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#indyref, power and dancing stars

The Scottish referendum introduced much needed chaos and taught people to think about power and politics. We need to bring its spirit to all of the UK.

Alen Toplišek
20 October 2014
'Stars Over the Cuillins' - Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland

"One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." - Friedrich Nietzsche

I was thinking of how best to explain my favourable position towards the Yes vote during the Scottish referendum campaign to my colleagues at the university and my Anglo-American flatmates. After having given the same reasons that were already stated time and time again in the media, ranging from the different possibilities on the settlement of the currency issue, EU membership and the North Sea oil reserves, the above quote by Friedrich Nietzsche came to mind. I thought to myself, this perfectly illustrates how I feel about it and what I think the British politics desperately needs: embracing the chaos of the unexpected and giving a chance to the possibility of becoming a dancing star (a happy and more equal society, in other words).

Most probably due to the strong Enlightenment legacy and post-Victorian ethics, people in Britain are especially prone to rationalism and scientism, more so than to, let’s say, emotionality. (I am giving this, perhaps over-generalizing, observation as an outsider, as a continentalist who has spent the last three years of his life in Britain.) When the latter overpowers the first at a critical moment, people are more daringly open to new possibilities and less calculating when faced with risk. The Scottish independence referendum was one such key moment where I was hoping that people would have been more willing to take this leap of faith, especially those who didn’t stand losing much. All that repetitive foreboding talk about “plunging into uncertainty” and “not being worth the risk” from Alistair Darling was drawing upon exactly that: the anticipated lack of audacity. When I asked my English flatmate about the surge of the Yes vote support in the infamous YouGov poll just two weeks before the referendum, he quickly brushed off my apparent excitement at the news: “When people actually go to the polls, they will think… hard before they cast their ballot”.

During the campaign, J. K. Rowling tweeted fervently: “Big day in Scotland tomorrow #indyref. My head says no and my heart shouts it…”. When I first read it, I thought she was saying, my head says no and my heart shouts yes. Perhaps those would be her words in the wizardry world of Hogwarts, but in the pragmatic and cold-blooded world of numbers and reasonability, it is easier to say what is expected of you. Yet, as John Harris has discovered in his short documentary for the Guardian, the possibility of the new is fueling the ordinary people of Scotland to continue with their efforts for a different future even after the referendum. They have ingeniously adopted the name “the 45” (percent) which will hopefully make them even stronger in influencing the more institutionalized machinery of the established parties, such as the still surging SNP and the decimated Scottish Labour.

The 45 percent slogan brings back to memory the 99 percent line used during the excitement of the Occupy movements around the world. Those were the heydays of protest fervour and coming winds of change… only that they never came. What is different today perhaps, and this is probably the reason for the relative failure of the Occupy in bringing immediate socio-political change, is that the 45 percent movement is not shying away from the system of established politics. They cooperate with and within it, allthewhile keeping their activities autonomous and independent. This may even lead to the establishment of a new party force on the Scottish political scene, who knows? But what is even more important is that the word power is not seen as something dirty anymore, nor the practice of politics. What needs to happen next is for such empowerment to spring up in other parts of the UK, especially at a time when the three main parliamentary parties are weighing the pros and cons of different abstract technicalities in the discussion of promised constitutional changes, which would also address the given “vow” in the Scottish referendum campaign.

The same way that the Scottish political body was reinvigorated in the last weeks, a similar political re-engagement would be more than welcome in the more southern ends of the Kingdom. If the three main party leaders won’t be ready to take this risk and give a substantial say to the British people on the changes to their political system, their credibility will further diminish as patience with Westminster politics is wearing thin. If the recent party conferences are anything to go by, it doesn’t look very promising. More austerity and cuts to the provision of public services will only further strike the poor youth and the working class, as it has been shown in the latest report The Damage, commissioned by the biggest public sector union Unison. 

It is not only the front between ordinary people and those who have been elected to represent them that is open in this ongoing struggle for social justice. There is another one entrenched between the more affluent parts of the country, especially London, and the many more impoverished areas whose voices are barely represented at the top level of politics. The comfortable complacency of the former can only be disturbed by the more numerous group of the latter. When such moment will come, remains to be seen. For Scots it was the independence referendum. For the rest of the UK it will be...

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