Monday, 22 September 2014

An Apology

On Friday morning I was pretty despondent, and said I'd hung my head in shame at how we'd voted in the referendum. It came from genuine emotion but it was a knee jerk reaction, and it was wrong.

For most of the lead up to the vote, deep down I thought independence was a pipe dream - to be chased valiantly but probably never attained. As we got closer I saw the swell of grassroots support - the animated discussions between people who'd never seemed particularly engaged in politics, and the soul searching and ultimate change of heart from lifelong labour supporters. The conversation seemed so much about social change that I began to believe we had a real chance of something better, although it felt like we had just one shot.

On Friday morning that shot was gone, but around the web - from friends on social media through the various campaign sites to the Scottish political parties - people with more belief, more conviction, and more vision than I were dusting themselves off and deciding what should be done next. As their message filtered through I realised my mistake. The people of Scotland had not let themselves down; for sure some would have voted against independence out of narrow self interest, but the vast majority had engaged and debated over what would be best for the country, and nobody should be derided for deciding independence wasn't it.

Those who felt it was had galvanised themselves, forged a new political consensus, and come tantalisingly close to a monumental victory - and unlike me they were certainly not ready to see this as the end of the fight for significant social change.

Initially there was a feeling of betrayal and a banding together under the banner of "45"; a sense of "We voted for change, what's coming our way now isn't our fault", but then a more positive narrative began to form. There was a perception that the unlikely alliance of the big three Westminster parties, with the help of banks, corporations, and perhaps most importantly a compliant media, had interfered with the process of Scottish people deciding amongst themselves. People thought that regardless of the result we needed to ensure the internal dialog continued, and that outside interests could not impede it. We must look to engage everyone fully - not just go out and try to convert people to our cause, but to ask questions of them, ask questions of ourselves, and determine how we could all work more closely together.

Divisions would just allow Westminster to slip back into business as usual, benefiting nobody in Scotland. The call for our nation to come together must not become a convenient sound bite to silence dissent, it must be a genuine driver for like-minds and not-so-like to sit down and talk openly about Scotland's future without prejudice.

Ideas began to be passed around. By Saturday, on the Six Degrees To Independence group on Facebook I read the following list of them:

  • Stay engaged.
  • Consider joining the SNP, Scottish Greens or SSP. Many people are doing so. They're the only parties fighting for Scotland and there's a General Election around the corner apart from anything else longer term. Send no more Tories, Red Tories or Lib Dems to WM.
  • Have a good hard think about what supermarkets, businesses and bank you use. Continue to vote with your feet and your wallet.
  • Join CND. Sign up to Rethink Trident.
  • Refuse to give the BBC and the rest of the mainstream and print media air time. Cancel your apps. Unfollow them. Find new honest sources of information. Start with the Sunday Herald and NewsnetScotland but there will be more.
  • Find post-YES projects and groups to support. We'll post them here as we hear more about how people are regrouping on the ground.
  • Find your nearest foodbank and offer donations or help. The vulnerable need us now more than ever.
  • Set up a Twitter account and follow people and groups with the same passion as you.
  • And when they break their promises make sure everybody knows.

And people were doing it. The SNP website creaked then went down under the load as people tried to sign up. By Monday afternoon they were reporting almost 17,000 new members. George Square turned into an impromptu food bank donation center. Tommy Sheridon issued a statement on Facebook asking socialists not to stand against the SNP at the next Westminster elections and instead get behind them in the campaign against Westminster austerity.

Something exciting is happening in Scotland, and while the tireless work of a small group of politicians and activists towards the referendum may have started it, the people took it on and made it so much more. So to all of you - from the seasoned politicians to the new bar-room economists, but in particular to those who voted No out of genuine concern for the good of the country - I apologise unreservedly.

I still believe independence would be the easiest way to improve things, but I'm happy to continue arguing the toss with anyone who thinks otherwise, while we discuss what we can do within the existing framework. Who knows, maybe you can even change my mind. In the meantime, long live this new, vibrant Scottish political scene.

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