Today my ballot paper arrived for the Scottish Referendum. It felt a special day. Tomorrow I’ll vote Yes to Scottish Independence and send it off. I’m voting by post because on the 18th September when the Referendum actually takes place I’ll be on the Isle of Harris climbing Clisham with a group from the Mountain Festival. Being on a Scottish mountain that day somehow seems appropriate.
Voting in this Referendum feels like one of the most significant political choices I’ve ever had. A Yes vote really could change things, and not just for Scotland. I’ve never had great expectations when voting in elections – general, Scottish or local – and have often voted for what seemed the least bad option. This vote feels different.
So why am I voting Yes, something I knew I would do as soon as a referendum was first mooted? I’m not from Scotland, I’m from England, but I’ve lived in Scotland for 25 years and it’s home now. I feel I belong here. I’m not a nationalist though. I’ve always liked the address John Muir wrote in his notebook – “John Muir, Earth-planet, Universe”. I’m voting Yes because, whilst internationalist in outlook, I also think decision-making and political power should be as close to people as possible. My political views are decentralist, democratic, egalitarian, libertarian. The standard straight-line left-right spectrum is too narrow to express this. One of the best methods I’ve seen for doing so is The Political Compass, which has two axes - authoritarian/libertarian and left/right. I’m down in the bottom left corner – libertarian and left. How this political position relates to the Scottish Referendum and what it entails has been expressed well by Andy Wightman in this blog post.
I don’t see narrow, separatist nationalism as being part of the Yes campaign – I would be worried if it was - but I do see it growing in Westminster and England with the rise of UKIP and the move towards anti-European and anti-immigrant positions in the other parties. I want to be part of a country that looks out to the world and wants to be part of it not one that wants to close the doors and shut the world out.
I think a Yes vote could open the way to a different sort of politics, one that is more participatory and more involving. The many strands of the Yes Campaign – despite what the mass media tends to say it’s far more than the SNP and Alex Salmond – have encouraged these thoughts as there has been a great upwelling of ideas, a great feeling of community. Whether the vote is Yes or No, whether politics returns to ‘normal’ or not, I can’t imagine this energy and involvement simply disappearing. And even if there is no big realignment after a Yes vote and Scottish politics continues its party political way changing things will be easier and power will be closer than in the UK, where Scots only make up a small percentage of the population. I think too that the Scottish electoral system is already more democratic than that of the UK. No House of Lords and a form of proportional representation ensures that.
Some, I know, will say that I’m being idealistic, that it’s safest to stick with the status quo and not take any risks. Idealism is good is my reply. Without ideals how would any progress be made? And the status quo is a mirage. Whatever happens things will change. It’s a question of how much control we want over the changes and how much we’re happy to leave them in other hands. I like being independent. I want my country to be independent. As to risk, well I’d never have undertaken all my outdoor adventures if I was averse to risk. I’d probably not have done them without being idealistic either. Also, is independence any more risky than staying in the Union? I don't think it is. Having less control over the future is hardly a safe option.
I think a Yes vote will have much wider repercussions too. Scotland won’t just exit the UK, leaving the rest to continue as usual. Others in the UK will look at the centralisation of power and wealth in the London and wonder if they too can break away. Declining numbers of votes at elections shows disillusion with a degenerating and corrupt over-centralised and over-big system. Scottish independence could be the trigger to change this for the benefit of all in the UK or at least set an example for others to try and follow.
This is a time of optimism and the potential for positive change. I hope enough of us vote Yes to make it happen.