My alert readers will have noted that, while I have been reblogging many excellent articles by other writers, it has been some time since I wrote anything of particular note of my own. There are several reasons for this which start with me being away from home for a couple of weeks attending the Commonwealth Games and then holidaying in the Highlands (and travelled 1100 miles) but the honest truth is that I was in a bit of a funk and feeling a bit despondent about the whole affair. Partly that is down to me as I have suffered from depression in the recent past and that colours my thinking from time to time but partly it has been down to interactions with people I know making me think, ‘what’s the use?’. One of my failings as a person is that I want to save the world and get upset with myself when reality shows me (again) that I can’t even ‘save’ all of those who are close to me.
This referendum has been a very interesting time for me and there have been some major ups and downs in relation to the people I have met. Sadly, I have learned things about friends and family which have disappointed and upset me and possibly changed the way I view certain people for ever. I know a lot of very smart people and some of them are highly educated too (PhDs and the like) but for some reason most of the people I know are pretty conservative in their thinking while I am very, very not (and some are even Conservative, though I try not to hold that against them too much). Over the years I guess I have hidden that side of me and learned to get along well with those of a narrower (in my view) frame of mind and, because it comes easily to me, I see the good in such people and like them and become friends with them. What has happened during the campaign is that I am now encountering people, lots of people, who think more like I do and I am loving it! For decades I have felt pretty much like a lone voice in the wilderness of neo-liberal thinking ideology and I guess I had accepted in some way that this was just the way things were. Now I am seeing that I am not alone and never have been. I’ve just not been encountering these people before and clearly need to hang out in better bars or something (actually, it’s probably the rougher bars where I need to be!). But what this has also done is to put my friends (not all of them, just a crucial few) views into stark contrast with something better.
The idea of ‘respect’ has come up from time to time. As in ‘I want you to respect my view that Britain is not broken and we are Better Together’. Maybe this says something bad about my character, but I just can’t respect that view one tiny little bit. I can, and do, accept and tolerate it just as I accept and tolerate all sorts to nasties in society. People are indeed entitled to their own opinions and views on anything they like, but I do not and cannot respect many views that many people hold and nobody, the world over, really does when you get down to it.
Godwin’s Law is well and truly out of the window at this stage in the referendum so I am going to say something I have never said in an argument before; not all Nazis were nasty people and not all aspects of National Socialism were bad. Many Nazis were loving family men, others loved animals and cared for nature but they all supported an ideology and a regime that was as bad as any the world has seen. So it isn’t really about the good in people who support bad ideals, but the fact that, at the end of the day, they support ideals and systems that cause suffering and hardship for others. They may be ignorant of those facts but there is a difference between genuine ignorance, wilful ignorance and stupidity and the sort of smart, educated people I am writing about, are not stupid. And if they are ignorant of the effects of UK government policies then they are wilfully ignorant because there really is no excuse for not knowing what is going on here in the UK. So clever people are asking me to respect their views which support an ideology which makes millions in the UK suffer? So not going to happen.
I can no more respect the view that we are better together than I respect the view of the Flat Earth Society members. Their facts and logic do not stack up one little bit so they get no respect from me for holding such views. Where BT are concerned my feelings are the same; the ideology behind the claim ‘Better Together’ is that wealth is good and deprivation is the price worth paying for wealth generation (or rather, it is a price it is worth others paying for my wealth generation). It is an ideology that says that food banks are simply sign of the times and make the UK a normal European country (i.e. normal = right). It is an ideology which says that the UK’s capital city is the single most important place in the entire country and the purpose of all the areas which are not London is to support London. It is an ideology that says Scotland is a region of the UK and not a country in its own right. It is an ideology which says that the few who are rich and powerful are more important than the many who are not. And it is an ideology that says ‘I’m alright Jack, I don’t really give a flying F about you’.
Now, the people I know who believe in BT are not nasty, horrible people, Conservatives or not. Many of them give to charity in large amounts of time and/or money, they would help those in distress if the encountered them (some go out of their way to encounter people in distress to help them) and they would do their utmost to avoid hurting others they encounter. They are indeed the epitome of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and this is why I like them. But all of them appear to have two things in common; a certain degree of only being able to view the world through their own filter of ‘this is how I think people should lead their lives’ and a level of fear of the future, which I fail to understand as many of them are far physically braver than I am or have overcome greater hurdles in life than I think I have ever faced. [I haven’t asked them if they are scared of spiders, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.]
I have personally encountered the whole gamut of pro-Union phraseology from ‘I’m a Proud Scot but’ to ‘I hate/don’t trust Salmond’ with dollops of the ‘glory of the Empire’ and ‘standing united against the Nazis’ (clearly forgetting that as a part-New Zealander a part of my heritage is also the ANZACs standing beside the British during those terrible years). These are not catch phrases used as campaign material by the Yes side, but actual beliefs espoused by people I know.
I’ve had highly intelligent oil professionals state that the Yes side has a very weak argument because some idiot Yes supporters (one can reasonably assume) vandalised some ‘No Thanks’ banners along the Dee but apparently fail to take on board the daubing of excrement on a Yes shop in Edinburgh and what that must, surely by the same logic, indicate about BT. I’ve encountered lawyers who dismiss the whole concept of independence on the basis that a couple of paragraphs in Scotland’s Future are not legally correct (in their opinion). I’ve had ex-soldiers who should have a clue argue that Russia, North Korea or ISIS will invade Scotland if we are not protected by the might of the UK’s armed forces and Trident. I’ve had university researchers claim that their funding will dry up in the event of a Yes vote, even though that same person wants to go to England or possible the USA to further their career. I’ve had people whose day job involves the gathering of evidence and constructing provable cases for court completely fail to apply anywhere near the same level of scrutiny to the information that is being fed to them via the media. I have had these police officers, academics and oil industry insiders accepting the word of the mainstream media with regards to BT’s claims despite, on other occasions, these same individuals being highly critical of the same media for publishing highly inaccurate stories about their field of expertise. I’ve had people tell me they are judging the quality of the Yes campaign from the nasty comments that a few idiots have made on Twitter or Facebook but when I ask them what comments they have personally read it generally comes down to media reports and ‘everybody knows’. I mean, have you read Twitter recently?
These are people who I know are intelligent and well educated and yet they are more than willing to a) fall for and/or, b) propagate the heavily biased propaganda – sorry, news – we are fed in the media without, it appears, really stopping to think critically about it. And they want me to ‘respect’ their views. Sadly, I don’t even know if I can respect them as individuals any more, which is not good news for our ongoing friendships.
I find it strange that these people who think we need to get tough with the unemployed to stop them scrounging get all upset when I, who espouses being as gentle as possible while as tough as necessary, strongly challenge their views and tell them that I think tackling poverty throughout society is more important than their particular concerns about their futures as they are already in work and have qualifications and experience to draw on, things our most vulnerable usually lack. These people know I have been on the front line of dealing with people in the worst circumstances; dealing with crime, poverty and drug addiction were once my daily bread (and now I study health science) but it appears to be easier to believe the political ideology of the political parties and media rather than listen to the ideas of people who have actually been there. (Not that I have all the answers you understand, just an appreciation from cold hard experience that the current ‘answers’ don’t work so we need to try something different, not simply more of the same.)
I find it strange that some of the people I know are feel defensive and oppressed by the very fact we are having a referendum or that people want to speak to them about it. They appear to think it is all the SNP’s fault and the agenda of a few is being pushed onto the many. Fact check: Scotland is having this referendum now because a democratic majority of people in Scotland voted to put the SNP into government knowing that the SNP were committed to having this referendum. The people of Scotland asked for this referendum. Suck it up. Devo max is not on the ballot paper because Westminster politicians wouldn’t agree to it despite the SNP wanting it there. Suck that up to.
Some have voiced or written their opinion that they don’t like other people ‘forcing’ their opinion on them. Having been ‘forced’ to listen to or read their opinion I am struggling to find the logic in that, but never mind. Their right to keep their views to themselves does not over-ride the rights of anyone else who wishes to speak out on the subject. Personally speaking, my view is hardening into the position that if you have an IQ higher than room temperature and are NOT taking an interest in this massive constitutional issue (the biggest any of us are ever likely to face in our lifetime) then you are a cretin. Or more accurately, if you take no interest and insist on voting No because that means things will stay as they are, you are most certainly a cretin. If you genuinely take no interest and have no intention of voting, then fair enough (though please don’t complain about anything political ever again) but if you don’t get informed and don’t engage with the argument but insist on voting No then a cretin you are for sure.
Anyway, that is why I have been a bit scunnered recently. [I just love the fact that MS Word spellchecker recognises ‘scunnered’!] It has got to the point now that I don’t really want to discuss the referendum with anyone I know in case I learn something about them which changes the way I view them from here on. But thankfully I still love to engage in conversations with complete strangers…
I’ve not been writing and I’ve not been out canvassing much either but on Thursday I went out with Yes Aberdeen in Bucksburn and again on Saturday morning around Pittodrie.
I’m not a great fan of canvassing (I do my best work chatting to people at a stall rather than going door to door) but I think it is important work so I get out and do it and while the results I gathered on Saturday were not outstanding [quote of the morning from one (scared) old man, ‘The trouble with nationalists is that you can’t get rid of them. If you try they go around killing people’. Now either I, with my ‘Yes’ baseball cap on was not a nationalist in his eyes or I am not a scary one because surely if you thought you were in the presence of a scary nationalist who might kill people, you would back away and not say anything to antagonise them?] it made me fired up enough to go and pay a visit to the stall Yes Aberdeen had set up at Asda Beach (at their invitation – Better Together are there next weekend for sake of balance and I think we and they are back for a day apiece the following weekend too). I only intended staying for an hour or so but in the end I was there for nearer five. And then I went back for eleven straight hours on Sunday (we tried to leave at 6pm but people kept coming and we then aimed for 8pm and still they came! We could have been there all night if I had the stamina).
So what took me from scunnered to doing eighteen hours of campaigning in two days? The answer is, the people of Aberdeen that I got to interact with. Not my fellow campaigners (though I thoroughly enjoyed their company too) but the busy people buying their groceries who stopped and talked to us, shopping bags in hand and children in tow. Of course we only spoke to a fraction of the thousands who went through that particular store on Saturday and Sunday but we gathered nearly 500 new signatures for the Declaration (please sign it online if you haven’t already done so – over a million signatures and counting, though most of the people I know who are voting Yes haven’t signed it) and handed out hundreds more leaflets, car stickers and window posters. We had debates with No voters (my last one lasted started at 8pm and went on for 45 minutes. This couple started as definite Nos with hard faces and left, smiling, saying that we had given them a lot to think about and were now Undecided – the poor guy was holding up his shopping bags the entire time and it is a wonder he didn’t leave bits of his fingers behind but he wanted to stay and ask questions, so he did) and lots of discussions with Undecideds.
I handed out over 100 of my own Key Facts leaflets along with stuff from Yes Scotland, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence (and the Indy Quines) and the Radical Independence Campaign. We ran out of badges and stickers several times over (some of the campaigners donating their own to people who asked) and Yes saltires are like hen’s teeth throughout Scotland (I gave two of mine away despite swearing I wouldn’t – I’m left with one and a spare now).
I can’t think of a time I have smiled so much from the shear positivity of the whole experience. The people of Aberdeen, who I generally consider a little bit taciturn and unwilling to engage in conversation compared to the Glaswegians or Highlanders I have previously lived amongst, were lining up to talk to us, whether they were Yes voters or Undecided. The Yes voters were queuing to sign the Declaration without prompting and those, who clearly were in a rush, took time to sign it if we asked them to. There were a few (really not many at all) belligerent Nos – my favourite was the woman who said that if Scotland was in the EU it wouldn’t be independent but replied ‘that’s not the point’ when I asked her if she considered the UK independent at the moment – and some who started out with really tough questions, demanding answers and guarantees who we managed to get to leave with a smile on their face and (I hope) some doubt in their minds (and best of all, some pointers about where they could go and get some of the information they were clearly seeking). So people want to engage, people are looking for information and now that it is coming down to the wire people are waking up and saying ‘I need to know more about this and I am not satisfied with what I have been told in the media to date’.
My observations of the people I saw and spoke to was that Yes people were generally more likely to be smiling and up-beat (probably not worried about spiders either). Not just with us on the stall but in general, while the people who walked by telling is they were voting No were, on the whole, far less inclined to look happy (and that was before they had set eyes on us). The older No voters in particular looked grim and worn down and some, I would say, looked down-right scared at our presence because of what we represent. Bear that in mind when dealing with people who are saying they will vote No; many of them are scared and scared people lash out at everything around them. Engage them, speak to them nicely and answer their questions but, above all, smile at them! Seek to instil doubt in their minds about what they believe and give them access to information. Don’t necessarily try and persuade them over to Yes right there and then. And accept that we will not win everybody over, we will not get 100% behind Yes so accept that some will walk away still convinced we are wrong and they are right. But get them walking away from us with a smile on their face and we will have done a good thing. At least, that is the way I like to think about it.
On Saturday morning I was hopeful but not confident that Yes will win this. By Saturday evening I was convinced that we will and in big style! If I can feel that in Aberdeen, not exactly the bastion of Yes friendly opinions, then I think Scotland as a whole has a lot to be confident about. The tide has turned, the momentum is gathering and the No campaign appear to have nothing left other than to reiterate the tired old lies which have been debunked time and time and time again.
We live in interesting times, people. There are very few times in history where people are able to look at themselves and say ‘I am historically important simply by being here today’ but that is exactly what each and every voter in Scotland will be on the 18th September. Usually future generations get to look back and say ’those people were historically significant’ , just as we can look back at the generation which fought WWII, those who campaigned for women’s suffrage or those who abolished slavery, but right here and now, for the first time ever, the people of Scotland will get to make a decision about their lives and their futures in a way that very few people throughout the entire course of human history have ever, or will ever, get to make. We are historical so let’s not bottle it on the day. Let’s not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Let’s not be too feart to risk grasping the future with both hands and owning it!
Vote Yes (pretty, pretty please)!