Pete (pjc50) wrote,

Indyref day

(This isn't terribly coherent, but I had to dump it to LJ to get it out of my head)

Viewers in England probably won't be following it in detail, but it's very noticeable in Edinburgh. Every street has a Yes poster in a window. Every crowd, scan people's lapels and you'll see a Yes badge. Not every window or every lapel by a long way, maybe about 10%, but enough to show which way the wind blows. NO allegiance is almost invisible - unless you open a newspaper or turn on the TV. My office is mostly maintaining diplomatic silence, although there are some Yes and a noisy No.

The Scottish independence referendum is the most interesting and exciting political event in my life since the demise of the Major government in 1997. I was just slightly too young to vote, but I stayed up to watch one seat after another fall to unprecedented swing and odious buffoons like David Mellor were swept away. The government was unpopular not just because of the Thatcherite legacy of damage to the social fabric but because it was chronically out of ideas; the cones hotline was the nadir of pandering to the complaints of the most recent "ordinary person" some staffer had met in a pub. The last action of the government was to sabotage the railway like retreating Confederate troops, by means of a botched privatization.

Blair himself turned out to do one too many deals with devils, but the group of people he brought to office with him contained many competent idealistic people. One of whom was Donald Dewar, who was permitted to resurrect the Scottish Parliament. Presumably it was assumed that Scotland would remain Labour forever, and a slightly odd alternate member system was instituted in the mistaken belief that it would not return absolute majorities. Since then, the SNP have taken over with quiet competence delivering a working regional government. Non-FPTP voting has also enabled the Scottish Greens to become a significant political force, the second party in the Yes campaign, and brought the impressive Patrick Harvie to our screens.

Meanwhile I've watched Westminster politics become increasingly a closed system. Especially with regard to the "neoliberal consensus" of privatisation and austerity. Blair pioneered the idea that every morning's newspaper headlines should have a policy response by the afternoon, that every problem should be met with new legislation to make it clear that something was being done. This left no room for research, consultation or deliberation. The effect is a cyclotron of bad ideas, scattering policy radiation across the landscape. This system relied on appeasing the amoral newspaper editors, their personal prejudices and glee at looting people's privacy for scandal. It allowed the demonisation of immigrants and benefit recipients. Attempts by the people actually affected by bad policy to get involved have had very limited effect. From badger culls to drug policy to global warming, scientific advice can hardly get a word in edgeways.

Then there's the trust issue. I'm one of those people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010, and have been subsequently enraged by their failure to veto illiberal things that were contrary to their manifesto, especially the tuition fees "pledge". Going further back, we have the Labour "ethical foreign policy" (700,000 dead and counting). Who is there left to vote for? All I want is a moderate left pro-competence social democrat party. Is that really so much to ask for? This is how I came to support the SNP even before moving to Scotland.

My perspective on Unionism is also affected by having spent time in Northern Ireland, mostly on the Catholic side, with my girlfriend of the time. IRA murals versus red-white-and-blue kerbstones. UVF flags tied to lampposts. Actual poverty of a kind that I, a privileged youth, was unfamiliar with. The determined dignity that went along with that. Here was a unionism that was quite clearly predicated on maintaining social division through the use of violence. By and large this is not a factor in Scotland, although the Orange Order had to have one (hopefully their last) march through Edinburgh. It's a shadow on the horizon.

Moving to Scotland itself has been galvanizing. Edinburgh is a lovely city, like York or Cambridge, but with a sense of liveliness to it. It's solidly middle class but not particularly snobbish. We spent a packed couple of days in Glasgow for the Commonwealth games, and had a fantastic time. It's become increasingly clear that lots of England's news columnists and pub bores haven't realised what Scotland actually is like today, and are stuck in some anti-Brigadoon mashup of Trainspotting, Red Clydeside, tartan tat, and dour Protestantism. All of those still exist somewhere in a corner, but not on the main stage. Discussion is hampered by them already thinking of Scotland as a foreign country and resorting to the normal technique of talking loudly and slowly. Listening is, of course, inconcievable. This is the era when the Guardian dispatches its foreign correspondant to remind readers that Manchester exists, let alone anything further north.

The final week of the campaign has been full of last minute panic from the Unionist parties (after the postal votes have been returned!) This has only compounded the sense that nobody was paying attention beforehand, and that the country is being run on a last minute essay crisis basis. Politicians appear from nowhere, promise vague things, have them immediately denied by their MPs from England. Unionism is literally incoherent.

Now the polls are too close to call. 97% of the eligible population are registered to vote, and at least 80% of them will most likely do so. Compare that with the 65% of the last general election, or the <20% of many of the PCC elections. Everyone wants to have a say. This is the democratic revival people occasionally ask for. And it's been done by a remarkable combination of grassroots ground operation and online "cybernats". Somehow the Yes campaign has managed to get all the "radicals" onto the same side without fragmenting into the usual pointless infighting or doctrinaire one-upsmanship. In that regard it's the opposite of things like Occupy that flash and vanish without ever engaging in the work of electoral politics.

I'm nervous. It's like one of those World Cup matches that gets decided on penalties, except it's going on all week rather than just 90 minutes. There is still the risk that Scotland will bottle it, give in to the relentless scare stories at the last minute. It's making it hard to focus and hard to sleep. I've already booked Friday as a holiday off work. I doubt I'll stay up - watching it on TV can't be that interesting, and it won't be clear until the small hours. There are likely to be widespread recounts. I really hope it doesn't come down to a court challenge. If it's a yes, then we'll be off into town to join the party. See you on the other side.
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