Buying your first home is easily one of the most arduous and nerve-wracking things that a woman of my age is liable to put herself through – and I don’t even have to wait for anybody else to move out of mine, or to put a house on the market myself, and hope that all the stars align at the right time. There are so many hurdles to get over, each one of which seems to cost yet another big chunk of money. I’m about to take on a massive amount of debt, and will be expected to make repayments on it over a period of time around the same length of my entire life on earth. And what scares me even more is the fact that, once the whole process is completed and I lock myself in for the first time to the home that belongs to me (and my bank), anything that goes wrong is my responsibility.
Now, obviously, I’ve been keeping house for a good few years now. And I remember locking the door to my first rented flat for the first time, and that moment of terror when I realised that if there was a leak in the ceiling (like there was, quite regularly) I couldn’t just wait for my mum to sort it out; or that nobody would care if I ate leftover Chinese food for breakfast every day until the grease started pouring out of my skin and I smelled constantly of beansprouts; or that if the electricity bill didn’t get paid then the electricity would get cut off. And obviously I’ve pulled it off, admittedly in the knowledge that there was usually a letting agent or a landlord to look after the hard stuff; even if sometimes I’ve just wanted to put my hands over my ears and sing to myself until the problem goes away. And that’s a good thing, because imagine you were 32 years old and still refusing to own your choices?
I don’t remember the first time I voted. There was a general election in 2001, two days before my 19th birthday, so it was probably that one. I’ve voted in every election in which I have been entitled to do so – regional, general, European – because only a few decades ago I wouldn’t have been allowed to, and because I feel very strongly that unless you exercise your right to vote you have no right to complain about what sort of government or council you end up with. I don’t ever remember feeling particularly excited about it, or as if anybody would have noticed if I’d just gone straight home from work on that particular Thursday. I don’t think I’ve ever cast a vote for the candidate that won in my constituency or ward. I’ve lived in Labour areas all of my life, and although I would have gladly given them my vote in 1997 had I not been 14 years old I don’t think that there are many people of my age or demographic that could vote Labour now without it being tactical, and without feeling slightly sick while doing so.
Something feels very different about 18th September 2014.
I think it’s because, no matter what anybody tells you, the vote you will cast in the Scottish independence referendum is not a political one. It’s not a vote for or against Alex Salmond, or for or against any of the policies set out in a badly sub-edited and overly long document that I’ve read from cover to cover. It’s not a vote to keep the pound; or to change the names of the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo to Gideon and Theresa. It’s not a vote to get rid of the nuclear weapons that blight the river that runs by the house I’m about to buy; or to make sure that we can still watch Doctor Who; or to abolish the bedroom tax; or to feed all of the oil and gas that David Cameron hasn’t told you is hidden out by the outer Hebrides to the Loch Ness Monster. It won’t automatically turn Scotland into a socialist utopia, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we’ll become a better country than any of the others we share an island with or any that we don’t. If we vote “yes” to independence, we can do all of these things if we want to, sure. But we could also choose to do none of them.
The point is that, for the first time since 1707, we could actually choose.
Speaking of the Labour Party, there’s that quote by Tony Benn that was everywhere back in March, when his death turned him in the eyes of the media into this cuddly old man who spoke his mind – a sort of palatable Jeremy Clarkson – rather than the thorn in the side of the establishment he consistently proved himself to be. You know the one – the five questions to be posed about those that have the power to make decisions on your behalf: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? It’s not even all of them. It’s just the last one, which in the year or so since I decided that I would be voting “yes” has become something of a mantra. Both sides of the debate like to play around with Scottish voting patterns, whether it’s that old chestnut about pandas and Scottish Tory MPs or whether it’s the reminder that back in the 1950s we were the ones voting Conservative. The fact that decisions relating to Scotland’s welfare, defence and economic policies are taken by a government full of roasters we had no say in electing is a shameful one in a country that purports to be democratic, but as the liberal English media have constantly reminded us in the months since the debate got serious there are plenty of parts of the UK that could say exactly the same. Scotland voted in a UKIP MEP for the first time in May and how they crowed, telling us that we were just as right-wing as anywhere else in the country. I don’t think that’s the point. To me, it comes down to the fact that even if every single person in Scotland wanted Nigel Farage in charge, we couldn’t have him. And if a few key areas of England did, we could’t get rid of him.
My firm belief in the fact that the Scottish independence question is not a political one is one of the reasons that the roles the politicians from the parties that dominate Westminster have played in the whole campaign enrages me. The Scottish National Party was elected on a platform that included the fact that it would hold a referendum – besides, it’s there in the name – but I see no grounds for Ed Milliband, for example, to fold his arms and tell us that in the event of a future Labour government he wouldnae give us a currency union, or our ball back either no doubt. First of all, his role in any such discussions would depend on whether he ever managed to get himself elected and secondly – mate, that’s not your call. Not a view on whether there should be a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK: of course that’s a matter for both countries, and whatever happens compromises would have to be made on both sides. Honestly, I have no idea how that one’s going to go and frankly I don’t care, because who cares what your national currency is called if your government keeps making decisions that mean you never have any of it to spend. But if we, the people of Scotland, decide that we want to be an independent country our representatives would presumably enter into any such discussions with what was best for Scotland at heart, and so would those representing the rest of the UK. And that’s not going to involve arm-folding. So who are you, Mr Man that I did not elect and that does not speak for me, to tell me that my country would have to do everything your way?
And don’t get me started on the Tories – the party which, more than any other, is aware that the only answer is constitutional change so is paying lip service to the notion of decentralisation of power in the hopes that we’ll be fooled enough to settle. This week the government’s City Deals programme, under which different areas are being given more control over local budgets and drivers of economic growth, reached Glasgow – only it was wee Danny Alexander, ticking the boxes of being both Scottish and Not a Tory, who showed up to do the usual “best of both worlds” quote by numbers. Our always-separate legal, education and healthcare systems have flourished since control of them was devolved to the Scottish Parliament – the last two of these even as the creep of privatisation has destroyed the credibility of their English equivalents and torn the things that they once stood for to shreds. They promise us “more powers”, although the “what” is still a secret because they’re running out of things they can give us while still being able to say independence is a bad idea with a straight face. An acknowledgement that a country can set and administer its own rate of income tax, as Scotland will be doing from 2016, is – as anybody who has ever tried to register for self-assessment will tell you – the death knell to the chorus of “too wee, too poor, too stupid”. And ask yourself – why, if we’re that helpless on the world stage, are they so desperate to hold onto us?
The currency question is boring. It’s designed to distract. So are the thoughts of celebrities, on either side of the debate. For months now all you hear when you tune into the media of your choice is WHERE IS THE CERTAINTY. Listen, if Alistair Darling could provide me with a personal guarantee that the UK will never again enter into recession, or that there will never be another financial crisis then I would give him my vote (side note: no I wouldnae). In 2005 were giving people whose financial circumstances were far more precarious than mine mortgages like sweeties, and telling them it was alright if they could only pay the interest. Now they’re throwing billions of pounds into new nuclear reactors and planning to pump reservoirs of water under the houses of people who aren’t allowed to turn their hosepipes on in order to rinse every microgramme of burnable gas from the crust of this dying planet, while cutting the subsidies they could be offering to encourage the development of what could potentially become enough marine and wind power to end the energy “crisis” for good. I could talk about the banks, and pensions, and infrastructure, because at the risk of sounding like a pure dick I know a lot more about these things than the average person, but what we make of them depends on the people that we elect and the policies that they set. And I trust you – you, reading this – far more with that decision than I do any of the shower occupying Westminster just now; and far more than whoever will replace them in 2015.
Like Joe Strummer said, the future is unwritten. I think I deserve the chance to contribute towards that, and I think that you do too.