I’ve been silent on the issue, and will remain so as far as which way I voted — that being a matter between me and my ballot paper — as there is a political sensitivity to my day job profession. As a writer, it has been an interesting experience, to be both part of the process but also, because I was obliged to remain apart from the arguments, to be an outside observer.
I’m with Irvine Welsh, as much as I’m with anyone. No matter which way you voted, no matter how you feel about the outcome, what was achieved was almost 100% voter registration and a massive 85% turn-out. The one thing no one can accuse Scotland as a nation of being is apathetic or disengaged.
I’m distressed to see people I know posting insults about “No” voters, accusing them of being traitors or feart*. The one thing that really would see Scotland as a nation lose from this exercise is if the population were to be split down the middle, with one half hating the other. As the campaign went on, and the polls came out, I knew only one thing was certain: whatever happened, approximately half the population was going to be extremely upset and pissed off by the result.
I didn’t need hindsight for that.
I hope, with every fibre, that this split does not come to characterise our nation as we move forwards. I don’t think this matter is settled. As the promises of three old Etonians, made in their panicked run-up to the referendum without any backing from Westminster, crumble to dust in the cold light of the morning after — as we all knew they would — there is every chance that Scotland will see another referendum before this generation has made way for the next.
There are already disappointed Yes campaigners organising themselves to go again, and do it better this time.
I’d make a plea, to anyone trying to fathom how it is someone could have voted differently from them, whether Yes or No, to bear some things in mind. These are things I learned during my years of cycle campaigning, things that were often ignored by my fellow campaigners.
- DO accept that other people have different opinions from you, and it’s not because they are bad people; it’s because they have reached a different conclusion from you after assessing the evidence available to them.
- DON’T assume you know the reasons why people who feel differently from you feel that way. If you could see valid reasons for them to feel that way you might feel the same. You will therefore be forced to imagine invalid reasons for them to take that position, which will only lead to arguments and frustration.
- DO try to engage with people who feel differently from you, and do so in a constructive and open manner. It might be worth starting with what they thought of the question they were being asked in the first place. For a great many people, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is neither straightforward nor easy to answer.
- DON’T assume people who were quiet about their decisions will give you a heartfelt answer when asked why they feel the way they do. There is a degree of peer pressure and fear of judgement when it comes to positions that have a social impact. Everyone has a Social Survival Mammoth, and for a great many, it’s the mammoth answering the questions. People are more likely to answer honestly about their primary reason for their opinion to those who feel the same way, because additional reasons for feeling that way will cement their acceptance in that peer group. If asked by someone who takes an opposite stance, people will probably give one or more of the commonly reported responses.
- DO stay positive and keep agitating for change. This wasn’t, no matter what the media might say, an overwhelming outcome. Very nearly half of all those living in Scotland voted to leave the UK. That’s a near miss, not a routing.
- DON’T be surprised by a catankerous old boys network hurling scorn and reneging on last minute promises. Politics has become a hive of playground tactics, and the only surprise should be that they haven’t yet yanked their shirts over their heads while running around with their arms out as if doing an impression of a fat aeroplane.
- DO try to remain civil, open, understanding, non-judgemental, co-operative and forward-looking, no matter how hard it is. Defeatism is the last thing we need. The No voters didn’t vote that way because they are traitors; nor did the Yes voters. Fear characterised much of the campaigning on both sides: if it had gone the other way, plenty could have said it was because Scots were afraid of being forced to leave Europe, or losing the NHS. As it is, there are those saying the No vote came about because selfish people were afraid of losing their pensions. It’s just not that straightforward.
- DON’T let what happens next be informed by spite, bitterness, hate or revenge.
Rather than focus on what might have been, let’s look at what we can do to make things better now. At the end of the day, that was what the No campaign promised: “Better Together”. Well, okay then. For a whole host of reasons, slightly more than half of the people of Scotland believed that was true, or at least more plausible than better apart.
Never mind the details for the moment. Just think on this: while the Scottish referendum was decided by the 5 million people north of the border, the rest of the world was watching. If, in fact, “Better Together” turns out to be fabricated entirely from tissue paper and lies, false promises and wishful thinking, a dying sense of empire and an archaic, tight-fisted grasp on historical precedent, then what are the 56 million other British people going to think of promises made to them?
This has been a wake up call. Let’s make the most of it.
*Please don’t assume this tells you how I voted.