Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey: Yes campaign must drop the moral argument

The Yes movement should listen to the concerns and fears of No voters over the economy. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The Yes movement should listen to the concerns and fears of No voters over the economy. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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THE Yes movement must drop the moral argument and listen to the concerns and fears of No voters to find an economic case, writes Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey

I joined the Yes movement in January 2013 in what I can only describe as a moral panic. Having spent the previous decade battling mental health problems, alcoholism and homelessness, I had a good idea of what poverty looked and felt like. Not only that, but I’d reached the conclusion that poverty was a direct result of an elite, which I was sure met somewhere behind closed doors, to conspire against the interests of those of us a little further down the food-chain. Which is why the Yes campaign, with its vague but emotionally stirring appeal for a fairer and more socially just country became not only a passion, but an obsession for the next two years.

My central frustration was ­simple: why couldn’t No voters see how much better things would be if only Scotland was independent? This question, rooted in what I now ­consider to be a rather dangerous form of moral certainty, was not something I pondered at any point. Not only that, but I privately regarded No voters as a thoughtless monolith of amoral self-interest.

I had instinctively decided that voting Yes was a moral act and there was a growing campaign, on social media and in real life, that ­confirmed what I already thought. My job wasn’t to think about my own position but simply to make other people realise what I knew in my heart: voting Yes was the only way to make Scotland better.

Thankfully, I have experienced a period of growth – or moral deterioration – since 2013 and while I still believe the principle of national 
self-determination to be, in and of itself, reason enough to vote Yes, I no longer cling so dearly to the intoxicating moral platitudes in which much of the Yes movement was steeped.

In fact, after the result came in on 19 September, I remember pondering my real choice going forward: I could, like I had done before, retain my old ideas about what motivated No voters and what sort of morally ambiguous people they must be to commit such an act of democratic self-harm. Or, I could venture beyond my ideological enclave, and dare to understand their reasons – or God forbid, concede they might be right about some things. What if they had as good a moral reasoning for voting No as I did for voting Yes?

The first thing I had to discard was this idea of Scots being an oppressed class. It was a subtle idea but a false notion which had become the cornerstone of my hyper-idealised and slightly ­paranoid thinking.

The next thing I had to re-examine was this idea of the UK being the villain of the piece. In order to preserve this myth, I had to – in my mind – divorce Scotland from the rest of the Union (which was really a synonym for England). I then had to engage in some mental gymnastics to reassign all the shameful parts of our collective history to the UK, exclusively, while attributing all the things we have to be proud of, to Scotland.

The last thing I had to get to grips with was the logic of the average No voter – which I had previously assumed didn’t exist. But when I started to look at my arguments for independence, which evolved around oil, nukes, welfare, militarism and, of course, paedos in Westminster, they suddenly looked a bit shallow and self-serving. From the No side, these seemingly moral ­virtues were total cop-outs.

Not only that, they were evidence of complete moral confusion.

What’s moral about running away with all the oil money? What’s moral about grandstanding on nuclear weapons when the democracy in which the Yes movement thrives is, arguably, guaranteed by them? If benefits are being cut within the UK, then how can they be extended in a less wealthy independent Scotland? And when did Scotland become a paedophile free-zone? At first these counter-arguments were jarring to hear and my instinct was to dismiss them. But I resisted those urges, and in good faith, made it my business to immerse myself in the reasoning of the other side’s arguments in the hope they would help me better understand my own.

Turns out No voters aren’t the ‘other’ side. Turns out they also have a deep sense of what is moral and what is fair and, more to the point, it turns out they are ‘the people of Scotland’ too. Turns out the people who voted No cannot be so ­easily defined or categorised as many seem to think. My belief in an ­independent Scotland has been challenged, scrutinised, and ultimately strengthened by engaging in genuine discussion with people who voted No, whom I have come to see less as an obstacle or an enemy and more like a friend, dispensing tough love at an inopportune moment.Many of them will be dreading a 
re-run of 2014’s campaign, not because they hate Scotland or democracy or social justice, but because that campaign, drunk on politically expedient moral platitude, deliberately stoked by strategists, not only excluded them but also made a running joke of their doubts, questions and fears.

The truth is, while many in the Yes movement still see this as a battle for the conscience of a nation, many No voters are simply waiting for an honest economic case to be presented, minus the flags and, perhaps, with a modicum of humility.