Katie argues that, even with all the rational uncertainties and doubts about Scottish independence, a ‘Yes’ vote appeals to the heart and has become a symbol of Scottish identity and optimism about the country’s future. This piece is in response to Fred Spring’s piece titled “The End of the UK? – Scotland, Independence and the Disunited Kingdom” published on September 8th 2014.
I have been most fascinated, in the run-up to the referendum, about the way that the battlefronts of the campaign have shifted, both at the level of national discourse, and in my own decision-making process.
I was born and raised in the Scottish Highlands by parents who were born and raised in England. My primary national identity has always been ‘British’, and I have been uncomfortable to have been branded as either ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’. You might well think that this fact would place me firmly in the ‘No’ camp. And up until a few weeks ago it did. When asked my views I would parrot the standard ‘head’ arguments: Together we are more than the sum of our parts, a ‘Yes’ vote is a vote for uncertainty as no-one knows what an independent Scotland would look like with key issues such as currency and EU membership being unresolved.
My certainty was premised on an only vaguely examined belief that Scottish independence was at best a defensive move, and at worst an attempt to formalize the somewhat petulant insistence that Scotland is bored of being patronized and treated like a junior partner by its southern neighbors. In addition the view that Scotland wants to throw off the yoke of oppression by an England that is stereotyped by the current ruling cohort of braying Old Etonians. And these ‘heart’ arguments didn’t feel the building blocks of a strong, self-confident independent state.
Somehow over the past few weeks my reasoning has shifted. It’s not that the ‘head’ arguments have lost ground, but that the ‘heart’ arguments have gained it. Somehow, through the myriad articles that I’ve sifted through and the endless mostly rather sterile debates, a ‘Yes’ vote has come to seem like a vote for hope, rather than a snarl of childishness. And a ‘No’ vote has become a somewhat passive acceptance of a sterile status quo, rather than an economic no-brainer. What it means to me to be Scottish has shifted from a definition predicated on not-being-English to something more positive and internally determined. It has begun to occur to me that an assertion of independence could be the announcement that not only does Scotland think that it can do better than the political apathy and weary resignation to poverty and inequality that characterize the modern day UK, but that they are prepared to stand up and try to do something about it.
What does this mean for my vote on the 18th? I don’t know yet. My altered understanding of the underpinnings of the conversation has hugely enhanced my respect for the ‘Yes’ campaign, and for ‘Yes’ voters. It hasn’t made me feel more Scottish, but it has made me want to. The question for me therefore becomes increasingly complex. Can ideology – a hope that a fresh start can be used to build something better – outweigh the uncertainty and the likelihood of economic turmoil? This is something I just can’t decide how I feel about; I, in common with many of my generation, associate activity and ideology with naivety and hopeless impracticality. And yet there is something very attractive about it.
Relatedly, how much would I be prepared to put my money where my mouth is? For me, voting ‘Yes’ would bring with it the responsibility to play an active part in creating the Scotland that I would be voting for, which would mean getting off the fence and embracing being Scottish. Which is both terrifying and hugely exciting.
If I were to vote today I’d still be a ‘No’ voter. But on some level I’d be slightly ashamed of myself. A large part of me hopes that over the next week or so Scotland will be able to project a practical, positive image of what it would be like as an independent polity.
(For anyone wanting to read more about identity issues in the Scotland I highly recommend http://www.newsweek.com/scottish-referendum-two-friends-journey-heart-independence-debate-268158, which gets to the heart of the issue and expresses much of what has been going through my head better than I could ever hope to.)
By Katie Parry who is currently studying for the Masters in Public Adminstration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has spent the last 3 years working on quantitative impact evaluation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has a special interest in the governance and education sectors