The referendum has provided a platform for politicians, activists, public figures and the entire public, to reflect upon our politics and what we want from the society we live in. Regardless of which side you fall on in this debate, that can be no bad thing. But there is a responsibility attached to it, there is a duty for this debate to be accurate and if we are talking about a brighter future whether in the United Kingdom or a separated Scotland, then we need to have a debate worthy of that.
There have been countless times now where I have been on panels debating, or in the audience listening to, people on both sides of the independence debate and I find myself wondering; imagine if we had put this effort and this amount of resource into having a national debate on human rights; on women’s rights, accessible education, international development or climate justice? We may think we are doing that by producing arguments about a “better or fairer Scotland”, but we’re not. There has been no point where I have been in a debate and I have truly believed that any of these issues are being given the oxygen they deserve. That’s because we are debating a constitution, we are not fully debating our moral responsibilities and our position on global social justice issues.
I will be voting no on September 18th, and far too often it has been assumed that by doing so I agree with the status quo. As someone who has constantly campaigned on equality and social justice issues, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply want to create a better United Kingdom, with Scotland in it. I want to create a better society for all 60 million people that reside in the UK, and as a campaigner, currently I have the opportunity to influence a Scottish Parliament on the many, significant, devolved issues which directly impact the people of Scotland, and I have the platform to lobby and influence the UK Government. Lobbying that has created change at both levels. Why would I want to diminish the influence I, and other activists can have, in creating a better society for all?
Let’s think about where this debate is currently. Too often I have heard arguments that are not only inaccurate, but for a campaigner, come dangerously close to creating complacency about the just society I believe people across the UK have the right to.
One argument is that “people in Scotland are different (read better or more left wing) than those in England). Not only does this create a “them and us” mentality, which is dangerous, it is also inaccurate. We repeatedly get told that we have a UK Government we didn’t ask for, but ask people in England or Wales and they will tell you the same; that is a reflection of democracy. We also create a disingenuous picture of what Scotland is; all five million of us do not think alike nor are we all on the same page politically. If we were to ask people of Scotland what their policies would be for a “better Scotland” we find a lot of disagreement. Indeed, if this was a debate on institutional inequality, we wouldn’t be so forth coming about this “difference” we seem to have created.
Another argument I have been forced to rebuttal is that of illegal wars and in particular the opinion that an independent Scotland would never have ventured into Iraq. I have lobbied, protested and marched against the war in Iraq and would continue to campaign against such an injustice, but the idea that this referendum is the answer to creating such a Scotland, is inaccurate. We cannot predict what the foreign affairs policies of an independent Scotland would be and arguing that we can, is over-simplistic.
There are many things I, and campaigners for an independent Scotland agree on, just not the limited end goal. The referendum is not about the society I, and countless others, fight for, it is about changing a power base from London to Edinburgh. It is not about a more accessible or democratic political process, it’s about its location. It’s about its fine print, not its delivery. It’s a fight for a change in constitutions, when what we need (and independence does not create) is a change in public and political attitude. We have a devolved parliament which has made some good (and some less good) decisions, but we haven’t used this devolution to its full capacity. There are so many of our devolved powers that we have failed to use to create a more just Scotland to date. We could be doing so much more about the women who report a domestic abuse incident every ten minutes, the highest rate of suicide in the UK and the reality that we still live in a Scotland where young people from black and minority ethnic background are the furthest away from fair education access. We have a devolved parliament which could be meeting the needs of these people and countless more, what are we doing about that, and is an independent Scotland the answer? Or is it more of the same but simply in a different place?
How about we imagine a vision for a better United Kingdom; a place where we challenge policies, we challenge how politics works and go further, by challenging prejudices which most often are the causes of our society’s inequalities. Imagine we create this for not just 5 million in Scotland but all 60 million of us in the United Kingdom. I believe we have it in us to do this, and I believe the more we work towards this goal, the better a global society we can create. But to do this, we need more people on board and we need to remain together, as a change making collective.
This blog was commissioned as part of the 2014 Matters programme. 2014 Matters are a non-partisan group of Scottish organisations seeking to put global justice at the heart of the Independence debate, visit 2014-matters.org for more.