I see more figures in the Yes movement are arguing that we need to be more open to what No voters think. While it’s worrying how late in the day this seems to be dawning on some people, it must also be welcomed. The only problem is that those people argue that we should listen to No voters only with the intention of persuading them to change their mind, as opposed to genuinely engaging in the pursuit of some higher truth. Which begs the question, if it’s not the truth we are after than what is independence really about?
After the referendum in 2014, I recall experiencing deep feelings of uncertainty. While it seemed everybody else was issuing either analysis or marching orders, the resulting No vote left me feeling deeply confused. “How could so many people vote against their own interests?” I pondered. Of course, this question, as well-meaning as it may have been, was a direct result of my own narrow thinking. Narrow thinking which, to some extent, had been cultivated by the Yes movement itself.
For better or worse, I had come to believe that the Yes movement was inherently moral, by virtue of our high-minded rhetoric, and that those who opposed us were, by extension, lacking in moral courage. I used to sneer at questions from old people about pensions and engage in the sort of moral relativism that proved, beyond doubt, that I was not as interested in – or capable of – serious discussion as I thought I was. Whenever this was challenged, it was easy to dismiss as “nawbag” mischief. In all honesty, within the Yes movement, the legitimacy of the unionist argument was never really considered. It was regarded only as a straw-man that had to be evaded, ridiculed or pulverised. In the Yes movement, we became more effective at ridiculing unionist’s arguments than we did at thinking them through with a view to honestly confronting them.
Instead of considering the issues more deeply, beyond the false dichotomy of Yes/No, many of us pondered the far simpler, surface issues. “How could anybody want nuclear weapons?” “Why would anybody want to continue austerity?” “Why would people take the risk of perpetual Tory rule when we have the chance to go it alone?” The simplicity of these questions eclipsed only by how smugly they were posed – or was that just me?
It hadn’t occurred to me yet that people who were against independence, not in principle but as vaguely described by the SNP, held just as strong convictions as I did. That their arguments were rooted, not in megalomaniacal self-concern or villainy as many of us believed, but instead, were anchored in their own distinct moral legitimacy.
This was hard to accept at first. Who likes to concede they might have been that monumentally mistaken? But once I got more used to the idea, it started to reframe a lot of the questions I was struggling to answer. I started to think maybe nobody wanted nuclear weapons but that the issue was more complicated than just saying they are immoral. That perhaps, having them and using them are not the same thing and that simply asserting a moral platitude on the issue may not be the most efficient use of my energy.
Then I wondered if maybe austerity had been turned into a political football when really, every party was endorsing one form of austerity or another, depending on its political needs.
Finally, it occurred to me that if left-wing No voters would rather take their chances with the Tories in government than the risk of going it alone, then perhaps that indicated just how much of a risk they believed Scottish independence was. In light of this, maybe I had to, at the very least, begin grappling with the moral complexity of the issue as opposed to simply casting myself as a ‘good-guy’. These realisations began to chip away at my previously unshakable worldview and challenged me to reconsider what the Yes movement really was, beyond how I subjectively experienced it. This posed some even more disorientating questions, some of which I am still attempting to answer. But this sort of inquiry will not win you a popularity contest in the Yes movement, despite its claim to be a forum for new and challenging ideas. What could be more challenging than the idea what we might be wrong about some of these issues?
What we should be asking ourselves is: In our quest to reimagine Scotland, is our reasoning motivated by a desire to produce a desirable political result or is it motivated by the pursuit of truth and understanding? If it’s the truth we are after, then we have to stop allowing facts to be taken hostage by our own personal political biases and preferences. Whatever way you slice it, constitutional debate has caused a lot of damage in our society. Some attribute that to the SNP while others argue that the dysfunctional UK system is the primary source of the corrosion. Whatever you think, a space is opening for those who want to steer a way through it all without necessarily vilifying the other side, or people who are fed up with the Yes/No paradigm and for whom it’s no longer the be-all-and-end-all. But it’ll be a few years yet before that becomes socially acceptable on either side of the political ravine, so until then we just have to keep listening, not merely with intent to reply but to genuinely understand. And maybe even grow to respect.
Darren McGarvey is also known as Loki, a Scottish rapper and social commentator @lokiscottishrap