Juliet Swann says both government and opposition is failing Scotland, and it’s time to call a moratorium on the simplistic either/or choice of independence and buckle down to the hard work of fixing the mess we’re in, together.
British politics is a mess. Wait, who am I kidding, internationally politics is a mess. In country after country we are seeing election after election demonstrating a feeling of discontent and of being ignored that sees voters choosing the party, individual or decision that represents a break from the status quo.
This is unusual. Voters usually like continuity, certainty and reassurance. But in the digital information age, where it is easier than ever to have your own opinions echoed back at you, where it takes moments to find ‘news’ that supports your views, voters are rebelling against the seeming ‘elite rule’. They don’t believe what they are told unless it fits their world view.
The problem is that our view of the world is fractured. Every individual is experiencing life differently in every moment, so no one person, cause or movement can speak to everyone, or even a defined group of anyone, at any one time. The days of Honda man and Waitrose woman (or whatever the focus groups care to call them) are over. In fact arguably the only causes that define groups now are the binary choices we have been spoon fed via referendums.
Politics hasn’t caught up with the sheer variety and multiplicity that is the 21st century. Despite the fact that (most of) our politicians deal daily with individual constituents and therefore see the personal stories that create this kaleidoscope of experiences more clearly than perhaps others, the systems that are in place to develop policy and progress change are failing. Even Trump is discovering that bureaucracy and public discontent prevents the action that he believes voters want. The black and white approach – vote, nothing much changes, vote – of the past is lost in a grey fog.
And in Scotland this discontent seems to be wrapped up in independence. Rather than seeing fault in our local systems (of which there are legion), independence supporting Scots have identified Westminster as the source of all evil. In some ways this bears a similarity to Trump’s pledge to ‘drain the swamp’. Westminster, its secrecy, its archaic customs and the legacy of years of white wealthy men being elected to parliament, is an easy target for ire, just as the seemingly remote world of Washington politics is to most middle Americans.
Can we just walk away? Arguably yes. We have our own parliament, we have our own legal system, education service, NHS. But at the end of the day, would Scotland’s departure reform Westminster or cause the elite to dig their heels in yet further? And let’s face it, it couldn’t be a clean break, it’s just bound to be a messy divorce.
The impact of Trump’s election shows us (if that was required) that politics is global. Even if Scotland were independent we would still be influenced by England and her parliament. As Brexit is demonstrating, relationships – from trade to travel – are multi-layered and complex and will be hard to disentangle, or re-establish. If an independent Scotland does join the EU, we will be part of a wider decision making enterprise that will also seek to have a relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our interest in what’s happening in America is not just economic, it’s built on centuries of relationship building – and far fewer years than we’ve spent building relationships with the rest of the UK. We can’t walk away.
And in any case, are the systems we would be substituting really that much better? Or are they just preferable to a place that has become akin to the bogeyman?
In the 20 years since the devolution referendum Scotland has led the wider UK towards excellent policy changes like the smoking ban, tough climate change targets, LGBT rights, free prescription charges (okay, just Wales) and more. (And by the way, these things usually happen when we see collaboration across party lines – funny that.) But equally, in some cases we are all making mistakes and failing the least advantaged in our society.
Scotland has missed child poverty targets and fuel poverty targets. Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are depressingly constant. We have failed to challenge the power of corporations, including the banks, and more often than not local communities are frozen out of decision making. Council tax banding is stuck in the pre-housing boom age, and Scotland’s freeze / unfreeze without reform is a real failure of leadership. Obfuscation around economic policy in Scotland, with blame being directed at Westminster or local authorities rather than an intelligent examination of the difficulties of the current financial constraints across the board, is cowardly. The demise of Scotland’s education system is unacceptable and should be the focus of even more effort than is being shown now, so late in the day. And the blame does not just lie at the feet of the governing party – that opposition, both at Holyrood and Westminster – is so weak as to allow these failures to just float by without any criticism hitting home is profoundly frustrating.
And so I humbly suggest that the energies of democracy be directed not towards yet another poll based on another simplistic ‘either/or’ scenario, but on working together to improve what we have. Let’s call a moratorium on independence, just until we can see what we might achieve when we focus on something else for a while. Who knows where that may lead us, but for me, calling for another independence referendum – or your only argument being accusing the SNP of being about to do so – is just further delaying the increasingly important work at hand.
For every month that we don’t work to improve education, or tackle poverty, address inequality, or regulate economic institutions, we postpone our shared future. And it will be shared. How can it be otherwise? As we are witnessing with Brexit, even a win doesn’t miraculously make the future bright and straightforward, it doesn’t help the losing side and it doesn’t entirely appease the supporters of the win either. And I’m so tired of hearing ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘if onlys’. I want to hear about a shared direction. I want to focus on what we agree on and for the best and the brightest to be working for compromise or to develop solutions where there is disagreement.
Because at the moment all we are doing is fostering division. I agree that often the discussion itself is reasonable and thoughtful. But then the discussion reaches the dead end or at least the ‘wait until’ that is independence. All parties use it, to cover up their own failings, their internal strife, their lack of policy direction or their honest confusion and dismay.
So buck up, Scottish politics. I don’t really care why you’re glossing over the detail, or playing bait and switch with people’s lives. I just want it to stop. I’m done waiting. Let’s fix this mess now.