In 2014 I voted for the status quo.
The UK seemed reasonably stable and prosperous. Its continued membership of the EU wasn’t in serious doubt, there didn’t seem much more cause than usual to worry about the survival of our NHS, public services and welfare state. And in the afterglow of the 2012 Olympics I assumed most people across the UK still upheld inclusive, compassionate, progressive values at heart. It wasn’t obvious to me that an independent Scotland would choose – or need – to take a very different path.
So for me, independence just wasn’t worth the upheaval.
My wake-up call came on 24 June 2016. Quite apart from my own personal grief as someone who feels deeply European, the EU referendum result made me realise that the UK was not the modern, benign, inclusive, pragmatic, realistic country I’d imagined. And that realisation has only been reinforced as Westminster politics has become increasingly wrapped in the language of English Exceptionalism, empire and world war, and racist and other hate crimes have soared.
Then there was the huge difference in the way Scotland had voted. It suddenly became obvious to me that Scotland really did have different values, different aspirations and a different self-image, and that, as an independent country, it therefore really would be likely to pursue a better and healthier course.
Any notion that Scotland’s needs and values might be accommodated within the UK has been blown out of the water. Constructive proposals from the Scottish Government, whether about the Single Market or a much-needed Scottish visa system, have been rejected in less time than it would have taken to read them. Over and over again, Scotland’s votes and Scotland’s needs have not just been discounted, but scorned. For the first time I began to see the contempt with which our elected MPs are treated in the Commons. The sense of entitlement, the condescension, the dismissiveness. The utter lack of understanding of Scotland and – worse – the utter lack of interest too.
And now the UK faces a truly bleak future. Years, decades even, of massive economic instability that will hit the worst-off hardest. Meanwhile, its most authoritarian, most right-wing government ever – roundly rejected by Scotland in the election – is openly planning to realign the UK to the US model, to be run entirely for the benefit of the corporations, while relieving them of almost all responsibility to the state, their workers, their customers or the environment. As part of the UK, we are about to lose a host of rights and protections we have long been able to take for granted. As for our social safety-nets: they will have no long-term future in this new Trumplandia. Even our democratic protections are under threat, with the UK government cracking down on all dissent – even in the media and the judiciary. These are deeply troubling developments with a dark history. And given all this, can anyone honestly feel confident that devolution itself is safe?
But it doesn’t have to be like this for Scotland. We only have to look to our Nordic neighbours (most of which also had to gain their independence at some point) to see that small countries pursuing inclusive, socially responsible, outward-looking agendas of the kind Scotland consistently votes for are among the most successful in the world, in terms of both prosperity and well-being. We could so easily be one of them.
The status quo of 2014 has been destroyed – ironically, by the UK itself. With or without independence, we now face years of upheaval. The only question that matters now is: what kind of country do we want to be at the end of them?
In 2014 I voted No. Next time I shall definitely be voting Yes.
Paula Kirby is a freelance translator and editor in German and English. She moved to Scotland from Kent in 2000. She enjoys swimming, cycling, and walks through the spectacular Highland scenery.