I’d known for over a year that I was invested in the Scottish independence referendum. I didn’t realise just how much until I found myself standing in the kitchen, crying over the cat’s food bowl as media outlets began, one by one, to call a No victory.
As I wrote in this Yahoo! blog post just two days ago, the Ayes were never meant to have it. I knew that even as the polls gave the Yes campaign a lead. I told myself that over and over again; “it’s probably not going to go through”. But as it became increasingly clear that Scotland was not going to be independent, I realised I had actually put a lot more stock into a Yes win than I had let even myself believe.
Initially skeptical, Calum and I were inspired by the energy and vision of pro-independence campaigners. Not just from Yes Scotland, but the whole range of other groups: National Collective, Radical Independence, Common Weal, Women for Independence, Scots Asians for Independence, Labour for Independence, the Greens… the list goes on and on. The 2013 Radical Independence Campaign opened my eyes to how another society – a more democratic, fairer society with more participation – could actually be possible.
Despite what a lot of No voters might think, Yes voters aren’t stupid. It wasn’t just about “feelings”, or voting on a whim, or a lack of common sense. Yes voters thought about the policies and the future, too. They knew there were lots of unknowns. They knew that things could have been tough. But “it’s not worth the risk” was just not good enough. And they believed that if ordinary citizens could be motivated to get stuck in, people could build a better Scotland for everyone.
The way we saw it, an independent Scotland’s politics would have been much closer to ours. There was also a decent chance that their immigration laws would differ from the currently outrageous UK ones. And so as the excited pro-independence tweets and rallies came flooding into our consciousness Calum and I allowed ourselves to get caught up into the hype, consciously/unconsciously buying into the belief of an independent Scotland as (finally) a home for us. We let the dream of a future contributing to a society building new institutions reel us in.
And it felt good. It felt good to imagine a future where young people could really make a mark. Where we would no longer be defined as that “millenial” generation of low-paid internships and never being able to move out of Mum’s house. Where we would have the chance to build new institutions and a fairer society, rather than be told to deal with broken, neoliberal ones that only benefit a tiny elite segment of the population.
Which is why it hit me harder than I expected. I’d lost a dream I hadn’t even realised I had.
I was feeling pretty down yesterday. It was as if things would never be the same again. No, actually worse – that they would be stuck like this forever and ever and ever.
But then I spent the day at Apa Itu Activist? today, a conference organised by civil society actors for civil society actors in Singapore. We spent the day talking about movements, strategies, values and solidarity. We talked about how universal goals could be found even in a pluralistic civil society. We talked about the media, the community, the state. We talked about occupying space, virtual and physical. We talked about the change we wanted to see.
It was wonderful. Singaporean activists haven’t just been kicked in the teeth with a lost vote, but we deal with losses and disappointments all the time. We, too, know what it is like to be frustrated, to feel restricted, or to have our dreams of a better home for everyone constrained. And yet everyone at that conference was there to learn how to pick themselves up from these experiences and stand up for another struggle another day.
My depression over a lost opportunity was lifted. It lifted even further when I got home to see the Scottish pro-independence activists popping up on Twitter again, this time with hashtags and badges that said #the45, referring to the percentage of voters who had wanted to break away. They were organising again, announcing new endeavours and looking for new opportunities to affect change. After a stunning voter turn-out and a vigorous two years of campaigning, they weren’t going to let this one setback – no matter how big – stop them from their mission of a better Scotland.
It felt as if there was some truth in Irvine Welsh’s op-ed: “Yes may have lost this battle, but the war is being won.”
In these two days I have seen validation of my belief in people. In our amazing ability to dream, to organise, to inspire each other. We’re stubborn little bastards, at the end of the day.
And that’s why, even though I began writing this with tears over my cat’s bowl, I want to end it with optimism and hope. Because that is what drives us, and what we deserve. Optimism and hope.