I watched with some sense of horror the onslaught of scare stories that were thrown at the Scots during our independence referendum in 2014. A similar pattern followed in the run up to the EU referendum last year.
It intrigues me that a huge proportion of the fear-mongering in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum was based around the Scottish economy. The underlying text was based around questioning whether an independent Scotland would be able to survive financially on our own without the broad shoulders of the UK to sustain us. Throughout the 2 years, ever more hysterical stories assured us we would be bankrupt, and worse off than *insert nearly bankrupt country’s name here*, while others bandied figures around that ‘proved’ these stories were unfounded. Then there was always another set of figures that could be produced to ‘prove’ exactly the opposite. And so fruitless conversations went on, in the real world and online, endlessly repeating an “I’m right, you’re wrong!” conversation across the country. I rather doubt many people were persuaded to change their minds based on the actual numbers. What appears to have influenced many people is that the sense of fear induced pushed them into deciding it wasn’t worth risking their pension/job/savings/health service/EU membership/ etc etc.
Of course it’s impossible for anyone to be certain how Scotland would fare financially after independence, because there would be so many unknowns ahead. But it does, with the benefit of hindsight, seem that many of the things we were told would go wrong if we chose independence, have happened anyway since we chose to stay a part of the UK.
So why were 45% of voters willing to take the risk of making such a fundamental change for Scotland? There’s a school of thought that says our willingness to take risks is based on our sense of being in control of the outcomes – the more control we feel we have, the more likely we are to take that risk. Why did so may people feel they had little control? The Scottish government is already working at consulting on many aspects of how the country is run. In Scotland we have proportional representation in our Holyrood and local elections, helping to make every vote count.
Perhaps there is more we could be doing to help people feel more in control of change?
One other thing that as occurred to me is that Scotland appeared to spend most of the independence referendum struggling to refute each new fear story that came out. The narrative was written by the Better Together campaign, and it felt as if we didn’t really manage to take charge of the story.
Of course with independence there would be a period of re-adjustment, when things could be very difficult. Yet when you look at the wealth of resources in Scotland, and compare it to other similar-sized independent countries, it seems inconceivable that we wouldn’t be able to manage our economy outside of the UK.
Scotland made its decision on independence in 2014 and remains a part of the UK. It’s really since the Brexit vote that the difference between the UK state and the Scottish state have become clearer.
In the run up to the independence referendum, the media and the UK political system ensured that the ‘debate’ was focused on money and fear of the changes we might face in an independent Scotland. The new ‘story’ that the Yes movement was following wasn’t entirely clear. At that stage, it was probably different things to different people. But the people who were out campaigning for independence had an immensely positive ‘can do’ co-operative attitude. It struck me at the time that the yes movement had unleashed a real sense of a creative community that, given its diverse nature, was surprisingly effective. It was very open to anyone taking things off in their own way, and felt very inclusive to anyone who wanted to join in and take part. We saw all manner of Yes groups popping up around the country, often grouping around peoples’ interests as well as their local communities.
We experienced heady times – and the difference was very much about having a real hope that things could change and improve.
Many of Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches have focused on her aim to make inclusion a guiding principle for the Scottish government.
After the Brexit vote Scotland’s First Minister’s immediate response to the result included a very clear reassurance that immigrants are welcome and valued in Scotland, and that she would do whatever was within her power to ensure that the people who have chosen to make their homes here could stay. Since then the Scottish government has made efforts to work with the UK government, producing a detailed document outlining ideas that would allow for Scotland’s remain vote to be recognised, while still accepting the majority UK vote to leave the EU.
The Scottish government has mitigated many of the tory government’s harshest pieces of legislation, which to some extent has limited the awful effects of austerity on the poorest members of our communities. They have, after extensive consultation, started creating a Scottish benefits system that won’t include sanctions, and that is designed to have respect for the claimant at its core. They’re investigating a Universal Basic Income.
The UK’s right wing tory government has made it clear that we’re heading for a hard Brexit. They refused to offer any public reassurances to people from abroad who were living in the UK about the security of their home amongst us. They have continued to deport valued members of our society under new legislation that requires people to earn over a certain threshold to be allowed to stay. Despite the erosion of the tory majority in the snap election this year, they have continued to exclude other parties, and the devolved parliaments, from any meaningful role in the Brexit discussions, debate, and decisions.
The real Scottish independence referendum story has become clear with hindsight. We were deciding not so much whether we wanted to be independent or to stay in the UK, but whether we wanted our story to be about having confidence in the inclusive communities we live in, or about being fearful of the exclusive world outside our doors. Independence isn’t a decision based on our plans for the next 5 years, or even 20 years. It’s about choosing the route we want to pick through the coming centuries.
Scotland and the UK are offering us very different directions.
I hope if we’re able to put the independence question to Scotland again we’ll be clearer about an Independent Scotland’s story, so people have a real understanding of the decision they’re being asked to make.