sound of bullets break ripple into our kitchen as the reporter announces that a firefight has erupted between the opposing forces.  Closing his report, he reminds Solveigh and myself of the millions of lives displaced in the civil war.  Shocked by the apparently rapid rise of IS, yet only a year on from bombing Syrian government forces, the US and the UK are at loss as to what to do.  I wonder to Solveigh whether this could be an opportunity to pressure Assad to change his ways, in return for help, but doubt that such creativity has a role in the world of real politik.

Bins

1230: I tie into a spicy pasta salad and login to facebook.  I see that a friend of mine has put up a video of some sad-sack Ukrainian politician being thrown into a bin by an angry mob.  Vitaly Zhuravsky used to be in the government of former President Victor Yanukovich, but now has been relegated to entertaining people on social media.  As we all know, after Yanukovich was also binned by the mob, sparking the civil war in Crimea and East Donetsk.  A referendum of sorts was used to justify the secession of Crimea; the people of East Donetsk have not been so lucky and Europe (if we can call it that – isn’t that  the nub of it all?) has seen the worst conflict since Kosovo.  Of course, it hasn’t been just Ukrainians (or whatever they want to be called) that have borne the brunt of such violence, as the downing of a Malaysian airliner carrying, amongst other innocents, dozens of Dutch schoolchildren sadly shows.  One hundred years after the start of the Great War, one wonders if people learn anything from history.

Ballots

1645: I pick Dashiell up from nursery a little early so I can go vote.  I try to explain to him what an election is and am tickled when he decides that he would like to vote Yes.  We have a typically surreal moment along the bike path that starts when Dash asks me about when we’ll go on a boat again I mishear him and start droning on about the electoral system.  Vote and boat: it’s an honest mistake.  We roll up to the primary school, passing half a dozen Yes supporters and a lonely, slightly creepy No supporter (it’s not his fault he looks like Dave Lee Travis).  After a quick pit stop for Dash – no sense introducing him to democracy with a full bladder – I mark the box next to Yes and let Dash put the ballot into the box for me.  As we leave I feel elated at participating with my son in the most important vote in the history of Scotland.  No one has been shot or been thrown into any bins.  And whatever the result, I think we can all feel proud for that.

5 Questions about Aye or Naw

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It’s less than a week until the referendum and the coverage has been heavier than the mascara on a Miss Georgia contestant.  Recently, it’s occurred to me, after listening to argument after argument for aye or naw that, when you boil it down, 5 questions are determining most people’s decisions.  Here they are:

1) Optimist or pessimist?

Most of Better Together’s approach has been to warn that independence will indubitably lead to disaster: no currency; no defence force; no EU; no economy; no hope.  In contrast, the Yes campaign emphasises the positives: social democracy; becoming the new Norway  (which is actually a place in Saskatchewan – be careful what you wish for); reducing inequality; safeguarding the NHS; renewable energy; the national team reaching the World Cup; happy times.  Which basically equates to whether you are a glass-full or glass empty person.  Now while I do think this explains quite a bit, what people should probably also focus on is whether an independent Scotland would given them more of a voice to change things for the better.  And I think it would.  Voting no is basically glumly accepting that things will always be pretty much the way they have always been.  Which might be true, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make things better.  Even if our currency will have to be the bitcoin.

2) Voting for yourself or voting for your country?

A little while ago I had an interesting chat with another Canadian working in a Scottish university about the referendum.  I was hoping to have an engaging conversation about Quebec, 1995 and the notwithstanding clause (google it), but he quickly cut things off by saying that he would be voting no because he was scared about what would happen to the research council funding he currently enjoyed.  Now, as someone starting an AHRC project in a few weeks, perhaps I should be thinking such things myself, but, instead, I found myself just getting annoyed (read previous post for more on why).  Why the hell should some academic in a cushy post (let’s face it, fellow ivory tower residents, it’s not as if we’re dinner ladies) base his vote on whether he has a super great wonderful brilliant career or merely a super great one?  And that’s assuming that Scotland, which ran successful universities long before the Act of Union, couldn’t match or do better than the current UK system.  When I cheekily suggested that he should then vote Yes to avoid another referendum on the UK’s EU membership (which the Tories have promised if they win a majority in a sleazy attempt to win UKIP voters), as it could jeopardise Horizon 2020 funding, he simply shrugged and said that he wasn’t currently funded by them.

I had to hand it to him.  He was honest.  And I’ve got to be honest: one of the reasons I’m voting Yes is because an independent Scotland would have a more accommodating immigration policy which would welcome me and my family a bit more than the UK system; after living here for over eight years, I still don’t have leave to remain and I just spent £2500 extending my visa.  But, for the most part, I will probably pay more taxes, earn a little less and have a smaller pension pot in an independent Scotland.  I might miss out on my beloved BBC, lose track of what’s going on with the England and Wales cricket team and be stuck changing my currency when I head down to Devon for a holiday.  But that would be worth it if the Glasgow effect could become a thing of the past, if Scotland could become a renewable giant and if the value placed on education remained secure.  I’m not really voting for myself or even for my kids; I’m voting for my country.

3) Socialist by name or socialist by nature?

Although the first SNP MSP I ever met, and the only one I know personally, is a fiscal conservative, for the most part the SNP, much like the PQ in Quebec, is a left-leaning party and no bones about it.  And Scotland, again like Quebec, has tended towards the left more so than the rest of the UK.  But how far would they go to the left in an independent Scotland?  Would they actually go whole hog socialist? And would people want that?  This is a question that divides people for a reason most don’t acknowledge: many so-called socialists couldn’t actually cope with socialism.  This first occurred to me when I learned that a famous pair of Canadian socialists lived in a huge house in Rosedale, the most exclusive neighbourhood in Toronto, but it’s been reinforced in me ever since.  The recent university union dispute did little to change my mind, that’s for certain.

As for myself, I realised, somewhat grudgingly, that I am essentially a socialist when I decided that I would be content living in a country where I, having spent 10 years in higher education, made about the same amount of money as a bin man. This isn’t just because I’m a masochist.  Over ten years ago I published a short article entitled ‘Citizenship or Consumerism’, which basically argued that it was possible for people to achieve status and security by being a good citizen, rather than draping oneself with consumables.  I still believe this is true, but it is damn hard when you’re living in an inegalitarian system.  For me, a Yes vote is a step towards a viable socialism, much like what is seen in Scandinavia.  It might not be perfect for everyone, but I’d be happy in such a place.  And, I believe thousands of left-leaning, English speakers whose ancestors left Britain in centuries past for a better life, would be, too.

4) Brit or Scot?

Or do the last 300 years count more than the previous 3000?  For whatever reason, when I moved to Scotland I felt at home again.  Maybe the foot of snow on the ground or the fact it was dark at 4pm had something to do with it, but I suspect it was something more.  It’s probably because I’m Canadian, and Scotland has had far more of an impact on Canada than England.  You just have to compare place names in Canada (anywhere, not just Nova Scotia) with the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I adored Devon, but it always felt somewhat exotic and foreign to me.  Or perhaps it was more that some of the people made me feel like I was exotic and foreign – and not always in a good way.  Scotland has always felt familiar and Scots, as far as I can tell, feel pretty much the same about me.

As for Britishness, it’s more difficult to understand.  I can see how during the two world wars feeling British was bloody important (not so much in recent conflicts, of course, which Scots haven’t supported).  But perhaps that sense of Britishness was borne more out of necessity than reality.  Britishness can be too tied up in fairly recent imperial, colonial legacies for many people, including many Scots.  In post-colonialism, Britishness is more identifiable in institutions, such as the NHS and the BBC, than in any cultural, social, economic or political traditions.  In contrast, Scottishness, Walter Scott’s tartan gloss notwithstanding, is more identifiable with a particular way of looking at and living in the world and modelling society.

There’s also what the English think of Scotland leaving.  Ed Byrne joked on Mock the Week recently that if the referendum was like a trial separation for a marriage, the English were essentially saying ‘Good riddance, you’ll never make it on your own!’, rather than ‘Come on, honey, we can make it work!’  Things couldn’t have been more different towards the end of the 1995 referendum campaign, when it looked like Quebec was leaving.  Thousands of Canadians traveled to Quebec basically to pledge their love for the disgruntled, estranged province, rallying in Montreal under a Canadian flag the size of a football pitch.  And rightly so. There is simply no Canada without Quebec.  Each province has a sense of identity, more than non-Canadians realise, but Canada comes first and the essence of that is the marriage of convenience between French and English that has, among other things, kept Canada from becoming the 51st state.  For the English, Scotland doesn’t matter in quite the same way and that basically means that Britain doesn’t matter quite so much either.

5)  Europhile or Europhobe?

Well, this one is a little bit of a fudge, since if there is one thing Yes and No voters can agree on, it is that being in the EU is a pretty good thing.  Those who think otherwise should try to look past the economic troubles of recent years and compare the current state of affairs to what was going on 70 years ago in Europe.  But, on the day that Nigel Farage came to Scotland to boost the Yes campaign (inadvertently – or not), it’s worth mentioning that a Yes vote, red tape notwithstanding, is a very palpable vote for Europe and what it stands for both politically and socially.  It is a vote for independence that also affirms that Scots are willing to cede some of their independence for the greater good of the EU. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

***

Although a very simple question is being posed on the 18th of September, there are no right or wrong answers.  Each person will have their own reasons for voting and should be allowed to have them.  But people should also be honest about why there are voting the way they are and people outside of Scotland should take the time to understand these reasons, too.  As an ardent federalist in the Canadian context, I would be distraught if Quebec left Canada.  But, after listening to a middle-aged man in Quebec City describe why, 10 years after the last referendum, he still wanted Quebec to be its own country, I had to empathise with his reasons.  I didn’t want it to happen, but I would understand if it did.