Independence for Scotland. Yes, I like that. Independence. Dependent on no one but ourselves. Just listen to the language. Vote YES. Positive. Bold. Assertive. It’s a vote in favour of something. We’re not against things, we’re stepping out boldly FOR something. Why is the NO campaign so negative? You guys keep running down the country. Ooh, you’re so fearful, you’ll vote NO. And what’s worse, you’re just puppets for those Westminster bosses who tell us what to do. So your campaign is all about fear and negativity; it lacks any kind of courage. Come on! Take the bull by the horns. Vote YES. We’ve heard the slogan from across the Pond. Yes we can! Yes, Scotland can too. Be positive! Vote YES.
Make no mistake. That’s how the campaign is presented by the YES campaign. And language matters. It matters profoundly. Who wouldn’t want to be positive? Who wouldn’t want to assert the will to command one’s own destiny? During a debate on Scottish independence, the Deputy First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, played one card and she played it again and again. In answer to the charge – and there were many – ‘what about the dangers of this and that (name your issue)’ she simply ignored the details and replied: “Don’t be brow-beaten by Westminster politicians. Stand up for yourself! Don’t let them tell you what to do!” The similarity with a stroppy teenager was impossible to miss. “Don’t tell me what to do!”
But surely this characterization makes it look like you’re voting on a particular ‘approach to life.’ Voting YES becomes ‘let’s be positive’ or ‘let’s be assertive’ while voting NO is simply ‘I’m scared so I’ll cling to the English.’ Is that what the vote is about? Psychological optimism?
One thing I’ve noticed about this campaign is the rather surprising approach to two words associated normally with religion: agnosticism and faith.
First agnosticism. Agnosticism is one of the main planks of the NO campaign. ‘Fellow Scots, the reality is we just don’t know. We don’t know what might happen. It’s unknown. Oh and by the way, what we do know is unnerving enough and should make us think twice before changing the status quo.’
The Scots have been given all kinds of unsettling pieces of information in the past few weeks. The supermarkets have announced that prices will probably go up. The oil companies have told us that the oil will not last as long as hoped. The EU has given a warning that joining the EU could take five years and even then, taking the Euro as the currency might be required as part of the deal. Scotland wants to share the pound? May not happen. As for the funding of the universities – the jewels in the Scottish crown – when you run the numbers, it looks unlikely that they will receive as much money as they currently do as part of the U.K.
There have been enough pieces of information to make me shudder. And I’m not even Scottish. Yet, the agnosticism card hasn’t played well at all. The fearful future card is negative and what do you know!? Millions of Scots are favouring the Faith card. Faith in what or whom? Well, as it happens, the one card which is pitched in movie plots all the time . . . Faith in Yourself. Believe in yourself, Scotland. Like the girl in Frozen. Like Simba and well, name your movie hero. Self-belief and self-worth are closely tied together and if you listen to the YES campaign, it’s impossible not to hear the sub-text. Voting NO is terrible because it implies that you have no self-belief. You don’t really believe in yourself and by extension, Scotland. What kind of approach to life is that?!
I’m all for a positive approach to life, but this is clearly NOT what this vote is about. It’s not enough to play the ‘I have faith in Me, Us, Scotland’ card. And that’s because the vote is not simply about taking hold of a new future. It’s also about letting go of a different future. Inside the union. With all the rights, benefits and privileges which that holds. If Scotland lets go of the union, it may well find that it quickly regrets its decision. And there are no morning-after pills for Referendum Regret.
Before voting YES, I pray that the Scots make two lists. On one side, ‘What we receive.’ On the other side ‘What we lose.’ And then I hope they think clearly before voting for something which might cause great damage to both countries, Scotland and the U.K. Oh, not immediately. Probably five, ten years down the road.
I didn’t think I would ever write this but . . . having faith isn’t enough. It isn’t. Not in this case.
I’m all for faith. Of course I am. But it makes a big difference in whom you place your faith. The Scots may vote YES, they may well place their faith in themselves. After all, the idea of God in Scotland is declining. Not as quickly as in England, but yes, it’s declining. So they seek a different entity in which to place their faith.
Do we, as humans, have an insatiable desire to place our faith in someone or something? It’s a good question. And if God is absent, what better candidate than ourselves? Just listen to the juggernaut of self-belief: YES we can. Have faith. Because whatever the agnostics may say, with faith in ourselves, we can succeed.
The relentless optimism of the YES campaign is hard to counter.
It may just split my country in two.
© Richard Collins 2014