Hope And Fear, Fear And Hope

The independence campaign has been fascinating, with a really good level of debate. In my personal world, Twitter and Facebook have been alive with links to brilliant articles from both sides, and impassioned posts by friends and strangers.

Though I think that I’m coming down in favour of a YES, I’ve been very torn, as I can see good arguments on both sides. I say think because I’m still not 100% certain.

Quite a few people I respect have questioned why I can see the sense in many of the economic warnings, and yet still want to go ahead. I know what they mean. I know that my heart says YES, but I’d like to be sure that my head does too.

This post is an attempt to explain why I want to vote YES. You could also see it as an attempt to convince myself that I’m doing the right thing. ## Britain: Hope And Fear

First of all, lets be clear: the crude “hope and fear” characterisation is a load of shite.

The reason that I don’t want to vote NO is a competing mass of hope and fear, and the reason I (nervously) want to vote YES is a combination of fear and hope.

My hope for a united Britain would be that we could maintain and build on the things that misty-eyed sentimentalists claim made us great.

An honourable tradition of liberal democracy, tolerance for others, compassion (for people and animals, apparently), and the maintenance of such institutions as the welfare state. Standing as a force for fairness and justice in our own land and in the world at large. Inventing sports and then being crap at them.

My fear is that little if any of this vision of Britain was actually ever true. What bits of it were not complete myth at the time I was born (1969) have been slowly eroded by the successive years of rule under Thatcher, Blair and now the coalition. Much like the effects of climate change on our shorelines, this erosion appears to be accelerating. Much as with climate change, our population seems to have become brainwashed into accepting that there’s nothing to be done, and not even attempting to fight it.

Britain in the world

Though we are no doubt delusional about our actual influence in the world, we undeniably play a role in major international institutions: the UN, the IMF, WTO, the G8-or-is-it-7-now, and plenty more alphabet soups. We participate in international climate change conferences, security summits, fights against world wide crises of health and poverty, world courts against war crime and torture. We reluctantly bomb things when necessary, and dutifully intercept every communication we can, all in the name of freedom.

We dress this up as us having a positive influence on the world. Yet our involvement in all of these institutions revolves around one simple constant - naked self interest. We act with utter inconsistency and the most disingenous kind of hypocrisy - upholding doctrines such as the sanctity of the nation state when it suits us, conveniently ignoring them when it doesn’t.

This is real politik, I hear you say, and who am I to argue? That’s not really my point. My point is that it’s nothing to be proud of. It’s not a great tradition to be preserved. Frankly, it’s an embarassment.

Naive or not, I’d happily leave it behind. I’d happily swap a (largely delusional) position of hypocrisy masquerading as influence for one in which we were able to actually pursue a consistent and ethical (though potentially ineffectual) foreign policy.

Britain at home

One of the things that the Better Together campaign has been emphasising is that there’s no going back from independence. They say this as a scare tactic of course: “don’t screw this up, you won’t get a second chance”.

The same people have spent the last forty-four years of my life quite literally dismantling the state and selling off the family silver. Again and again they have made decisions which degrade the quality of life of the majority, reduce equity, and increase the gap between the privileged and the rest of us.

Like some monstrous piece of clockwork machinery, every time one of the nationalised industries has been sold, every time regulations have been relaxed, or internal markets been created, we’ve lurched forwards over another ratchet, locking us further into a position that cannot be reversed.

Each of the privitisations in particular has been a “don’t screw this up, you won’t get a second chance” moment. Invariably, of course, they have screwed many of them up.

Even if they haven’t directly, in many cases the entire basis for selling off national infrastructure was screwed in the first place. A competitive market? For electricity? Gas? Rail? Don’t make me laugh. This is the stuff we all need - providing it is the very definition of what a government is for. Increased efficiency? Only in the sense that profit has been efficiently extracted from these industries, to the detriment of us all.

The machine is advancing too for the parts of the state that haven’t been sold outright. Many are now in hock, in the form of PPI and outsourcing. NHS contracts are being handed off to private healthcare companies. Schools, prisons, even the police are going the same way. If the TTIP goes through, we could be in a situation where we literally cannot withdraw from some of these contracts, ever, without being sued.

Again, I have no illusions that there are simple answers to these problems. I’m well aware of the hypocrisy and corruption that crept into the once-honourable trade unions. I have no time for the moronically simplistic “us against them” mentality of class warfare. I have no time either for small-minded dogmatic power-mongers on either side.

The realisation I come to though is that if we continue with the status quo in Britain, we are fucked. There is an agenda being pursued by all of the mainstream parties that seems to be nothing to do with evidence, nothing to do with the long term benefit of the population. They are making decisions that will effect us for years to come, and being completely dishonest about why the decisions are being made.

Whether it’s due to a sinister conspiracy, small-scale greed, naked ambition or mere incompetence, I don’t see democracy in Britain as working any more. I don’t mean by this the trite “they’re all the same” idiocy that you hear in a stereotypical vox pop.

And yet.

Whilst they aren’t all the same, they do all seem to be equally unable, unwilling, or ideologically opposed to doing anything that I would regard as a rational response to the situation we find ourselves in. It seems as though decisions are being made, day in, day out, that nobody wants, but which the democratic process is unable to prevent.

I don’t see this as a system so precious that is worth preserving in aspic.

Something badly needs to change. I don’t want to dismantle everything. I really don’t want change to come in the form of a popular uprising. Anarchists are idiots, and revolutions never end well.

A legally negotiated, amicable, secession of Scotland, on the other hand, might just be enough to disrupt the status quo. It might force Labour to re-evaluate its position and work out why the hell it actually exists anymore. It might help the Greens to break through, or another progressive voice to emerge.

Most of all, these things might be possible in a newly independent Scotland, which might help to inspire the rest of the UK.

Scotland: Fear And Hope

Lest I haven’t made it clear enough yet, let me be explicit - I’m a cynical bugger.

I have many fears for the way an independent Scotland could go.

Right now, Scotland is a more left-leaning country than the UK, and it’s one of the many things that attracts me to living here. It’s not always been that way though, and there is no guarantee that it will continue. It’s also quite a small-C conservative country, and religion holds too much sway for my liking.

The Yes campaign is more than just the SNP, but it is they who are leading the fight, and who potentially get the biggest say in writing the constitution. The SNP is a loose coalition of people with very different agendas. Some of these people are socialists, but some are out and out nationalists (and I really dislike people from anywhere who think that where you are born somehow makes you better).

I have no doubt too that some in the SNP are arch pragmatists who will espouse socialism now, but when the economic going gets tough in a few years, will happily get into bed with Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, and sell this country out just as heartily as Westminster is currently doing.

Meanwhile, the economy could go into decline. Large companies could leave. Prices could rise. Putin could send an “aid convoy” to Scotland.

However, whilst these are hypothetical fears, I have a real concern about what is happening right now in the UK. I have an even bigger concern about what is happening in the wider world, and how little we appear to be doing about it.

When I’m faced with a choice between actual bad stuff happening today, and possible bad stuff that might happen tomorrow (if we let it), I am inclined to take a chance on the future.

Yes, I admit it, I am inclined to hope.

I hope that in Scotland this future will be decided in part by the 90%+ of people who care enough to have voted in the referendum. No doubt a lot of them on either side are voting for utterly the wrong reasons, but even so: 90%.

I hope that, although we have oil, we will use the income from it to invest in publically-owned renewables, which we also have in abundance.

I hope that in a newly invigorated democracy, the Greens might fare rather better than they do right now, and that the Labour party might remember who it was.

I hope that we will hold on to the NHS.

I hope that we will continue to invest in education in a way that makes us a small but well-educated country - where high tech industry flourishes, and there’s a sufficient level of schooling in the general population to pursue socially progressive policies because they are in everyone’s interests in the long term.

I hope that we will manage to find a sensible balance between economic prosperity and, for want of a better word, humanity.

I even hope (whisper it quietly), that I might be asked to pay a bit more tax, in return for living in a country where I don’t have to feel embarassed about having a house and a job, and I don’t have to fear for my future if one day I have neither.

In short I have many hopes.

The hardened cynic in me screams that they are naive and unreasonably idealistic.

He’s probably right, but the overriding hope is that somehow with independence I can play a small part in making change happen. I’d be one of five million instead of one of sixty million. I’d be living in a brave and scary new world, rather than continuing to sleepwalk towards the dystopian future that seems to be right round the corner in the UK if we maintain the status quo.

I think I’ve convinced myself. I seem to be a YES.