The spoils of 308 years of struggle
Last night, referendum eve, I was at a local Greenpeace talk with Benny Wenda, exiled West Papuan leader, speaking to our little crowd of 15 or so about how he escaped his Indonesian Jail, ran for two weeks to the border, and escaped using a fake passport to Britain. Benny has been fighting for his people’s freedom from the oppression of the Indonesian government and European mining companies, watching from a distance while activist after activist has been murdered. They have given up their lives for one cause: for West Papua to have a referendum on independence.
It certainly put things in context.
After the meeting I left out onto the Grassmarket. This part of the Old Town looks its most mediaeval in the mist, and there was thick fog last night. I was reminded of the violent mob of Edinburghers who roamed the streets some 308 years ago, seeking the meeting of MPs where the Treaty of Union was being ratified. At the end of the way, on the spot where prisoners at the time were executed by hanging, a group of folk in matching red t-shirts were chanting at passers by, something like “please vote no”, in an aggressive tone. Perhaps tonight had echoes of history? As I got closer I realised the mixture of fog and political fever had played a trick on me: this was not a NO THANKS mob: Napier University freshers students were chanting “drink the shoe, drink the shoe”.
Whilst utterly historic, this is an independence referendum apart. No blood-loss, no struggle. And a lot less nationalism than outsiders might expect. This has not been a battle of Britain vs. Scotland, Union Flag vs. Saltire, and anyone who sees this is viewing conveniences and missing joyful subtleties. The Police even intervened this week to tell us all just how civil this debate has been.
As I climbed the cobbles along mostly quiet streets, all passers by were discussing politics in bright terms, despite the dark and the weather. Phrases like “written constitution” and “tax reform”. Not an ordinary night.
I passed Parliament Square and Moray House, rumoured site of the secret signing of the aforementioned Treaty. I thought of all the people who devoted their lives to give the people their due rights. 18Th century reformers like the Edinburgh Society of the Friends of the People exiled to Australia, and the chartists, the suffragettes, and those who campaigned for Scotland’s parliament.
As Justin Kenrick points out no matter how we vote today we continue this historic tradition. We will be the first people to have the chance to vote on what was signed 308 years ago. And in doing so we will create a new Scotland: a country which, joined to the UK or not, has the approval of its people.
What a privilege we inherit, that after all this struggle we may put a cross in a box.
Tomorrow we must honour this inheritance. In West Papua, in Scotland, and across the world, the fight continues.