Most people who became actively involved in the Scottish independence referendum will have known at least one person on the other side of the fence. They may have experienced strained relations with that person throughout the referendum, even (or particularly) if they were close friends beforehand. And now that the darn thing’s over (well, for now at least…), they may, like me, have decided to try and rekindle said friendship to the level it was at before.
If they’re lucky (like me), the friendship was too strong to ever be at serious risk from a difference of political views. But it’s interesting to chart the course of those initial post-referendum discussions; whether the vote acts as a brief stumbling block or a full-on barrier in the journey to renewed friendship, it’s nigh-on impossible to ignore completely. In some conversations with No voters, I’ve found myself in general agreement on general points of principle regarding social justice, democratic freedoms, and even aspirations for Scotland and its people, with the only real difference being whether those goals are more or less likely given independence. In other conversations… Well, let’s begin.
I hadn’t been avoiding Isaac since the referendum; in fact, he was just one of several No voters who contacted me on the morning of the 19th, expressing their sympathy for me despite our differing views on the result. It’s just that, with assorted holiday plans and other commitments, we hadn’t managed to find an evening on which we were both available until last week. We’d hatched a brilliant idea way back in late September; each of us decides on a list of the 5 Funniest Moments of the Referendum! Fantastic – we can both have a laugh at the highlights and lowlights of the campaign, and neither of us is above mocking their own “side” in order to share a chuckle or two. I thoroughly enjoyed putting my list together, in fact I found it awfully easy to come up with a Top 10 – where to stop?? But, knowing that Isaac would also have to talk through *his* Top 5 as we went along, I thought it best to stick with the original number and let things flow naturally.
The night started off grand – a great big hug of welcome, a few snappy, tension-dissipating one-liners which nevertheless acknowledged that shit had indeed gone down since August, and a lovely pint sat down at a grand old barroom table. Rather than jump straight in, we spent a decent while on standard chatty topics – asking after mutual friends, latest musical recommendations – until the chat gradually moved into the political sphere. Suddenly the R-word got mentioned, and we were both announcing “Actually, there’s something about *that* on my list…” – so it was only natural to dig out the notebook (me) / back of an envelope (him – no cheap point-scoring here!), and go through our choices.
We started off great, recognising a few events that had actually appeared on both lists – the “Bow down to your Imperial Masters” moment was a fondly shared favourite. I was more than happy to poke fun at the Yes campaign – let’s be honest, the opening of Salmond’s questioning in the first debate, focussing on Project Fear favourites such as alien invasion and driving on the right, was a real facepalm moment for Yes – and in fact Isaac conceded that Salmond had been the most impressive politician across the campaign as a whole. But tempers started to fray (okay, mine did) once Isaac started championing Farage as a true alternative to the stuffy Westminster elite – yay, a millionaire merchant banker, just what we need! – and they took a real nosedive during the following exchange:
“Hey, Green With Rage, did you know that Shetland wants to become independent?” [Said with the naïve enthusiasm of somebody who thinks they’re the first person to realise what Rosebud was]
“Right. First of all, there’s no evidence that there was a true grassroots Independence movement for Shetland – there was a story in a local paper, that got picked up and spread all over the nationals in order to allegedly undermine the Yes case, but I’ve yet to hear of crowds lining the streets of Lerwick demanding independence from Scotland. Secondly, *even if* there was a substantial appetite within Shetland for independence, it would barely affect the rest of Scotland from an energy perspective, which is obviously what you were thinking of when you brought it up. A Shetland independent of Scotland would be classed as an enclave, geographically speaking, and would be entitled to the contents of the waters within a 10 mile radius of the shore – no more, no less. That’ll account for *some* oil, granted, but in terms of the massive deposits found in the likes of the Clair Ridge (and happily talked up by Sir Ian Wood et al, now that the threat of independence has dissipated) – well, it’s just a drop in the ocean.” [I may have paraphrased my original words slightly!]
“Ah come on mate, it’s alright – we don’t need to do this [indicates notebook and envelope] any more. Let’s just put these lists down, eh?”
That last acceptance of mine was prompted by the sheer look of weariness and pleading in Isaac’s eyes. He had no interest in countering my arguments, or in examining any of the (fairly rudimentary) details I was using to back them up – he just wanted the discussion to be over. I accepted, since I don’t particularly enjoy kicking someone when they’re down, particularly in a face to face situation.
So we got to talking more generally, putting issues aside and focussing on our own feelings and experiences of the whole affair, and that’s when it got *really* interesting. Because while I was keen to talk about social justice, mass empowerment and holding power to account, Isaac’s grievances came across as rather more… self-centred.
He started by explaining that – and this is honestly, as verbatim as possible, what he said – fundamentally, he’s always thought of himself as British rather than Scottish. He hails from close to the Border, and has always felt a deep affinity with the people on the other side; needless to say, I let this pass without mentioning the high levels of support for Scottish independence in the more Northerly parts of England. And this deep feeling of Britishness is something that he’s inherited from his parents, and something that he shares with his siblings (and, indeed, with his wife).
He went on to explain that on several occasions, he had to comfort his sister, Jenny, who regularly found herself in tears at the mere idea of the United Kingdom being wrenched apart (this was said in absolute sincerity). And this is Jenny, who was responsible for the most spiteful anti-Green comments I encountered all referendum – and who, it turns out, used to be a Green leafleter herself!
Obviously, Isaac and his family had experienced real feelings of pain and suffering as a result of the Referendum, not just in the build-up but on the day of the result itself. As one half of a home divided by the referendum, I could make the claim that my pain and suffering was more painful and sufferingy than his – but that would be a cheap shot, and beneath the standards expected of Green With Rage.
And finally (and I honestly respect him for admitting this one), he admitted to being a Tory, and to planning to vote for the Tories again in the future, as he feels they’re the best party for Britain, and as his parents are also Tories. That was a hammer blow, I can tell you.
To summarise, then: a parroting of hoary old MSM clichés; a refusal to engage with evidenced counterarguments to said clichés; and an outlook on the referendum that was self-admittedly motivated by deeply held feelings rather than logical analysis of the facts. Speaking in a strictly non-pejorative sense, that sounds to me like a simplistic and emotionally driven British Nationalism.
As I said at the start, I’m not going to let the events of the referendum, or the discussion of that evening, get in the way of my deep affection for Isaac and his wonderful wife. He has been a great friend to me for many years, with a great sense of humour, and I’ve gained far more from him personally than I could ever lose through political disagreement. But I left him that night with a deep sense of pity. Scotland had the chance of real progressive change last month, and it blew it thanks to the barely developed instinctual fear and amorphous sense of national identity shared by individuals such as Isaac, as well as the terrorism of the poor, old and vulnerable. And that makes me, well, Green With Rage.