A YES vote will give Scotland the opportunity to flourish, while a No vote may prove stifling, writes Pat Kane
“Yes or No, as a result of this referendum, Scotland has changed for ever. People have woken up – and they’ll stay awake, whatever the outcome.” I’ve heard variants of this sentiment among many of my pro-independence friends over the last few months.
This doesn’t just come from the mouths of the young and fearless, sparkling their way through the plethora of Yes initiatives and projects. It’s also from some real veterans and operators. They’re amazed to be out almost every night of the week, preaching to healthily filled halls across the airts and pairts.
Though tightening, the national polls have still not indicated a clear and consistent lead for Yes yet.
Every elite figure short of God (or Darth Vader or One Direction) has been enlisted, or framed, to frown sternly upon the very possibility of Scottish statehood.
“We may not win this one,” an avuncular founding member of Jim Sillars’ Scottish Labour Party told me, in the rare Glasgow sun last Friday. “But things really did change after ‘79. And it’ll change again after this, no matter what.”
I implacably oppose this view. I understand why it mostly comes from those who have put a lot of social, pedestrian and intellectual graft into the indy campaign. Surely something as crude as the outcome of a binary choice cannot really stop this teeming multitude, all these ideas, passions, creations?
But a No might well snuff it all out; in fact, I’m sure this was the calculation of the Unionist establishment when they rejected a third option devo-something question. They’ve gone for broke. So must we. That means first dwelling on the brutal collective-psyche consequences of a No vote. And, then, appreciating what an extraordinary opportunity for national flourishing a Yes vote will bring.
What I think my “victory-no-matter-what” Yes pals underestimate (or maybe, blank out) is the existential self-wounding that a No vote would be. If the turnout is as high as predicted, a No vote will have been a spectacle of a national citizenry refusing to move to the next level of its development.
We will have held the power tools of nation-state sovereignty in our hands. And we will have decided to – quietly, quickly – put them back in their box.
We’re not just any citizenry, by the way: we were recently assessed as possibly the best educated, per capita, in the world.
Media scholars will undoubtedly be in business for years, as they map out the full Unionist orchestration between Westminster/Whitehall and the top-down, mainstream media. It’s been tough out there. But it’s not as if the Yes side hasn’t had its own informational power. From deputy first ministers shooting PDFs, e-books and hard copies of the white paper everywhere, to the mass self-communicators of the wide and deep Yes movement (or cybernats, as they are demonised).
We will have had a full Burnsian flyting, well beyond any bland “national conversation”. And if No is the conclusion, then after this cosmos of information, activism, policy and rhetoric, we will have made a profound vote for Britain, and Westminster, as the ultimate conduit and horizon of our power.
You think all that bottom-up energy can be sustained and rerouted to Douglas Alexander’s powerpoint display in October? As the kids might say: good luck with that.
But if a No vote really matters, a Yes vote has equally momentous consequences. This will be a victory that rests on a peaceful, methodical mobilisation of several key sectors of Scottish society.
Firstly, the women and men of a politically reignited working-class. They will know that the great levers of social and economic progress – productive investment, supportive welfare, greater access to the conditions of a stable life (quality employment, affordable housing and usable land, improving health and education) – have been put in their hands by a Yes vote.
They won’t be on their own. Even the SNP’s generally play-safe white paper seeks a “social partnership” approach with organised labour.
Among bodies like the (currently inscrutable) STUC, and even a traumatised Scottish Labour, I expect bulbs to switch on in many post-Yes heads about the long-term possibilities.
The recent fever around the French economist Thomas Piketty is only the crest of a long wave of scepticism about the neo-liberal verities of the Thatcher era. Who will begin the task of making capital patient and productive, of tempering plutocracy, of asserting the commonweal?
Why not a new Scotland, its citizen-workers, its labour movement and its left-of-centre political consensus? The other group that will have brought us over the line are the artists and creatives, the freelancers, and the entrepreneurs (both social and commercial). They are the ones who have been inventive in creating and promoting the kaleidoscope of indy identities – what the campaign has called the “verticals” – that have motivated people right where they are in their lives.
They are the ones who didn’t bemoan the media, but became the media. They used social networks to give people an alternative mental environment to that of the dominant outlets – different facts, arguments, stories, delights, jokes. They’re not organisation men and women – those bought-over bourgeois estates of Union Scotland, their historic quietism reinforced by their bureaucratic solidity – but self-organising men and women.
If Yes wins, these and many other sources of energy, enterprise and audacity will rush into the mainstream of Scottish society. We will provide an inspiring example of the Good Society for a watching, fascinated world. Our new constitution will benefit from this everyday thirst for involvement. A new public media will be steadily imagined and planned from its engine rooms. And Team Scotland will feel the prickle of an awakened citizenry at the back of their necks, as the painstaking statecraft of arranging assets and liabilities proceeds.
Scotland free or a desert? Not quite. But to quote that old Burns fan Bob Dylan, a Scotland busier being born than busy dying? Yes. Which is the opposite of No. This really, really matters.
• Pat Kane is a musician, writer and sits on the advisory board of Yes Scotland
Lesley Riddoch is away