I’m a newcomer to politics. Since jumping off the fence on the independence referendum in mid-April 2011; this year has been the most eventful of my political life. It had to be. Looking at the challenges facing Yes Scotland, and having came to the conclusion that Scotland would be to my mind better off: socially, democratically, internationally, environmentally, economically and culturally as an independent country, I knew that I had to get involved.
It took a whole year of seeing the wanton destruction of modern Britain under radical cheap-work conservatives, NHS privatisation, food banks, crushed real wages leading to decreased living standards, failing energy regulation leading to huge profits for corporates, disability support cuts, tax avoidance on an gargantuan scale, and trebled tuition fees to get me off my backside. For that, I apologise to all good active citizens in taking so long to get here. In speaking to people, and doing an awful lot of reading about modern British political history, it’s like viewing the world clearly for the first time. And it’s horrifying.
It took a little less time to fully grasp the fundamental thistle of the nationalist argument. I, and so many people I know, are frustrated by social democratic values being repeatedly thwarted by Tory governments Scotland did not elect and often despise. A Labour party becoming increasingly less relevant in Scotland is no substitute; lurching rightwards on immigration and “the deserving poor” to fend off bigoted UKIP knuckle-draggers and the Daily Mail crowd.
Seeing the diverging political aspirations within Scotland itself as expressed within its devolved parliament’s elected representatives and the social democratic values it has demonstrated repeatedly has made it far clearer. This is most directly contrastable with with the UK’s flip-flopping two-and-a-crutch party system, permanently enforced by its undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system.
I see independence as fundamentally about building a better representative democracy. If I saw a route to a better politics for the UK through Westminster by the time I reach middle-age, I’d understand if others voted No.
Scotland has much to offer as an active global citizen. From a recent devolved past where we scrapped tuition fees (I see having a well-educated populace as an investment), prescription charges (we don’t tax sick people just because they’re sick), to one where we scrap the fiscally ignorant and ill-considered “bedroom tax” and keep public services best placed in public hands.
Furthermore, Scots are opposed to the renewal of the expensive and immoral Trident weapons system. Under the union, not only must we pay our share instead of spending that money on education, health and housing, we have to host these weapons of mass indiscriminate civilian incineration in Scotland’s waters, thirty miles from her largest city.
Since signing the Yes declaration in May 2012 and volunteered my time and skills to the Yes Scotland campaign – it’s had a curious side-effect in my personal life. I’ve written more letters, been on more marches and rallies for causes I believe in, been presented with arrest, met more passionate and wise people who agree and disagree with me and spoken to more disparate strangers in the past year than I’ve ever done in my prior adult life. They all have bit-by-bit changed me, as I may have bit-by-bit changed them.
I’ve joined a political party, the Scottish Socialist Party, attended their national conference, met hundreds of interesting people, joined the local branch and helped them spread their vision of creating a better society, where people and not profit matter most.
Getting more actively involved in grassroots politics has changed my day-to-day life.
- It’s tiring. I’ve been sleeping less, and working harder.
- It’s rewarding. Slowly convincing people of the causes and overcoming skepticism is immense. It’s given me confidence in my abilities to openly discuss things that are important to me.
- It’s frustrating. Quite often in those I meet, I find apathy blended with ignorance, cultivated over a lifetime of marginalisation, disenfranchisement and disempowerment. I have yet to find consistently good means to engage them. Wit occasionally helps.
- It’s terrifying. What if we fail, or screw up, or over-think the negative possibilities? The only way to surely fail is to not try.
I’ve also found my personal communication habits changing: when on marches, leafleting, stopping people on the street, knocking doors, talking to friends, neighbours, family or extended social circles. I find that I’m rarely off-message; looking for an opportunity, a careful gambit to insert a point of interest, or a means to guide some thinking. It’s an oddly mercenary approach.
I’ve found the trick to good political communication is listening carefully to what’s being said, add an appropriate interjection, answer all the questions put to the best of your ability, then thank them for their time and leave them to chew on the information. It’s for this reason, I’m pleased the referendum campaign has spent a year preparing the groundwork, amassing an army of volunteers (each with their own talents and time) to best spend the remaining 50 weeks. People need time and reinforcement of facts, not froth to make a similar journey to pull them towards Yes.
I’m loath to use the term “real change”, when it’s so flagrantly abused to distinguish between flavours and colours of Thatcherite in Westminster party-politics, but real change does happen – with equal marriage, the welfare state, the National Health Service, universal suffrage. It happens slowly, but speeds up when there’s a mass movement and force behind it. And hard to cultivate directly, amidst an ill-representative democracy and a collective stew of back-and-forth oppositional bickering.
If you want to add your piece of real change to the world, then do the following: talk to people, turn up to a rally, write a letter or email to your representatives (they’re human beings, too – so write openly and honestly: a genuine letter in your own words matters) or join political organisations and parties that share your values and beliefs. And no matter how proud you are, always, always, ALWAYS be ready to accept you might be wrong.
Are politics and politicians failing us, or are we failing them? It’s a little of both, but we should never fall into apathy in our public discourse. Constant vigilance protects us all.
Add your voice to public life. Get active.