Thursday, 17 April 2014

The importance of 'coming out' and visibility

There's an article in today's Scotsman in which Louise Batchelor describes how she 'came out' as a supporter of Scottish independence. Louise isn't alone, many people find themselves talking about their public support of independence in this way. I've read this phrasing many times online, and I recently had a conversation with a close female relative about starting to talk about the Yes campaign with friends and work colleagues and she readily identified with this kind of feeling.

It's quite bizarre when you think about it - there are just as many people yet to make up their minds as there are people voting Yes, and yet undecideds are not depicted as odd or unusual. There are almost as many of us as there are No voters, in fact. I'm inclined, once again, to lay part of the blame for this feeling on the media as they represent support for the status quo as the 'default' state and anything that deviates from that support as, well... deviant.

However, as well as the attitude of the media, this feeling in the air, to me, exposes the deeply conservative nature of the No campaign and of the unionist argument more generally. It seems to me that they don't just want to preserve the union, they also seem to advocate a socially conservative, conformist position. There is an assumption on their part that the default state is the proper state, they ask the question that Jeanette Winterson used as the title of her memoir - Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

There are two things in particular that I think the Yes campaign and all of us in the movement can learn from this. One of them is that we need to think about this idea of 'normality' and what we want to do with it. We could go about trying to reframe the debate so that the Yes position is the 'new normal' - one could argue that this is what the SNP have attempted with the gradualist approach expressed in the white paper and in their intentions to keep the monarchy and the pound. However, I think it's more important to make this about happiness than about normality. Instead, we should embrace the plurality of our country, and reject the idea of a conservative, unimaginative normality. If everyone is respected for their individuality and for the positive way that they contribute to the community then there is no need for the kind of conformism that the worship of normality imposes.

The second thing that we should take from this is the importance of visibility. When your beliefs are attacked you shouldn't hide away in shame. We should take a leaf from the traditions of gay pride and marches like Reclaim the Night or Slutwalk, we should look at the recent visible celebrations of gay marriage in England (coming not soon enough to a Scotland near you!) and celebrate our joy and excitement at the possibilities of the future. Get your badges on, your Yes wristbands, change your Facebook cover photo or just acknowledge and celebrate your position; not with the intent of making such celebrations 'normal', but in order to do away with conservative normality altogether in favour of the plural collective and of all our varied visions of what an independent Scotland could be like. After all, Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy?

Monday, 7 April 2014

You know you're a child of 1985 when... (Or, my political autobiography)

My granny used to be a big fan of the old sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. It was about a woman called Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced 'Bouquet') and the main joke of the show was that Hyacinth was a working/lower middle class woman who pretended to be upper class. I think my old Irish granny liked it because Hyacinth was always pulled up on her bullshit, either by her down-to-earth relatives or through her own blindness and her need to put on airs. Of course, Hyacinth also represents a certain kind of person; the aspiring Tory. While Hyacinth isn't wealthy enough to benefit from any Tory policies (save, perhaps, buying her council house on the cheap), you can imagine that she might vote for them as a kind of social pretension - another sign that she was one of the 'top' people.

I bring her up because you can recognise this kind of aspiration in a certain kind of No voter. There are some No voters I've spoken to who don't really seem to care too much about the nitty gritty of fiscal autonomy or self-determination. They're merely voting No because they think of themselves as a certain kind of person, defined against the type of person they imagine a Yes voter to be. For these people the Project Fear propaganda is working in one respect; they believe that Yes voters are all football hooligans, Braveheart facepainters and cybernat bullies. The Hyacinth No voter is not that type at all, oh no, and they'll vote No just to differentiate themselves from the type of reactionary meat heads they imagine in the Yes camp. They don't want the Yes voters messing up their nice neat houses with their risks and their wacky ideas about self-determination. Not all No voters fall into this category, due to the Catholic relative conundrum, but they certainly are a factor.

I've spoken to a couple of these No voters and they're very surprised to find out that I'm voting Yes; I think because they consider my level of education and ability to speak in full sentences incompatible with their ideas of how a Yes voter should behave. So I thought I'd write another blog about my #IndyReasons, this time as a political autobiography rather than a list of benefits I imagine we'll get from independence. The Yes side has been characterised as zealous, almost evangelist, in its beliefs. Hopefully by showing my working readers will see that the passionate position I currently hold has come from years of thinking about politics, both rationally and from the gut.

I'm 28 years old. My life has been influenced by a series of important public events and all have contributed to my voting Yes on September 18th despite having no desire for independence until the referendum was announced and on the table.

The first big public event I remember was Dunblane. I was in primary school and some radio stations had headlines like 'Gunman opens fire in Scottish primary school', so most of the parents I knew suffered some kind of trauma that day that us kids didn't really understand. Some of the mums cried, others had white, drawn faces. We didn't really understand, but I think most of us, if questioned, would be committed to gun control for the rest of our lives. I wonder if the anti-Trident sentiment of people my age might have been influenced by our early education in weapons of mass destruction.

I remember the death of Donald Dewar, but I didn't understand his significance.

September 11th was the first event I watched repeatedly on the news. From then on I followed international news carefully, I saw the fallout. My first march was the march against the Iraq War in Glasgow on the 15th of February 2013. The hope of that day, the power of such a large gathering, stayed with me long afterwards but our voices went unheeded. The irony of bombing a country in the name of democracy while ignoring that level of public opposition was not lost on me. I always knew I could never vote Tory; after the bombs fell I knew I could never vote for the Labour party.

The years following were marked by small blips of hope now and again - I was naive enough to think that Gordon Brown might improve the party, and cheered him when his comment about 'that bigoted woman' came out at the 2010 election - but he soon apologised to her and disappointed me yet again by kowtowing to the xenophobic consensus of Westminster.

I was one of those taken in by Nick Clegg's performance in the pre-election debates and voted for the Lib Dems. Their coalition with the Tories, the introduction of student fees and the abandonment of their proportional representation pledge all meant that I had another party that I could never vote for again. Even the thought of having given them my vote made me feel a bit dirty afterwards.

Meanwhile in Scotland the SNP were protecting the health service from privatisation. I remember the day after prescription charges were abolished; I had a really bad case of asthma, possibly brought on by an allergy or an infection. I went to the doctor, walking slowly as it was difficult to breathe, and got a prescription. I didn't have any money, but when I told someone at my local library they checked online and told me the prescriptions were free. I went to the chemist, got my inhalers and breathed more easily. I think many people in Scotland have been breathing more easily ever since this policy was introduced.

I voted for the SNP at Holyrood because of socialist policies such as these. I have no one left to vote for at Westminster, and I see people down South trying to champion Labour, as if they intend to offer up anything different from the austerity and market politics we've had for so many years, and I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for them because, short of revolution, they have very little to hope for from their political system. I don't see how England can change in the near future - but in Scotland the referendum has offered us hope. I finally have something I can vote for that I really believe in unreservedly, something that can finally shake up the politics of the whole UK, an intervention that has been needed for a long time.

This is why I might seem over-zealous or evangelist in my longing for a Yes vote; for the first time in my political life there is real hope on the horizon, hope of the once-in-a-lifetime variety. Of course it's emotional, of course we're passionate - this is our future.