Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Eve of Change: from Scotland in Doubt and Hope

This post has been stewing for a few days now, but the death of my iPad until its replacement today has delayed my posting, perhaps for the better. Like the lovely Kim over at Painting with Shadows  ( ), I feel the need to record what's on my mind as we face the biggest vote of a generation on the future of our country. And one in which every cross in a box matters. 

As I sit here with my dog and a glass of wine in the middle of a week off, writing this somehow seems more important than heading out and catching up with people and enjoying my break. I need to write it out. I need to solidify my thoughts. Not convince or challenge anyone else, but so I understand my own thinking. This decision hasn't come easy and hopes and doubts are still running round my head.

This is one of the most challenging decisions I've ever made. Not because of politics but because of the impact it has the potential to have on so many for so long. And I have thought deeply about it. 

I'm not sure when my decision was made. 

Where to begin? I have a friend who is an ardent supporter of the idea of an independent Scotland. I remember evenings listening to him ramble on the subject in amicable debate and thinking that I understood his passion, admired it, but that the whole thing was ridiculous. So how I did I get to where I am today?

I don't really know. What I do know is that sometime last winter I started listening and reading. Asking questions, challenging the views of those around me. 

In that time I've also witnessed our parliament in action, first hand, engaging with and listening directly to those whose stories and bravery in sharing them have now changed laws in Scotland. I've seen MSPs, ministers and the first minister get to know personally some of our society's most vulnerable and act on their behalf. Decisively and across parties. 

It is this local, grass roots, human connection that's helped me believe in the power of more local politics so vastly different from the top down, unelected, elitist actions we see from our governors in Westminster and the Lords. I've learned about the statistics and structures of other countries that back up the view that this is the most effective, democratic way of achieving positive change. 

I've seen the gulf between rich and poor in the UK widening to an unforgivable chasm. And I know £billions  will be spent on pointless, dangerous weapons when around me every day at work I speak with homeless young people, and those with jobs still struggling to feed themselves. 

I see a political system which has evolved beyond principles to protect the careers and egos of those within its workings. Where is the fight, the belief, the vision of previous generations - regardless of political hue and opinion? 

At some stage in this journey, the word 'Yes' kept intruding my thoughts. Yes! 

How could I, the middle class, middle management, establishment girl with a pension and a mortgage and an English/ Anglo Indian heritage be thinking this? Perhaps it's my way of honouring the history of my working class father? A man who started with nothing, not even a functioning family let alone resources, who benefitted from a free education and belief that he could be something too. He could succeed and did. 

In this success, he and my mother never lost sight of social justice and fairness. Both in their own ways had broken their moulds, challenged stereotypes and predestined futures to be different from their pasts. Both hung onto bits- nice manners, church and history books, pubs, extreme fairness and a healthy disregard for the establishment.

Perhaps I am clutching at straws in looking to my past to understand my current views. However, historically we tend to vote like our parents and the familiar.

Rose tinted view? Maybe. But I do remember me, my brother and my sister being driven by mum to one of the most deprived housing estates in Europe to show us why we should never take for granted or assume our private education, music classes and warm home were a given.  Those shuttered windows and graffitied streets have never left me. 

As I sit here tonight, I still am scared and rattled by the past few days of politicking. 

After realising my yes! had stuck, I started to talk about it. I started to say in public this is who I am. This is what I believe. I have the blue sticker on my social media profiles. Nonetheless, I kept reading, absorbing opposing side's literature, statistics, listening to speeches, debating, talking often with as many people as possible. Still in challenging my views it, Yes!, was still there. It had become part of me. It spoke loudly to my greatest priority, social justice. Equality. 

Over the past ten days or so, I've managed to read and absorb more. Still finding myself repulsed by false sentimentality about a Britain I don't recognise and have been feeling very uncomfortable about since the campaigning for the last general election as words coming from candidates mouths made me feel like I was living in a colony. The wealth and 'City' seemed so alien to the poverty, damage of addiction and unemployment I see every single day. How could these politicians really be belittling those who have so little prospect and who deserve our service rather than the punishment of greater benefit cuts?

But, during these last days I have also been rattled. I sit here with doubts. 

My mother is voting No, as she doesn't like change and swears she'll return to Cumbria if independence comes. My sister is voting No because her partner will leave Scotland for London with work if independence comes and she is unconvinced by the dreams and lack of fact for the unknown. My brother is voting No because he hates Alex Salmond and can't be persuaded to see that we are not voting for the SNP but for or against an independent state, regardless of who's in charge. Will my family become separated by its outcome?

Friends, mostly London Scots, have been lobbying me with pro union information and views. One has even taken to emailing me reports from financial institutions, one of which she is employed by. Her emails speak of the waste of dividing a nation and her disappointment at not being able to vote.

A visit to my financial advisor also makes me nervous. What future for my job? My mortgages? My pension? 

This uncertainty scares me. 

These doubts are equally challenged by the happy, social activism and Yes-ness of others. It feels like our whole city is alive. People are debating at bus stops, waving flags, sticking stickers on their children in public rallies, it is fun and peaceful. Described eloquently here as a 'butterfly rebellion' . 

What if I do the wrong thing? What if I vote for something that turns out to be the emperor's new clothes? There is equal and opposing 'fact' issued in great swathes from both sides. If I vote for the status quo, then surely we can fight from within? And, perhaps, achieve my ideal: a federal UK. 

For me, none of this is about nationality. I happily encouraged a reluctant Greek girl to vote, as she is as much part of our land as any Scot and she has made her life here. For me, it is about community. It is about people being able to effect change and for votes to count where they are made. 

If I vote Yes, then I will rule out this half way house forever. But, if I vote No, then is it even attainable whilst the divide between rich and poor grows perhaps irrecoverably each week a politicians protect their jobs?

There has been much talk of hope and fear. This too speaks loudly to me. The status quo is not good enough. Either way lies uncertainty. And so my brain begins to somersault again. 

I appreciate this post has been a long one, and if you've read this far, thank you. It is something I needed to write to make sure I am sure of why I've made my choice. 

I've battled my Yes! And it seems it is still there. It speaks to my principles and not my bank balance. It speaks to 'us' rather than 'me'. It speaks of change. It scares me but it is hopeful. It speaks of rebuilding a system from the ground up. From people and community. 

Wobbling, but winning. Yes!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Cold inequality

As I sit in the corner of one of our eponymous coffee chains I am surrounded by commuters in suits buying overly expensive drinks and unnecessary treats to ease them into their day. Outside the window is a man trying to do his job. He is poorly dressed for the bitter wind, layers of t shirts and a thin branded waterproof, trainers dirty and one split accross the toe. He looks tired. All he is trying to do is give away a free newspaper. Few accept it. Minimum wage in action, no doubt. 

It is the stark contrast of the smartly dressed bankers and lawyers making their way to our captial's financial district with their expensive coffee and this thin cold man that bothers me.

Today I am one of those commuters. At least, dressing like I belong to the game, on the way to ask for financial support for my charity from one of those institutions. 

I hate this division. How can we ever justify it? 

As we head towards a referendum on Scotland's future, it is this inequity that will confirm my decision. Surely there is a different way? And we have a chance to break a system that just doesn't work. 

To me, it's not about Scotland. It's not about independence. It's not even about cultural identity. It's about equality. 

I wonder, as I watch the hundreds of people walking past, how many of them think these thoughts? How many of them notice or care about this man and what he to me, today, represents? I hope they do.