A Flicker Of Hope?
There's a food bank in Rothesay. The town where I grew up. A town of less than five thousand souls... A town that now has a food bank. I lived there in the seventies. An age of power cuts and coal fires, paisley brown swirls, ha'penny chews and plastic shoes. My parents toiled hard for every hard-to-come-by penny just to keep our heads bobbing above the breadline. I hesitate to say we were poor. I was just a wee boy with no concept of such notions. I had more important things to do like kick a ball around. I assumed everyone had to share a communal loo with their neighbours and head to their Gran's every Sunday for a bath. Our mother fought like a lioness to keep her cubs warm and fed. Life was a struggle for sure, but food banks? There were none. And this was life under a Labour government. Then Callaghan left and Thatcher entered stage far right. Within two years the corrosive effects of Thatcherism drove us out of the place I loved in order to follow Dad south in the hunt for work.
I have lived in North Buckinghamshire ever since in a town renowned for its cows of concrete. Not the most accommodating of places for those who, when wearing their political trousers, dress to the left. I'm not complaining. England has been good to me. It's filled my life with wonderful people and wonderful memories but doesn't everyone get homesick occasionally? I head back every year for a fix of hills, sea and family. I wish I was there now swept up in the spine-tingling wave of excitement of a nation on the verge of something truly special. Something radical. Something sorely needed. I wish I was there to vote yes and scream the word from the rooftops.
I don't begrudge not having a vote it's only right and proper that residents alone should decide Aye! or Naw! but at least I can join the debate and voice my opinion, an opinion based on the view from this side of the border. Of course there are aspects of Scotland I don't miss. I don't miss the sectarian bigotry and the daft nationalist fringes who loathe everything beyond Hadrian's Wall. But ignorance resides in every country. And none more so than in England right now where ignorance is blossoming as never before, propagated by the muck-spreading politics of fear. With the mainstream political parties lurching ever further to the right in order to placate the xenophobes and scaremongers led by UKIP the time could never be more right for Scotland to free itself from Westminster’s shackles.
The most exciting aspect of the whole Independence debate is watching Scotland’s first time voters with fire in their eyes and passion in their voices arguing the pros and cons. Not with aggression or bitterness but with a genuine desire to choose the best option for Scotland.
I envy that passion. I remember when, as a Clearasil smudged 18 year-old, I voted Labour in the 1987 general election ready to change the world and kick Maggie out. But Maggie managed to kick that hope squarely in the ballot box. However, I never gave up and kept voting Labour right up until Blair jumped with Bush into Iraq. That was the moment when the last flickering hope for real purposeful change in this country died. It was Labour’s final betrayal of the trust its supporters had invested in them. Then again I’m nothing if not stupidly loyal and when Brown took the reins I thought, naively, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and return my cross next to the rose. Oh f**king dear...
Now, whenever an election comes round and I’m looking at the choices on offer, I find myself trying to weigh up the difference between a satsuma, a tangerine and a mandarin. It truly is a sad indictment of 21st century politics that myself and so many others feel that all we’re voting for is the lesser of three evils. The political mainstream are so terrified of difference they have become hopelessly moribund. Capturing the centre ground is all that matters. Labour will not do anything to alienate Middle England. And by God when it comes to appeasing the lobbyists of the big multi-nationals all of them are quick to drop to their knees and fellate that big corporate dishonourable member. Anyone who dares vocalise a radical forward-thinking policy is quickly drowned out by a chorus of mediocrity. The danger of this has become evident when someone from outside the mainstream spouting radical backward-thinking policies stands out like a sore thumb and draws peoples’ attention. Especially when all he has to do to appeal to the ‘ordinary man in the street’ is hold a pint aloft outside a pub and come across as a ‘decent bloke’. Dangerous times indeed.
But f**k me! Hope’s flickering flame is back! Here we are on the cusp of major change and the first opportunity in generations to make a real difference, a real measurable improvement to the lives of so many. And the powerbrokers are terrified. So terrified they are pouring boiling tar from the ramparts. But their most effective weapon is far more powerful and insidious. Misinformation. A confusing scattergun assault of lies, damned lies and statistics, when the problem is so basic and simple.
The problem isn’t England.
The problem is very definitely Westminster.
This isn't about tribalism.
This isn't about Scotland versus England or Us versus Them.
It's about democracy. It’s about fairness.
It’s about opportunity.
The opportunity to never be governed bya Westminster Tory elite ever again.
An opportunity that is too good to miss.
For far too long Scotland keeps getting lumbered with a ruling party it did not vote for.
I know there's the argument that says; 'Well, that's democracy for you, like it or lump it" - but that's an argument usually peddled by the Tory press who seem to view that patch of land north of Carlisle as just another county or some kind of eccentric parochial parish.
How can this version of democracy be acceptable when an entire nation is presided over by a party that came fourth in the popular vote? Where the hell is their mandate? £100 billion on Trident? F**k right off.
Hence the need for drastic change.
This is about what's best for the future of Scotland.
It seems a little ironic that the SNP have assumed what should be Labour's role in fighting to defend the NHS, social care, education and looking to remove nuclear weapons and stop the relentless privatisation of national assets (not that there's anything left).
I'm even more surprised those on the right aren't promoting a YES Vote.
There are those in the ToryKip ranks who consistently claim that Scotland gets "more than its fair share" of the public purse.
Well if the country is such a burden why not let it go?
I can understand Alistair Darling and his Same Old New Labour cohorts squealing. They know all too well that if Scotland votes YES, then the Conservatives will never lose an election in England again. The flipside for Labour in Scotland is that independence would provide them the opportunity to help shape the kind of society they've always promised.
What is not surprising is the Better Together campaign's breathtaking negativity. A constant barrage of - "Scotland can't do this... Scotland can't have that... Scotland would fall flat on its face... Scotland would become a failed state riven with disease, famine and pestilence...blah blah.” - Are they seriously suggesting that the Scots simply don't have the talent, the resources or the nous to make it work and that, without Westminster’s all-encompassing benevolence, ruin is sure to follow? Are they seriously trying to convince Scots that they currently reside in some kind of Utopia? They only reason Westminster signed up to the referendum process was because they believed, in their extreme arrogance, that Scotland would never leave the Union, that they simply didn’t have the bottle. But now their underwear has taken on a whole different hue and with their authority challenged by a bunch of stroppy upstarts they are threatening to take their toys away.
There is something offensive and deeply churlish about the threat to deny an independent Scotland a currency. Why would they want to make it a bitter divorce as opposed to an amicable separation? It's all so narrow-minded. If a nation decides its fate is better decided in its own hands why on earth would its neighbour want to make life as difficult as possible just to prove a point? And as for the oil argument. Does it matter how much is left? An independent Scotland obviously can't rely on North Sea oil forever but there are so many other sources of income to exploit and develop. New ideas will have to be sought but it's not as though the Scots don't have a history of invention and business savvy.
Then there's the EU. The Better Together campaign has been ranting about how Scotland could not expect to simply walk into the EU. A strange argument as Scotland's best chance to stay within the EU is through independence. The Conservatives have committed themselves to holding an In/Out referendum on the EU should they win the next election, which unfortunately, they surely will. And, as is all too patently obvious, the mood down South is to get out and fast. The EU for all its faults (and there are many) has proved its worth to rural communities like my beloved Bute by helping to fund infrastructure projects like sea defences, new piers and renovation work. Then of course there are the business arguments for staying in.
Like I said this isn't about tribalism it's about what's best for a nation's future.
I absolutely respect all those who will vote NO. I understand their concerns about the uncertainty independence would bring and above all I understand the fear they must feel thanks to the unrelenting barrage of open intimidation and veiled threats. Sometimes it is easier to effectively do nothing and hope for the best. But the certainties a no vote will bring are clear. The NHS will slip inexorably into privatisation. The UK will leave the EU. In an agenda increasingly driven by UKIP, mistrust of immigrants, Muslims and asylum seekers will swell to even more hateful proportions. Pick on someone your own size! The real culprits are the swollen corporate behemoths and the super-rich elite who despite their flabby corpulence are nimble enough to avoid those pesky tax bills. This really is David versus Goliath stuff. How can Mr Undecided of Inverary be expected to take on RBS, Standard Life, Westminster and co? Take heart Mr Undecided you’ve already got them on the run! The Banks are threatening to run South to mummy if you dare to vote YES! Remember, these are the very institutions whose financial mismanagement brought the UK to its knees and costs thousands of people their livelihoods.
“But David Cameron insists there's no return if Scotland votes Yes.”
That’s correct Mr Undecided - No return to Tory rule, UKIP xenophobia and dodgy wars. Thank you very much Mr Cameron.
Go for it Mr Undecided! And go for it all you first time voters! This is your chance, perhaps your one and only chance. You’ve got all those power obsessed monoliths running scared otherwise why on earth would they weigh in with the doom and gloom predictions now? They’ve had two years to put these arguments forward. Asda threatening price hikes if Scotland votes YES? F**k right off! Cameron is so obviously canvassing his big multinational mates for a favour; - “Help me keep Scotland on a tight leash and there could be some tax breaks in it for you guys.”
The passion and the fire that is energising Scotland’s voters to choose a better way of life has these parasites on the ropes. It’s up to you Mr Undecided to deliver the knockout blow and provide hope for those of us who live down here that maybe, just maybe, that radical desire for something better will cross the border and sweep aside the pedlars of fear and mediocrity.
Hope is flickering back into existence despite your best efforts Mr Cameron.
And you dare to insist that there is no going back from a YES vote as if that is some kind of threat?
I tell you again Mr Cameron, there's a food bank in Rothesay. The town where I grew up. A town of less than five thousand souls. A town that now has a food bank.
I hope to God there’s no need longer a need for it when I next return.