Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Haves V the Have Nots

I was never sure that voting Yes was the right thing to do. But as I watched the results come in at 4AM, I was saddened at such a rejection of hope and optimism.

I never campaigned for Yes or No but did seek the views of hundreds of people as I travelled round Scotland this summer. I found people on both sides echoing questions that were perplexing me.

I live in Cumbernauld, smack bang in the Scottish Central Belt. I've predominantly worked in Glasgow for the last eight years - mainly in the financial sector. I currently work in Edinburgh, again for a major financial employer. I have family in Shetland, Aberdeen, Argyll. I have friends throughout Scotland and have spent far too much time on FaceBook and Twitter, reading the views of both sides.

A question I have had from the beginning - are a majority of people in Scotland sufficiently well off that they would not be willing to risk such a radical change as voting for independence?

I was a No voter until Spring this year when I started the final rewrite of my novel - The Great Scottish Land Grab. My worldview back then was highly coloured from ten years living in England, initially in Uxbridge and then in York - still my favourite city in the world.

I have many English friends, most of whom could not understand why I started publicly declaring I was voting Yes.

I love the English and consider myself British as much as Scottish simply because they accepted me and I accepted them. I've never been a nationalist - even when I used my Scottishness to great advantage while working in Tajikistan.

I have grown increasingly disillusioned with Westminster politicians over the years but as I started entering into online debates I had to say I was just as disillusioned with Holyrood politicians. I could not and can not see any difference between Westminster and Holyrood.

If I had to choose between Alex Salmond and David Cameron I would reject them both. Neither of them have represented me. Both have ignored me when I've responded to their consultations. Both are determined to push ahead with their narrow political agendas, ignoring the majority of the population when we oppose them.

Yet, I changed from No to Yes because I started to believe that independence might just be a catalyst for radical change in the UK. Not just for Scotland but also for the rest of the country. I'm sure it would be tough. I'm sure it would raise many problems but I'm also sure those problems could be overcome.

I woke early at 4AM on the 19th and couldn't resist turning on the TV. The results came in fast, one after the other with No winning greater majorities and the few Yes victories too narrow to make any impact on the overall result.

At just before 5AM that morning, Lord Reid summed up much of what the debate has been about for me. Speaking about Yes victories in my home region of North Lanarkshire and Glasgow he said:

"[These are] areas of ordinary men and women, some of whom are in poverty, some of whom die early. This is not just a vote about independence, its a vote, its a cry out, its a protest vote about the conditions in which people live. So, its not sufficient to respond to it just by saying there will be more powers. The constitutional questions may interest some people, but for other people, its about their children, their education, its about the food banks and that has to be addressed as well."

I work and live alongside people who are doing okay for themselves. For some of them this is an illusion but one I sympathise because I fell for it as well. When you're earning more than you ever have before it is easy to think you are doing okay, even while tax and ever increasing bills mean that larger salary means you are no better off.

But, we are living in a society where inequality becomes greater with every passing day. Zero hours contracts hide the true appaling state of the employment situation. Employment may be falling but for many, incomes are also falling.

Yet for many, myself included, we're doing alright. Why should we risk such a huge, disruptive change that could upset our carefully ordered lives?

I know that I did not vote Yes because I'm poor. I know that many who voted No will have been worse off than I am.

There is no easy divide. A person struggling to support their family on £20,000 a year will be looked upon with envy by someone who cannot hope to earn £15,000. Yet I fear that the vote was lost because far too many of us fell for the lie that we'd be better off together.

When you have something, even when its not all that much, it is very hard to let go of it.

I believe the haves - in general - voted No. I know that there will have been many who are well off and even wealthy that bucked that trend. Still, my perception has been formed from hundreds of discussions I've had round the country this summer.

I suspect the choice is a short sighted one. But, I'm sympathetic to the view that the Yes campaign did not give out enough detail. I tried to set out my own vision for Scotland in The Great Scottish Land Grab. But, I would accept that my novel is a dream, perhaps even naive.

I've spread my own message this summer, neither Yes no No. A third way. I believed early on that no matter which way the vote went, we'd have to fight for the future for Scotland. I just hope that the haves and have nots can find a way to work together to make this country a truly better place.

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