By Michael Petri – Michael is currently conducting a PhD at the University of Stirling, where he is a part of the School of Applied Social Science. As well as currently conducting his own research Michael is also teaching on a range of undergraduate Sociology, Social Policy and Social Research modules. Outside of university Michael works as a recruiter for a call centre outsourcing company, and has a keen interest in philosophy and eastern religions, particularly Zen Buddhism.
Back when the prospect of a referendum for Scottish independence was first becoming serious I was completely against it. The values of togetherness and unity are things which I consider to be fundamentally important for humanity, so the notion of separating from the rest of Britain did not sit well with me. Beyond that I will admit I was also a bit dubious as to our ability to successfully run our country by ourselves (an opinion which in hindsight was held without any real critical engagement on my part). I have however over the past year, whilst trying to be open minded on the subject and beginning to seriously look at the arguments made from both the Yes and No camps, went through a gradual but profound shift in my thinking.
The more I read and thought about questions such as our potential for a more environmentally sustainable energy future; our ability to stand on our own feet economically; the possibility of ridding ourselves of Trident, the unelected house of Lords, and our incessant following of American foreign policy; and the likelihood of moving away from the right-wing policies of Westminster which have become crystallised in British policies over the past decade or so, the more I began to not just take the Yes view seriously, but to see it as comfortably the most promising stance for the betterment of our country. Our Prime Minister (who the majority of Scotland did not vote for) argued in Brussels against putting a cap on bankers bonuses and lowered tax for the best off section of the population, whilst simultaneously hitting the poorest in society with the bedroom tax, making huge cuts across pretty much all public services and all the while having the audacity to repeatedly rhyme off the mantra that “we’re all in it together”. So the prospect of a sovereign Scottish government which has the potential and likelihood to move towards a more equal society reflecting the egalitarian roots of Scottish politics cannot help but fill me with optimism for a government that could at least have a serious shot at doing what governments are supposed to have been formed to do: protect and serve the people – and by that I mean the masses rather than the elite (which is what I believe our Westminster governments have been doing since I was born).
I’m under no illusion that an independent Scottish Government will somehow herald a new utopian age for Scottish politics. We will always have problems, and a yes vote would do nothing other than signal the beginning of a never-ending challenge to do what’s best for the people of Scotland and all our brothers and sisters that we share this planet with. I am however confident that an independent Scottish government, with the ethos of looking after the more vulnerable groups and individuals in society, is the best way to go.
I’d also like to touch on nationalism. I understand that in writing a pro-independence article here I am clearly going to come across as a ‘nationalist’. However I’d like to put forward why that isn’t the case and how it is not contradictory to be actually against nationalism, yet still vote for an independent Scotland. Firstly I consider national identity to be a social construction (admittedly one with a lot of meaning and baggage to a lot of people, yet a construction all the same). We are all just human beings living on land, trying to make the most of our fleeting, confusing lives. You don’t need to be a historian to know that borders are not static. They move and come and go all the time. They are not, fixed, inherent or eternal. They are simply useful practical fictions which allow us to group together in relatively smaller groups in order to come together with a sense of common purpose for our collective benefit. This is where I think the practicality and usefulness of the UK as a single collective group does not hold, and the needs of the people of this island would be better served by having smaller distinct sovereign powerful groups which would be better positioned to reflect the divergent social and political needs of localised populations.
Einstein called nationalism “infantile” and the “measles of mankind”. I’m aware that many people on both sides of this debate feel patriotic and have a sense of pride in their country, and I have no issue with that, however I would agree that nationalism is a dangerous prerogative to follow. Flags can be useful symbols to rally behind, just as governments can be useful tools for safeguarding the welfare of the people, however like borders these are all transient and in an ultimate sense illusory idealisations with no concrete essence of any value. To me the vote isn’t about identity but more about the way we want to govern society, and from my perspective there’s far too many differences in general between how the Westminster government functions (neo-liberal policies, elitism etc.) and the direction an independent Scotland would take (increased equality and protection of the vulnerable). An independent Scotland will not kill-off the idea or identity of being British. The geographical and historical connection with the rest of the UK cannot be revoked by having a sovereign Scottish government any more than not having one can diminish the ability for someone to identify themselves as Scottish. A Yes vote would reflect a popular will to have a distinctly Scottish rule of government, but surely when we consider identity, our preferences for particular types of social and national policies play only a small role in the formation of our overall identity?
My values haven’t changed over the past year, however my understanding of the political structure of Scotland and the rest of the UK has. With the seemingly ever-growing popularity of UKIP in England and a referendum on EU membership for the UK starting to look like a serious possibility, I feel the best way to be united and connected outwith ‘oor wee bit hill and glen’ is to vote yes. This is the only way to safeguard our strong connection to the rest of the EU and become a meaningful player at the international table – something which in our era of globalisation is an absolute must. We will only be able to tackle the serious environmental, economic and social problems facing our world today in cooperation and partnership with the wider international community. As things stand the best way to do that is in my opinion to vote Yes in September.