This week, near the anniversary of the independence referendum our contributors were asked what the indyref meant to them. As ever, we’d love to hear your reminiscence of the referendum and what it meant to you.
Louise Wilson – I’ve worried about my answer to this question for a while. The truth is the indyref doesn’t sit quite as close to my heart as many of my colleagues and friends. In the end, I voted yes. But I did so on the belief that decisions are best made at the most local level possible (with of course some national oversight to ensure there aren’t massive inequalities), and getting powers to the Scottish Parliament is part of that step.
I didn’t vote yes because I automatically felt Scotland would swing left, nor because I felt our nation would be economically better off. Of course, I hoped this might be the case in the long run – but I was well aware of the risks. So when the No vote echoed across the country on 19th September, I wasn’t totally heartbroken.
Instead, I hoped that the UK could go forward together with the progressive momentum which had been found in Scotland. Looking towards the general election results, maybe that hope was misplaced. Looking towards Labour leadership results, perhaps it wasn’t.
But mostly what I took away from the indyref was the huge levels of engagement. People young and old were taking about something that before had been considered distant, irrelevant. I overheard people on the street, on the train, in the supermarket actually talking about legislation, the constitution, and political parties. This was incredible. And even more amazing, is the effect this had on turnout in Scotland compared to rUK in May.
I hope this can continue. Even if you disagree with the government of the time, it’s important to register that. It’s important to use your voice, vote or campaign to tell those at the top what your want. The indyref wasn’t about becoming passive, letting things roll by and just keeping the status quo. The indyref was about action, fighting for what you believe (whether left, right, unionist, pro-indy or anything else). That is what the indyref meant to me.
Siobhan Tolland – This is a deceptively difficult question. If I was to answer it in one sentence though, it would be it has shifted my perception of power. To my shame I used to see the Scottish Parliament as a bit of a Disney Parliament. Interesting an all but really Westminster was the ACTUAL parliament. In a post-referendum Scotland I realise now that the basis of our power absolutely and completely has to lie in Scotland and Westminster is but a tool to achieve that.
The two great moments of the referendum for me showed me very clearly, once and for all, that Scotland’s path was inevitably set for independence no matter what. As a historian I often see moments as they fit into a long sustained period of time and consider their importance within that context.
The first moment was The Empire strikes back greeting of the labour MPs, as they trooped up from England to persuade us to vote No. Welcome our Imperial Masters! They were humiliated by a guy on a bike with a megaphone and the Star wars theme tune blasting out. It was the funniest, most brilliant and most politically potent moment of the referendum. If you haven’t seen it, you really really should:
It showed the revolution that was happening. For decades Labour was in unquestionable control. Westminster was in unquestionable control. All the debate, the discussion and arguments didn’t even touch this moment. The MPs were left looking absolutely ridiculous as any vestiges of power they had were stripped away under the booming, ‘Bow to your imperial masters’. Robin McAlpine said that this moment was the beginning of the final stages of Empire and that encapsulates it so well. When the powers at be are ridiculed so completely they have no power left.
The other moment was the weekend before the referendum. I am still sad I missed being part of this. I started getting social media reports and videos of thousands of people just gathering in the streets, singing, dancing and partying. The sense of celebration and hope swept across the country. It was happening in Perth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness. All over, thousands just parting across the country on the eve of our most important moment in modern history. I knew there and then Independence would happen.
No to be fair, I did kinda think that might have been last September 18th. But what these moments have done for me was continue my certainty. I had assumed I would have moved into a deep dark depression post-Independence. The fate that we now have even a year on, with a government killing off our citizens without remorse and refusing assistance to vulnerable people generally shows a society more and more bereft of compassion. I find myself using ‘fascist’ more and more often whereas a year ago I would have been reluctant to use that word.
There was a lot to be depressed about. Yet, from the moment I realised we had lost, I just kept thinking and saying, it doesn’t matter. The empire is crumbling. Independence is just a matter of time. Nothing I have seen changes that for me. The massive move into the pro-Independence parties, the dessimation of Scottish Labour and the slow move of public opinion consistently towards Independence all mark the historic inevitability. I genuinely believe that.
The UK government did not win the referendum. They got a stay of execution for their Empire.
For me now, changing society has become my main stay of life. I can’t undo my political awakening and I can’t stand back and watch such ingrained cruelty of our Fascist state. Self-determination is part of this struggle now. Social justice and notions of fairness and compassion are so deeply ingrained together now. I want to help make the final crack that broke the empire.
Anna Crow – Political awakening. Education. Empowerment. Honest discussion and debate. Learning to see through the mainstream media and political spin. Arguments on Facebook. Seeing vast levels of hypocrisy and people putting their own interests before the common good. A new kind of solidarity. Badge-wearing. Green Yes.
Liam Muir – I have learned more over the course of the referendum campaign and in the year since about politics, history and global affairs than I did in all my years beforehand. Seeing the enthusiasm many in Scotland shared for the prospect of self-governance forced me to get to grips with many of the main arguments in favour of and against independence. It was this engagement that formed the foundation of the person I am today and that has given me a new found clarity.
One day when I was helping out at one of the Yes stalls in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, I had a fascinating exchange with a flamboyant American tourist who went by the name of Marie. She walked up to our stall, camera around her neck and a bemused expression of her face, seeming genuinely perplexed at the idea Great Britain would break up.
‘What would become of the Union Jack?’ She asked.
‘After everything ya’ll been through, you wanna throw it all away? Ah don’t get it!’
To her credit, once her ambivalent attitude had been fully showcased, she did ask me why I thought Yes was the right choice.
I always feel so many emotions whenever faced with this question. I was amazed how superficial her thought process was but also excited she showed enough interest to listen to us. When asking her to contemplate the USA’s history with the British Empire and how she thought the Scottish independence movement had cause to even exist in the first place, she flipped up her Steampunk lenses and listened.
Firstly, I explained to her how strong the political argument is. Scotland’s voting influence being marginal, Westminster implementing cuts to vital services when an already alarming number of people are working to maintain their own poverty and so on.
Just as I was about to approach the taxing issue of Scotland’s financial stability, she interrupted.
‘Ya know I never thought of that! Sounds good guys, can I take a badge?’
She took two badges, one for herself and one for her husband. Now whether she had been wholeheartedly convinced that self determination was definitely the route Scotland should pursue, or was late for the Tattoo and took the badge in an attempt to create the illusion my words had resonated with her, I will never know.
This chance meeting brought me to a an understanding that no matter how important we all consider this debate to be, others give it no such credence.
When the campaign began, I distinctly remember being continually surprised at how much of an impact the pro independence movement was having on this country. For the first time in my lifetime, politics had become mainstream. The environment I was living in during the months leading up to the vote was often one I thrived in. My involvement in local activism saw me expand my knowledge and understanding of how this society functions and more importantly, how much influence our politicians actually have on our lives.
Was the referendum a failure? It really depends on who you ask. To those unwilling to give the vote a second thought, it was probably no more important than it was to Marie, wearing her Yes badge for a lark whilst playing tourist on vacation to Northern Britain. For the people that threw themselves in to the debate, viewing independence as the first step towards UK wide reform, the goal was not achieved. This does not constitute failure in my eyes.
Scotland may not have millions of people marching through the streets demanding their Government grant them their independence as we see Catalans doing in Barcelona. It may be entirely possible that far from being an inevitability, Scotland could have missed the boat and been left behind by other countries that have managed to escape British imperial rule. Whatever the polls say in the years ahead, a country politicised is a country alert and the democratic will of Scotland may never have been stronger.
Chris Napier – For me, the indyref was about a personal political awakening. I’d always been interested in politics but spent most of my 20s (I didn’t vote at all until I was 28) pretty apathetic to the process as New Labour seemed so dominant as to make the act of voting redundant. I’d always been a supporter of independence – as a teenager for wholly vacuous Braveheart reasons and later as a student I discovered the sound economic and sociological case for it.
In any case, the indyref caused me to take a look at all my preconceptions and (by that point, slightly dated) knowledge and reassess them before engaging friends, family and strangers to see what they thought – which proved to be an enlightening experience
By the time it was all over, I knew I couldn’t just sit back and allow the machines of the state to continue twisting information and stifling freedom and democracy – so I became an activist, turned my writing over to politics rather than pop culture and I am not going back in my box. After all, ‘the price of apathy to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.’
More than that – the breadth of the debate and the awakening of popular political engagement in Scotland made my own awakening more meaningful as a part of a greater paradigm shift, rather than the isolated rantings of one individual. As such, I’ve met people over the last year, through being politically active and writing about politics – who have inspired, encouraged and educated me and I’d like to think that this is a process which is ongoing across the country.
The independence referendum was cruel lesson in defeat (all to familiar to a long time follower of Scotland’s sporting endeavours) but also an invigorating and inspiring example of what can happen when people really start trying to change things, start talking and co-operating, even against impossible odds.
As such, it’s not even just about independence but about involvement, analysis and progression. It’s a few million personal awakenings like the rolling pebbles which start a landslide… a landslide which has not been stopped and hopefully never will be.