The Scottish independence movement needs the radical vision of the Greens
I have a bit of a confession to make: I used to be a Unionist. If you were to go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self that she’d be voting for independence at the age of 23 she would have been aghast.
Even when the Scottish Government announced the referendum date I was still absolutely sure that my vote would be No. Then Scotland began talking about independence and it dominated public conversation for two years. As part of that public conversation different demographics bound together to form Yes campaign groups that had goals and visions different to that of the SNP and the mainstream Yes campaign. This included the #GreenYes campaign from the Scottish Green Party.
It was the summer before the referendum that I began to think I should give Yes a chance. Largely because several people whose political opinions I respected were supporting Yes, and I trusted that their decision to vote Yes was based on reason.
The night I decided I was voting Yes was in August, with only one month to go until the vote. I attended a Republic Scotland event where different parties were discussing the future of the monarchy in an independent Scotland. As much as my position on independence has changed over the years, I had never been a fan of the monarchy.
The event had speakers from the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives and SNP. I can’t remember what exact words were used that night (though the Tory guy kept talking about bunting) but the speaker from the Scottish Green Party spoke about the Green vision for an independent Scotland and it blew me away.
That night I walked home realising that I, a once passionate Unionist, might actually vote Yes in the upcoming referendum (which, at this point, was only a month away). Some people comment with surprise that out of all the arguments typically made for an Independent Scotland, it was a small debate about the monarchy that finally swayed me.
It wasn’t the conversation around republicanism that finally made everything click for me. I know that the mainstream Yes campaign wants to keep the Queen and the monarchy will exist for some time yet. What happened that night was that I was exposed to a Yes campaign that offered a vision of an independent Scotland that I could get behind: the #GreenYes campaign.
Over the next few days, I leafed through the #GreenYes campaign material and became more and more inspired by the idea of Scotland breaking away from the UK. It was ambitious in its vision and aimed to build Scotland into the sort of country I had always dreamt of living in.
I understand why the SNP play it safe and keep to the centre-ground when it comes to their other policies. This is partially why they’ve been the biggest driving force in moving the conversation of independence from a mere whisper into public debate (including an actual referendum). It has helped them appeal to a wider audience and get as many people on board with the idea of independence as possible.
The thing is though, centre-ground policies won’t appeal to everyone. I’ve always sat left of centre, and while the SNP is more progressive than the Tories down in Westminster they were never progressive enough for me and their centre-ground policies couldn’t motivate me to take the risky leap of faith that splitting from the UK would entail (even though I’m an independence supporter now, I don’t deny that leaving the UK will come with challenges – these days I just believe the challenges will be worth it).
But there was a bigger policy difference between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party that set them apart – and was one of the key areas where the Greens won me over where the SNP couldn’t.
And that was giving powers back to local communities.
The main reason why I’ve had a lifelong dislike of the SNP and still can’t bring myself to vote for them, is how focused they are on the Central Belt.
I might live in the Central Belt now, but I’m a born and bred Aberdonian. I also studied in Dundee. Having lived in three different cities has provided me with first-hand experience that Scotland is not a homogenous country and its government should not treat it as such. I have always believed in more powers for local communities, something that the SNP have never actively shown must interest in.
In 2013, Police Scotland was created by merging Scotland’s 8 regional forces – where one police force was now going to single-handedly manage 30,000 square miles and a population of 5.3m people. I don’t know the ins and outs of this decision (Labour also supported it), or if it has been generally considered a success. But on a personal note, someone I’ve known almost my entire life lost their police control room job (which she loved) because everyone in Scotland was now to call one of three control rooms (West, North and East). There were protests about this decision: mainly from civilian staff who pointed out that local knowledge was vital to keeping communities safe and that the closure of regional HQs now meant that local police forces couldn’t develop strategies tailored to their local area. This BBC article and this Guardian article provide a good overview.
As for my former home of Dundee? The SNP once suggested that Abertay University and Dundee University should merge, and there was a massive campaign against it (I was still a student at Abertay at this point). While this is not technically centralisation, it does show a lack of understanding about how two universities, in a city outside the Central Belt, both bring unique expertise to the academic world and should not be forced to merge.
One of the biggest reasons why young me (and, to an extent, adult me) couldn’t get behind the idea of independence was because I felt like it would be moving one far-away government who didn’t understand my local needs to a slightly closer but still relatively far away government who didn’t understand my local needs.
In the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum the regions with the highest percentage of No votes came from places as far away from the Central Belt as you could get:
- Orkney Islands (67.20%)
- Scottish Borders (66.56%)
- Dumfries & Galloway (65.67%)
- Shetland Islands (63.71%)
As someone who was a bit iffy toward independence because the mainstream Yes failed to showcase why Yes would be good for communities outside the Central Belt, I’m not overly surprised that these areas voted heavily against independence.
And the regions where Yes won?
Dundee was Yes City, and I will never take that away from the Yes campaign. The other three regions, however, were North Lanarkshire, Glasgow, and Inverclyde – which all sit snugly inside the Central Belt
If the Yes movement wants to grow, it needs to start recognising that Scotland is a diverse country and start to communicate how an independent Scotland would benefit the whole of Scotland, not just the people who live on Holyrood’s doorstep.
I don’t understand the local politics of every community in Scotland, and I would never claim to – so the government shouldn’t either. I would love to see local communities granted more powers, to raise their own finances and decide exactly how those finances should be spent.
I know people regularly state that not liking the SNP is not a reason to be against independence. That makes sense on an intellectual and logical level. It doesn’t make as much sense on an emotional level. If communities and voters feel let down by the SNP Government, asking them to trust the SNP Government to build a new nation (and everything that entails) isn’t reassuring.
The same rules apply for people who just don’t feel particularly inspired by the SNP’s vision, or don’t feel it will benefit them personally. This is exactly where I was until August 2014. Then the #GreenYes campaign came onto my radar and gave me an independence campaign with a message I could get behind.
This is why I get passionately annoyed when anyone talks as if the SNP own the independence movement. They have been the biggest driving force behind it, and deserve every credit for that. That doesn’t mean we should all unite behind the SNP, no questions asked.
In the UK General Election last year, several SNP supporters on Twitter didn’t hide their annoyance at the Scottish Green Party daring to stand candidates (imagine that! A political party practising their democratic right to stand in an election!) claiming that we were splitting the independence vote – as if the independence vote belongs to them.
I disagree with the SNP on multiple areas of policy and my feelings towards the party are aligned with how I feel about Labour (I can vote for them to keep a Tory out, but I’d never happily vote for them). The SNP have several openly transphobic elected officials and the party appears to be doing very little about it. It’s also a party who claims to care about the environment but then also supported a third runway at Heathrow even though it would be of little benefit to Scotland.
Linking back to my Aberdonian routes, they also supported the building of the Aberdeen bypass to reduce congestion in the city centre. Congestion and traffic in Aberdeen was a major issue, but before deciding to chip away at Co2 levels even more by building a new road maybe improve bus and train routes – since the number of options in Aberdeen are still miles behind that of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
I don’t want independence at any cost. What appeals to me about the Scottish Green Party (and why I’m a member) is that they are a party that is centred around left-wing policies, of which Scottish Independence just happens to be one of them. While the SNP are centered around independence, and sometimes appear to be all over the place in terms of wider party ideology.
In the run-up to the Independence Referendum, many different campaign groups representing different demographics of society emerged. I didn’t agree with the message of every group but they all played their part in reaching (and convincing people) who were unaffected by the SNP’s mainstream message.
They poured their hearts and souls into creating content that was educating and inspiring. Overturned so many rocks and brought new arguments to the table that would have been left unsaid otherwise. Most importantly, however, they helped create an independence movement that was just as diverse as Scotland is.
My advice to independence activists is to stop seeing Scotland as a homogenous nation. All the major reasons for voting Yes (self-determination, re-entering the EU, getting rid of the Tories) are beginning to run dry. If these reasons were to bring someone round, it would have brought them round by now. Dig a little bit deeper for something new, something that might even be a bit of a wild card. Expose them to an alternative Yes movement, especially if they tell you that they don’t like the SNP. If you are based in the Central Belt, begin to educate yourself on the Scotland that exists outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Finally, if you’re a Scottish Green Party member like me, keep the #GreenYes vision alive while talking to people.
I don’t have a crystal ball that tells me whether or not something else would have brought me round if the #GreenYes campaign had never existed. I like to think Brexit would have made me snap, but even then I think I would have become a reluctant Yes who did so because of Westminster failings rather than having an unquestionable faith in Scotland as an independent nation.
What I do know for sure is that the #GreenYes campaign made me a passionate Yes after having spent my teenage and early 20s thinking I would be a lifelong No. All because the Scottish Green Party offered a progressive vision, recognised that there’s more to Scotland than the Central Belt, and proved that the independence movement is bigger than the SNP. #GreenYes, always.
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Image credit: Ric Lander – Creative Commons