Kate Higgins: Do we need anger before hope?

The First Minister's preface to the White Paper is almost evangelical in its passion. Picture: Robert Perry
The First Minister's preface to the White Paper is almost evangelical in its passion. Picture: Robert Perry
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‘Where is the political leadership stirring us from our apathy?’

RELENTLESSLY positive. That’s been the tone of the SNP’s ­campaigning to date in the ­independence referendum. The First Minister’s preface to the White Paper is almost evangelical in its passion, accentuating the positive, offering only a nod in the direction of negative, ending on the inspirational: “This is our country. This is Scotland’s future. It is time to seize that future with both hands.” Read all four pages in one sitting and you half expect celestial angels to break out in a chorus of hallelujahs at the finish.

The polls would suggest, however, that the people aren’t feeling awfy inspired. There has been some movement in support towards a Yes but it’s a tremor compared to the seismic shift required.

Better Together ends the year where it started: well ahead in the polls. There is no doubt, though, that its lead is soft. The only discernible trend in referendum polling in 2013 has been No voters becoming Don’t Knows.

So, as we look ahead to 2014, with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ­discuss, debate and decide what kind of nation, society and people we want to be, most of us might be persuadable but are as yet unpersuaded. Mebbes aye, mebbes naw. Scotland, we are beyond parody.

In the Yes corner, it’s all about hope. In the No corner, fear stalks every utterance. It’s deliberately framed to polarise, to entice the undecided voter, yet neither sales technique is attracting buyers. The question is why.

Maybe there’s an emotion missing. The festive hit on my Twitter timeline this year was a poster issued by Church Action on Poverty. It’s a take on the Conservatives’ election poster in 1979, “Labour isn’t working”, which showed the stark outcome of failed economic policies. This time the message is “Britain isn’t eating”, with the same long queue of supplicants snaking its way out of a food bank. Simple but devastatingly effective, and bristling with righteous and indignant anger.

Perhaps the reason we’ve yet to be hopeful about Scotland’s future is because we need to get angry first. One of the most astonishing statistics of 2013 was that this generation is the first to be worse off than our parents.

That’s me they’re talking about, and the rest of the sandwich generation, squished between twin responsibilities of raising children and caring for older relatives. We have bigger responsibilities, lower incomes, laughable prospects for retirement, eye-watering levels of mortgage and other debt, and less social mobility than any other generation in recent history. How do we react? With a weary shrug.

We are meekly accepting of our fates. Individual segments might be seething over their treatment by this UK Government – the farmers whose Common Agricultural Policy payments are the lowest in Europe because Westminster kept a whack for its own priorities; the disabled people and their families being forced to choose between homelessness, going hungry or freezing to death; the public sector workers losing their jobs or facing cuts in conditions to keep them; the young people with the lose-lose of going without benefits and working for no pay; the families whose finances are being kept afloat by continuing low interest rates or pay day loans; the small businesses obliterated by the banks continuing to behave badly – but where is the political leadership stirring us from our apathy into a collective force for change?

In the autumn, the Chancellor set out a financial future which aims to take the UK back to the 1940s. The intention is to cut government spending to a lower proportion of gross domestic product than currently, to the level in 1948. There will even be a law passed to make it happen. A further 11 per cent of cuts are planned on top of the ones already factored in through. Scotland will be expected to bear its share of the pain, and make do with less. Four billion pounds less, to be exact: that’s one-eighth of our current block grant.

This is our future – Scotland’s future – if we vote No. Yet where’s the anger? John Swinney is asking hard questions but he’s being far too reasonable. We need a little splenetic blustering, surely, in standing up for Scotland’s interests, to make us all sit up and notice. The lack of anger means we’re oblivious, fretting into the wee small hours about turning pennies into pounds, inured and indifferent to messages of optimism about a brighter future.

Maybe we need to get angry before we can get hopeful. The SNP perhaps needs to be a little less relentlessly positive and a little more incessantly irate. In order for us to work out what we’d like to be different about our lives, our society and our country, we need to rail and rage against the machine. Or the risk is that the machine, hard wired to keep us in our place, long practised at doing us down, will win.

The aftermath of a No vote forged in fear, or even indifference, is likely to be bitter recrimination. As Maya Angelou suggests: “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean”.

Kate Higgins is a pro-independence commentator who blogs at burdzeyeview.wordpress.com