OK, OK, I’m voting YES (probably)
I’d be offended if you called me a nationalist or equally, for that matter, a Unionist. But on the ballot paper there isn’t a box for Socialist or Republican. So, what to do?
I did briefly consider not voting, but I’ve always voted (people gave their lives to earn that right, etc.), plus my sixteen-year-old son has, quite rightly, been given the franchise (only for it then to be taken away for the 2015 General Election) and it would obviously be hypocritical to encourage him to vote and then not do so myself. So, how to deal with a dilemma?
I consider myself to have strong, secure political views, but the referendum has made me waver and vacillate. I started out as a NO, then went to YES, then NO again, but in recent months I have gravitated towards the conclusion that YES is the best use of my ballot. This has been neither an easy decision nor a straightforward journey.
For the last two months my company, Fair Pley, has been producing a one-man play starring David Hayman – Pitiless Storm, written by Chris Dolan. The play deals with the journey of a Labour stalwart who has been offered an OBE on the eve of the referendum. It will come as no surprise for those who know Hayman (or Dolan) that the play concludes by urging a YES vote, but the play skilfully depicts the journey from NO to YES and deals with the dilemmas faced by many Labour voters. It also acknowledges that voting NO is a legitimate position for those on the left.
We did twenty-four performances at the Assembly Rooms during the Fringe, playing to almost 6000 people. At David’s request, we’re now touring it around Scotland up until the referendum – 45 shows in total with an estimated combined audience of maybe nine or ten thousand. We filmed one of the Edinburgh shows and have posted the climactic last speech on YouTube three days ago – it’s had over 17,500 hits so far! Does theatre change people’s minds? Don’t know. It’s drama, show business, acting - nobody dies. However good an actor he is, and he’s exceptionally good, has Hayman, acting in a play, changed people’s minds? Anecdotal evidence suggests for some people he has. For others, the play has confirmed their views. For others, they have appreciated the performance and the play, but remain NO voters.
At each show Hayman holds a Q and A immediately after the performance. These have been fascinating. The levels of engagement in the debate have been hugely encouraging. People are taking this decision seriously. It does feel like the genie really is out of the bottle and that things will never be the same again. Good.
However, over-exposure to David Hayman hasn’t tipped the balance for me; over-exposure to the grinding negativity of Better Together has. To paraphrase Neil (now Lord) Kinnock, the grotesque chaos of Labour politicians, Labour politicians, scurrying around with the Tories and Lib-Dems has been fairly nauseating. The Tories have little support in Scotland; they remain a toxic brand. For those of us who spent much of the 1980s marching up and down the country protesting against Thatcher, cosying up to her heirs is a bridge too far. They remain the class enemy.
It also seems that too many Labour supporters of Better Together appear primarily motivated by their visceral hatred of the SNP; almost still refusing to believe that Labour actually lost the last two Scottish elections, but remaining firm in their misguided belief that all the thousands of disillusioned ex-Labour voters will inevitably return to their traditional home sometime soon, after the ‘temporary blips’ of 2007 and 2011. They have failed to understand the deep-rooted sense of betrayal felt by so many of us over Iraq, Blair, New Labour, etc., etc., etc.. They have failed to answer the question: if we really are better together, why aren’t we better together now?
Last Sunday, I attended the AGM in Glasgow of the Musicians’ Union in Scotland. After the business, there was a debate between Pat Kane for YES and Eddie McGuire for Better Together. I have worked with both in the past and hope to do so again. I found myself agreeing with about 80-90% of what each of them said. They have clearly a lot more in common in their desires for Scotland’s future than divides them. I have many friends and colleagues, people who I respect and whose views I value, who are on different sides of this debate. It’s reasonable to conclude that there are good (and not so good) people on both sides.
However, I am persuaded (just) that YES offers the best hope for positive change: a Scotland based on social justice and equality; a Scotland without Trident and war-mongers; a welcoming country; a decent and fair society that encourages the strongest and looks after the weakest; a beacon to others. It seems kinda obvious that this won’t happen automatically, and certainly not with an SNP-led government clinging on to the coat-tails of the banks and the markets. We’ll need to make that change happen, but then we need to do that whatever the outcome of Thursday’s vote. As Joe Strummer used to say: The Future is Unwritten.
So voting YES is not incompatible with being an internationalist and a socialist. In fact, neither is voting NO. But on Thursday – call me an optimist, a dreamer blinded by hope, an angry middle-aged man - I’ll be voting YES. Probably. Very probably.
14 September 2014