The ‘my journey to Yes’ is becoming something of a subgenre in the Scottish journo/blogosphere. Tom Devine and Kevin McKenna come immediately to mind. But this one sticks not just because it goes in the opposite direction, but because Ewan Morrison’s journey began by moving to a Yes…
It’s telling in the way that Carol Craig’s account was telling in the sense that we get an inside view of what happens when people ‘convert’ in this social media campaign to beat all social media campaigns…
Within the Yes camp I attempted to find the revolutionary and inclusive debate that I’d heard was happening. But as soon as I was ‘in’ I was being asked to sign petitions, to help with recruitment, to take part in Yes groups, to come out publicly in the media, to spread the word and add the blue circle Yes logo to my social media photograph – even to come along and sing a ‘Scottish song’ at a Yes event.
I declined to sing but I went along to public meetings and took part in debates online. I noticed that the whenever someone raised a pragmatic question about governance, economics or future projections for oil revenue or the balance of payments in iScotland, they were quickly silenced by comments such as “We’ll sort that out after the referendum, this is not the place or the time for those kinds of questions”.
Or the people who asked such questions were indirectly accused of ‘being negative’ or talking the language of the enemy. There was an ethos of “Shh, if you start asking questions like that we’ll all end up arguing (and that’ll be negative) so in the interests of unity (and positivity) keep your mouth shut.”
Now some may say – ah yes but Yes is a rainbow coalition – the very essence of democratic pluralism. But you have to ask yourself with so many groups all tugging in so many directions what makes a separate Scotland any different from the rest of the UK with its democratic conflicts, its mess? Democracy is a daily struggle, an ongoing fight to reconcile differing opinions and ideologies, of contesting facts and plans and shouldering the burdens we inherit from history. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s all about compromise.So why do we need to leave the union to engage in this painful process we call democracy?
The answer is that the factions within the Yes camp are all dreaming that they will have more power in the new Scotland ‘after the referendum.’ Bigger fish in the smaller pond. The Greens will have more power than they ever could in the UK. Business leaders will have more influence over Scottish government. The hard left will finally realise its dream of seizing power and creating a perfect socialist nation. Each group is dreaming of this fresh new country (as clean as a white sheet, as unsullied as a newborn) in which they themselves dominate and hold control. Clearly these groups can’t all have more power and the banner they share is a fantasy of a unity that is not actually there. It’s a Freudian slip when converts claim that the first thing that will happen ‘after independence’ is that the SNP will be voted out – it betrays the fantasy that each interest group has of its own coming dominance.
I left the Yes camp and joined the No camp not because I like the UK or think the status quo works well as it is. No. I think things are as complicated and compromised as they always are and that we live in trying times. The Yes camp understand that and so have created an illusion of a free space in which everything you’ve ever wanted can come to pass – overnight. How can it? There are exactly the same political conflicts within the factions of Yes as there are within the UK. After a Yes vote the fight for control of Scotland will begin and that unity that seemed like a dream will be shattered into the different groups who agreed to silence themselves to achieve an illusion of an impossible unity – the kind of unity you find in faith, not in politics. What makes this worse than remaining in the UK is that Scotland will be fighting out its internal battles on a world stage after demonstrating it intends to run its new politics on an illusion of unity, a unity that breaks up even as it is observed.