What’s That Smell?

Uh-oh, it’s a political comic!

I don’t claim to be the most politically engaged person, and others have got into the nuances of the Scottish Independence debate more comprehensively in comics elsewhere.  I mainly just put together this vignette because I thought it was a funny idea.  It came to me when I was watching a televised debate about the referendum shortly after reading the Wee Blue Book, which was filled a lot of interesting documented, verifiable facts quelling a lot of the fears put forward by Better Together.  So watching the advocates for No trailing out these same old points, now armed with the knowledge that most were factually disprovable, I was left wishing that someone could just step up and go, “Ho, that’s a lie, mate!”  Cut through the political protocols and niceties and just call bullshit bullshit.  And that’s when I started riffing on popular TV skits based around that very idea, and imagining what it would be like to mash those up with the political sphere…

WhatsThatSmell1 WhatsThatSmell2 WhatsThatSmell3

The jokes in this are pretty specific, so apologies to those of you who don’t have a working knowledge of either the magnificent TV escapades of Karl Pilkington or Karen Dunbar’s delightful skit from Scottish sketch comedy show Chewin’ The Fat.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m voting Yes for Scottish independence.  Here’s the Facebook post I wrote at the start of this month explaining my reasons:

Brace yourselves: this is going to be a long post, on the subject of the Scottish Independence referendum.

The vote is just over 2 weeks away, now. I have said before that I was trying my best to stay undecided for as long as possible to be open to arguments on both sides, and at around this stage I was going to write two status updates – “Why I’m voting Yes” and “Why I’m voting No” – to lay out the forces swaying me in each direction. But now, I find myself pretty unable to write any convincing post for the No side, which confirms what has become increasingly clear to me: on 18th September, I’m definitely voting Yes.

People who have known me for a long time will know that, even a year ago, this position would have been unfathomable to me. For as long as I have been aware of the particular political matter of Scottish Independence, I’ve been hardline No. I was someone whose heart sank when the SNP were first elected into power in the Scottish Government, because it made an independence referendum a possibility, if a remote one. My whole life, I’ve been proud to be British as much as I’m proud to be Scottish. I’m proud of much of our shared culture and history, of our NHS. I like England: I’ve often visited, and I have family and friends there. I’ve never been one of those Scots who hate the English, who cheer on whoever’s playing against them in sporting events, and to be honest I’ve always found such attitudes embarrassing. And I always felt that the SNP and any move towards Scottish Independence pandered to such nasty, small-minded, parochial sentiments. I felt like, as a people, it was better to be part of something bigger than to split ourselves up into little factions and seal ourselves off. And I was basically happy with the political situation of the United Kingdom. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but compared to what’s going on elsewhere in the world, all things considered it felt like there wasn’t all that much seriously wrong with it.

So, once the Yes/No campaigning began in earnest, initially I was dead-set against Yes. I didn’t even want to read any of the stuff in support of it, my mind was already made up. But then I stopped myself, and thought, “This referendum could be the most important vote you make in your lifetime. You owe it to yourself to engage fully, and learn all you can about both sides of the argument to make an informed decision.” And so that’s what I did. And very quickly, it became abundantly clear that the campaign of Yes Scotland was leagues ahead of that of Better Together. Yes Scotland has a positive vision for Scotland: there are aspirations, goals for the country with tangible ideas laid out for how to attain them. Better Together has been relentlessly negative. At the earliest stages there was this kind of smug, condescending disdain, the idea that Yes Scotland were beneath their notice, and that us lowly Scots should feel excited and grateful whenever a “real” politician from Westminster made a half-hearted appearance on our shores to give us a pat on the head and tell us we all knew what was good for us. But my friend Ashley Storrie made a great point about the “fuck you” attitude of Scottish people, where if you tell us that we can’t do something, then we want to do it to prove you wrong. And so every time David Cameron came to talk in Scotland, the Yes campaign saw a bump in the polls. And before long the Yes campaign went from a blip no one was taking seriously to something that was still the underdog with a minority, but enough momentum to make this a close-run thing. And at this point I was a frustrated No voter, bemoaning the fact that this blundering Government was playing right into Alex Salmond’s hands by giving the Yes campaign fuel without Yes Scotland even needing to do anything. But then the scare tactics began from Better Together, the doom-and-gloom and the threats of punishment or retribution that would come if we defied them by voting Yes. “We’ll take your pound away.” “We’ll take our business away.” “Scotland can’t manage on its own, this disaster or that crisis will make it fail. This is too difficult for you.” And that “fuck you” attitude started swelling up in me too.

There are ways of summing up the spirit of the respective campaigns. You could say that Yes Scotland has promises, while Better Together has threats. I prefer to look at it this way: Yes Scotland has a primary focus on engaging voters, while Better Together has a primary focus on DISengaging voters: it’s all “this is too difficult,” “this is all a bit scary to think about,” and “best to leave things as they are so you don’t have to concern yourself with it.” And that rankles me. And the more I found myself leaning towards Yes, the more apparent the media bias against Yes became. Heavily slanted newspaper coverage in favour of No from most publications. And even the BBC, an institution I’ve long respected and cherished… I’ve felt totally let down by them during this campaign, more than ever I’ve seen the bias and strategic reporting in a channel I’ve long praised for its relative objectivity. And when I see mobilisation of the powers of the media in the name of deceit and slander, I naturally incline towards the injured party in such a situation. And when you look at the forces assembled in favour of No – the Tories, UKIP, BNP, Britain First, the Orange Order, the Daily Mail – it makes you wonder about whether you’d want to throw in with such an axis of evil.

Even recently, the differences in the campaign have been night and day: look at that wretched “Patronising BT Lady” ad as opposed to the uplifting message behind the Yes ad in last week’s duelling TV spots. And even something as simple as the signs in my local area: the Yes slogan is all stickers plastered around town or signs hanging up in people’s windows, while No Thanks hangs oppressively on lampposts throughout the streets, high up beyond human reach. It feels like The Man, the establishment, while Yes feels grassroots.

But I’d be pretty shallow if my decision was just based on who has the snazzier campaign. While the Yes campaign might have opened my eyes to them, in truth there are deeper reasons behind my decision. I said before that the British Government are basically okay, but more and more lately I’ve realised that’s not the case. I’ve seen an alarming rise in political attacks on immigrants, on the unemployed, on the working poor… the vulnerable in our society we should be protecting. Even that NHS I talked about being so proud of is under attack. After promises the NHS would be untouched, the Conservative Government first brought in cuts, then tried to introduce privatisation to mass public derision. They initially backed off the idea… but then began the sustained media attack on the NHS, it seemed all of a sudden hardly a week could pass without some fresh scandal “leaking”, and calls for Something To Be Done. And now the privatisation has been filtering in a step at a time. I don’t like the direction the UK is going.

It lies deeper still than just policy, it is the whole political attitude. Scotland is under a Conservative Government, despite only having one elected Tory MP. Scotland can vote overwhelmingly in favour of Labour and the SNP at elections, but at the end of the day it won’t make a dent in the Conservatives coming to power if that’s the direction England decide to vote. They’re bigger than us, their votes carry more clout. That in itself is one of the most compelling arguments for independence: surely we should be able to elect a government that reflects who the majority of our population want in power. Isn’t that democracy?

Worse still, these past couple of elections have seen a startling rise to prominence of UKIP. After years of relief that ragtag racists BNP were far too ridiculous to ever get any serious political influence in this country, that Britain were far too civilised for such things, UKIP and Nigel Farage have come along with the same nastiness at their core but with just enough of a veneer of class and credibility to dupe large factions of England, riding the tide of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment brewing in middle England. Scotland isn’t taken in by them to anywhere near the same degree: we’ve largely rejected them in the polls. But again, that doesn’t matter, not if England votes them in. And rather than oppose their anti-Europe sentiment and their hatred of immigrants, the other major parties have played them in a race to the bottom: “Look, we hate immigrants too!” Good on Salmond, the SNP and Yes Scotland for actually having some backbone and standing against that tide, saying, “No, actually we want MORE immigration, migrants are a valued part of Scotland.” I’m not saying England is full of racists or that there is no racism in Scotland – far from it – but these differing stances in terms of who we elect and who is and isn’t buying the shite Farage is selling suggests we really are two different countries. And as much as the prospect of unelected Conservatives having powers over Scotland annoys me, the prospect of unelected UKIP having those powers infuriates me, especially since Farage still nurses a grudge over the humiliation of being driven out of Edinburgh and UKIP have publicly talked about teaching us Scots some humility when they get the chance.

The aforementioned Europe point brings up another key thing to consider: many might think a vote for No is a vote for status quo, but it really isn’t. Once again bowing to that UKIP pressure, it would appear an in/out referendum on the European Union is on the table for some point over the next couple of years. Now, a broadly speaking, Scotland is pro-Europe, but increasingly, England has become anti-Europe. And remember what I said about how much bigger England is. So, if we vote No, we could potentially be facing another referendum with huge implications for our future in a couple of years, only this time we wouldn’t have a say on the outcome. If we vote Yes, there’s a conceivable situation where Scotland is in the EU and the UK isn’t. And though I now lean in favour of independence, I still believe we’re better as part of something bigger: being a part of the European community offers that. Change is coming one way or another folks, so we shouldn’t be voting just in hopes of avoiding it.

I realise this post is gargantuan now, so I’ll try wrapping things up. I hear the expected voter turnout is over 80%. That’s huge, and really heartening. One of the worst enemies of democracy is voter apathy. So, whatever way the vote goes on September 18th, it’ll be the will of the Scottish people. But I’ve gone from being terrified by the prospect of a Yes vote to being dejected thinking on the likelihood of a No vote. It’s just a depressing thought, the notion that we as a country might decide that we’d rather not make our own decisions, that we’d rather someone else take responsibility for us. And so we may go on being the contrarian voice shouting out against majority UK policy from the cheap seats, but we’ll toothless in our protestations, because we’ll have made the decision that we want to be there. And we’ll have forever have lost the right to complain about Westminster decisions not made in our best interests or not reflective of our desires. Yes, there are risks in independence. We may fall on our faces. But at least the decisions that will see us fail or succeed will be ours to make. It can be frightening thinking that we’ll have no one to credit or blame but ourselves, but I find it invigorating. I love Scotland, and this is one of the most exciting, promising times ever to BE Scottish. On 18th September, we all get the chance to take part in perhaps the most important vote in our country’s history. I’m voting Yes.

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