Tomorrow morning, barring some last-minute epiphany or depiphany, I will walk into Southside community centre, Edinburgh, and vote Yes.
The good reasons for my reluctance – the positive ones – come from a structural dislike of borders. A feeling that in an ideal world, the tax base would as broad as possible, so that as much wealth as possible might be funnelled to alleviate as much poverty as possible. An affection, utopian perhaps, for internationalist comradeship that shudders at the creation – or the deepening – of lines in the sand.
The bad reasons for my reluctance – the negative ones – come from a dislike of the Yes campaign. This is partly my own fault for being the sort of person, in the sort of place, that votes Yes. Through social circles and social media I’ve had much more opportunity to get pissed off at the Yes campaign than the No campaign. It irritates me to see Yes voters complain that the ‘Media’ is anti-Yes, then cheer the Sunday Herald’s advocation of Yes as though only No media counts as ‘The Media’ of capital-M devilry. It irritates me that the Yes campaign puts itself across as a constant underdog, bullied and disenfranchised by the big nasty No campaign, when in fact Yes are a powerful (set of) organisation(s), with millions of pounds to spend on campaigning*, legitimate political claims, and huge numbers of supporters rallying around their – legitimate, mainstream – political aims. No doubt, though, if I was exposed to as much No campaigning as Yes, I would find just as much to irritate me. And, presumably, irritation at campaign tactics shouldn’t sway your vote in helping to decide the fate of a nation.
Maybe, though, there’s something in these reasons after all. A campaign is not extricable from its intentions. Ends do not decouple neatly from means.
The Yes campaigning (and I use the term vaguely, to cover official campaign statements by Salmond and Sturgeon, and also pub-conversation and Facebook rhetoric – and the odd semi-official stratum betwixt these strata, the independent campaign materials of Bella Caledonia and Wings Over Scotland) trades heavily on anti-Toryism. Well, fine. I’m staunchly anti-Tory myself. But there is sleight of tongue at play. The claim – used by Salmond in his televised debates with Alistair Darling, for example – is that Scotland is unfairly ruled over by Tory governments that they didn’t vote for.
This is only true if you already believe Scotland to be an independent country. Lots of constituencies, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, didn’t vote for the Conservatives. One Scottish constituency did. But in a representative democracy, you do not (necessarily) get the ruling party that you voted for, or your constituency voted for. You get the party which the most constituencies across the state voted in; the state here is the United Kingdom. Majority rule definitionally disenfranchises minority-party voters. The only solution for this is a one-party state, or for every single voter to declare independence from every other one. So, to claim that Ayrshire Central is different to Birmingham Edgbaston (both Labour seats) skips a logical premise – the premise that Scotland is ideologically un-United-Kingdom-ish. Which, if it is the case, means that it’s completely irrelevant whether Westminster has the same ruling party that an independent Scotland would vote for or not. The argument runs on confirmation bias, and is essentially hollow.
In less abstract terms, much Yes rhetoric is spurred by distaste of the ruling class. The desire to cast off the Westminster élite. This is good and noble, and factors into my own reasons to vote Yes. But there is a Holyrood élite waiting to step in. The SNP – and Scottish Labour, and the Scottish Conservatives – wear suits cut for politicians. Salmond has his own cronies – he’s pretty cosy with Rupert Murdoch – and will make more rapidly. He’s keen to cut corporation tax. To undermine the political élite, a Yes vote would be a powerful gesture, but it would only be the beginning of the beginning. The hard work would begin on Friday morning, before the rainsoaked confetti of flyers had been washed from the Canongate gutters.
A final reluctance. I am worried that my own vote is too motivated by the present UK government, and its current opposition. My own shift from reluctant-No to reluctant-Yes has been broadly under the assumptions that a Yes vote would-could-might-just mean a shift from neoliberal centre-right to centre-left social democracy as the dominant political mode of the country I have lived in for a decade. The SNP’s record on education – I have my undergraduate education to thank them for – and the Conservative Party’s record on social justice exemplify this. This is sound enough reasoning – but to return to the grand phrase ‘fate of a nation’, are those vaguer, abstract notions against lines-in-the-sand being overruled merely by the absence of a credible British Left? to quote an email I sent my friend Siôn back in May:
It seems strange and a little sad to vote on as long-term a notion as separation of nation states based on the political colours of the current ruling parties, but what else can you go on? Would a determined (Old) Labour resurgence in England make me less likely to vote for Independence? Possibly. Seems a bit daft, doesn’t it?
But enough of reluctance.
The good reasons for my Yes vote are the positive, naive, utopian ones. Internationalism does not have to run contrary to localism, regionalism, belief that it is structurally superior to have a small enough electorate that they can genuinely pressurise their leaders. Belief that moving the centres of power where decisions are made closer to the people is in fact an egalitarian move in structure, not just because of the current parties or people or groups of ideas that sit within that structure.
The culture of Scottishness is recognisably distinct from Englishness, though the overlaps are mighty. Though Scotland is not a colony, perhaps being one of the smaller members of a gang with one big member has stifled that culture’s political expression. I wish they’d go further, and promise republicanism along with independence, but maybe that’s one of those fights to have after, not before, the referendum. Local government with a civic awareness of the wider world is the best-case-scenario, and why not vote for that?
It is overwhelmingly likely that my vote will be in vain. Nate Silver, in calling 50/50 states correctly in the last US Presidential election, taught us to trust the polls, and as of today, six polls out of six show a victory for No. But – just as Tory governments doesn’t mean Scottish votes don’t count – there is a great deal to be said for a very narrow No victory. The closer Yes get to 50%, the more momentum we have to demand that the devolution promises now set in writing by the three biggest UK parties are kept. Devolution is not only desirable for the localist reasons outlined above, it is also widely acknowledged that if it were on the ballot paper, it would win comfortably. In that sense, the closer this referendum result is – and No are very, very likely to win, but by a much smaller margin than they would have imagined not long ago – the more democratic the result.
So I’m going to walk into the polling station tomorrow and vote Yes. With reservations, and in the full expectation that my vote (like every one I’ve cast since being old enough to vote) will be for the losing side. But I’ll be voting Yes for a’ that; and I hope that in retrospect I’ll be content with my reasoning.
* One of the most oddly under-reported stats of the whole thing is that £4.5m went straight into the Yes warchest from Euromillions lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir. The odds of winning Euromillions are 1 in 116,531,800. Assuming campaigns have some impact on the outcome of an election, then in the event of a Yes victory this could quite reasonably be regarded as the most ludicrously fortunate election victory in history.