In January 2014 I took the month off to read the argument for both sides of the independence referendum. I started the campaign as a soft no, assuming that the status quo had the advantage – but after a year of hustings and lengthy articles both online and off, I realised assumptions wouldn’t cut it – I needed to make a judgement call on evidence.
By the end of January I had changed my mind and spent the following 9 months campaigning for Yes. I’m so glad I did. The morning after the poll I sat on my sofa sobbing and a kind friend who had campaigned on the winning side turned up with takeout coffee and sympathy. ‘I know this is horrible for you, but I think it’s for the best,’ she said.
She, like several other ‘no’ friends, has now changed her mind. Their reasons are not as uniform as might be expected – among them there are erstwhile Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative voters and their reasoning runs the gamut from the post-Brexit downward spiral in the UK’s prospects to the performance of MPs on all sides of the House of Commons (bad behaviour amongst Conservatives quite as important in changing minds, as admirable speeches by Nationalists) and on to the exceptional work done by the Scottish Government with Nicola Sturgeon as its leader. I have in the same amount of time, met many vehement unionists including one man, who, drunk at a party, told me he wanted to line up nationalist MSPs and shoot them because they had, in his view, ruined Scotland – a democrat he was not.
Our country is split in its opinions but those opinions are changing – of that there is no doubt – and that’s an exciting time. I spend a lot of my working life listening to people – whether in real life or in historic archive material. What I hear in my political discussions is that changes of opinion are hard-won and made at heart-breaking cost – giving up long-held beliefs about what is possible and what is best. It is a time of growing and changing as painful as any teenage realisation and like most things in life, it comes down to trust. Not only of politicians or ideologies but of ourselves.
For me, that’s the core of it, just as it was in 2014. The UK with its Houses of Commons and Lords and its antiquated view of its own identity is not minded to progressive reform (this is the case, no matter which of the two main parties has a majority.) But in Scotland we have a chance to do exactly that – to own our history (good and shameful for we come from both these things) and to face forward honestly as part of an international community of nations. This decision isn’t about currency or deficits, or even Trident but about how we (like all countries) will face those decisions. The Yes/No debate is about good governance and democracy. We can do so much better. Westminster currently is demonstrating what multiple bad decisions look like and we are all about to feel the consequences. The country where I live did not vote for that government or for what it is doing. We have not done so for some time. During recent protests around the world, Edmund Burke was often quoted: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ We are now at an important crossroads with a far right, authoritarian administration resorting to high-handed, undemocratic action. It is time we got out of this toxic union.
Sara Sheridan is a best-selling author and activist. Photograph by Alan McCredie.