From No to Yes

In 2014, I voted No to Scottish Independence. Given a chance at IndyRef2, I’d vote Yes in a heartbeat. I wasn’t a unionist then, and I’m not a nationalist now. My basic beliefs – in fairness, decency and community – haven’t changed, so what did? Basically … Brexit.

Scotland has repeatedly said no to leaving the EU and rejected the bigots and opportunists who are Brexit’s main architects and beneficiaries, but that hasn’t slowed Westminster’s rush to drag us, along with the rest of the UK, into the hardest and most damaging Brexit possible.

Brexit was always a ludicrous idea, and the three-year slide from sunlit uplands to ‘we voted for apocalypse, so apocalypse we must have’ has been one long con game, creating as much as playing on the fears and biases of a certain section of the electorate.

Even if it doesn’t happen – and I still believe there’s a strong chance it won’t, despite the Johnson Government’s accelerating campaign of misinformation – Pandora’s box is open. The negativity, suspicion, greed and selfishness which spawned and fed Brexit have taken root and the democratic deficit has widened more than ever before. Pre-2016, I thought our best course was to stand by our neighbours, weather whatever storms came our way and fight together.

But what can we do for our neighbours when our votes aren’t enough? We’ve voted against the Tories for decades, and we voted against Brexit … but we got both anyway – in their worst possible forms.

Cancelling or softening Brexit won’t repair the fractures, upgrade the rusty democratic machinery or remove the poisonous charlatans who’ve led us to this point. If beaten back, they and their backers will be only too happy to try again. In fact, many of the most heinous charlatans are now installed at Downing Street, whispering in the ear of ‘our’ new Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, something’s gone deeply and irretrievably wrong with our national relationships when the entire Westminster establishment would rather jump to the whims of a destructive spiv like Nigel Farage than listen to the simple and moderate wishes of millions of Scots.

Unlike Farage, Johnson and their kind, our demands aren’t extreme or damaging. We don’t want Empire 2.0. We don’t want to be the 51st state. We don’t want to doubt experts, demonise immigrants, dismantle the NHS or crush the saboteurs. We just want to be a decent, liberal European society.

‘But that’s how it works,’ comes the knee-jerk anti-Indy response. ‘The UK voted as a whole, not as individual countries.’ Yes, true. But when the UK as a whole repeatedly votes for things which don’t suit the majority in one or more of its constituent countries, perhaps the citizens of those countries are entitled to do more than just suck it up.

‘But you already had a vote in 2014,’ say people who’d rather pretend Brexit hasn’t ripped up the old rulebook. Again, true. We did. And then Brexit came along and tore up all the old political and social certainties while putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

So, things have changed. Let’s not pretend they haven’t. With that as a given, why not go back to the people of Scotland and see how they feel now? I know my mind has changed – and I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one.

But why take that risk? If Brexit stirred up so much ill-feeing, why go through the trouble of another potentially rancorous referendum campaign? Quite simply because, unlike Brexit, there are clear and quantifiable benefits if the majority chooses to strive for them.

Independence gives us a chance to show the value of being a small but confident country which gains its strength from cooperation, not from sabre-rattling and dreams of old glories. We can show that being welcoming, open and inclusive aren’t weaknesses.

We can show that Brexit, and all that comes with it, is a wrong turn. Maybe it’s a wrong turn other parts of the UK need to take, for now, in order to get it out of their system and, eventually, come back to their senses. Scotland can’t change that, but we can lead the way by staying firmly on track, and not being misled by the shysters, disaster capitalists and dark forces.

I said No to independence in 2014 partly because I felt a duty to my neighbours on this little cluster of islands. I still feel that duty, but it’s clear now that Scotland can best serve its neighbours by being a light in the dark.

Back in 2014, the Union was disfunctional, imperfect, troubled. Today, it’s a basket case. The challenges independence will bring are nothing compared to the avalanche of entirely avoidable self-harm triggered by the EU referendum.

People have been making argument and counter-argument about Scotland’s economic position post-independence for decades. Despite an abundance of graphs, spreadsheets and coma-inducing blog posts, there’s no sign of either side conceding defeat.

Arguments about currency and pensions might’ve swayed me in 2014, but now seem something of a luxury when the boat’s sinking, the captain’s intent on repeatedly ramming the same iceberg and there are perfectly good lifeboats just waiting to be boarded.

Don’t think for a minute I’m saying currency and pensions aren’t vital issues. Of course they are, but the game has changed since 2014. Whatever safe status our currency and pensions enjoyed as part of the UK has been fatally holed by the Brexiters. The old status quo does not exist, and to pretend it does means ignoring the vast and imminent danger Brexit presents to all of us.

‘But surely leaving the UK would be hard, just like leaving the EU,’ the more entrenched  anti-Indy types like to say (loudly and often). ‘Possibly,’ would be my reply, ‘but it’s far easier to solve problems with friends, rather than manacled to an angry lunatic.’

That said, if we pretend an independent Scotland would march straight onto the sunlit uplands promised by the deceitful Brexiters, we’re no better than them. We need to be honest with ourselves, and much more demanding of our leaders than we were in 2014. We can’t simply accept reassuring but unproven claims just because we like the sound of them.

We need to be just as sceptical, logical and, where necessary, critical about independence as we have been about Brexit. We need to call out the unicorn-chasers, demand more detail and scrutinise every claim. If it’s going to float, it has to be watertight this time – or as watertight as we can make it.

I was deeply and vocally sceptical about Independence in 2014. Things have changed radically, and I’ve had to change too.

The biggest part of that change is the realisation that, if we make the right choices and follow our better instincts, Scotland has a unique opportunity to become an example to and a home for anyone who wants to live in a fair, decent, forward-thinking society as part of a stronger, deeper European community.

With so much of the world succumbing to suspicion and division, that doesn’t seem such a radical thing to hope for, does it?

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