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?

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