I Voted No in the Last Scottish Referendum – Here's Why I Wouldn't Do the Same Today
A lot can change in three years.
(Top photo: Jane Barlow/PA Archive/PA Images)
The Scottish referendum of 2014, much like Brexit, was always going to be won on the basis of passion. Two choices: Yes and No, and what – at the time – felt like an ocean of opposition between each side. You could listen to the facts and reflect on the arguments, but as studies have shown: it's very difficult to change a made-up mind.
And yet here I am, as a No voter, three years on, fan-girling over Nicola Sturgeon and reflecting on whether I will vote the same way at the second referendum, which this morning the Scottish First Minister announced would take place by spring of 2019. Her reasoning is that Theresa May has failed to find a compromise for Scotland in the government's Brexit negotiations, and so wants to give Scots the choice of living in post-Brexit Britain or an independent Scotland that remains in the EU.
This, of course, is a bit of a shake-up of the situation three years ago. Back then, my choice to vote No as a 19-year-old socialist was mainly motivated by three things:
The first was that growing up English in Scotland wasn't always the best experience. I remember, for instance, a teacher asked my history class how many of us would be cheering England on at the 2006 World Cup. I stuck my hand up eagerly and was dealt a swift smack to the forehead from a classmate. My English accent, which stubbornly stuck around throughout the entirety of my time in Edinburgh, marked me out as a target. Even friends who had an English parent would never admit to any affiliation with the country on the other side of the border.
Scottish nationalism is often harmless, but a darker side still exists at the periphery of the independence movement. As a teenager caught up in a divided identity – black and white, English and Scottish – I didn't want to see any more of them. I baulked at the idea of patriotism and nationalism of any kind and didn't want to see anti-English sentiment bolstered.
The second reason was that I wasn't convinced Scotland was as left-wing as it seemed. The SNP, as a one-issue party, couldn't be trusted to bring forth the utopian vision that many of the campaigners had envisaged – despite its current guise as a party opposed to Westminster austerity.
And thirdly, simple pragmatism: I was living in London for university and worried about any barriers to visiting my parents in Edinburgh.
"While there's plenty about the SNP to dislike and distrust, after the wipe-the-board 2015 election they are, essentially, all Scotland has to pin its hopes on."
Binary votes seem to bring out emotional responses in people. Now, in 2017, my emotions have changed. I don't regret my decision to vote No, but Brexit has totally erased the delicate picture I had drawn up in my mind of the UK. As an ethnic minority it was comforting to see that Scots voted 62 to 38 percent to remain in the European Union, and, as such, had seemingly been less swayed than the rest of the country by a Leave campaign that was tainted by racism and xenophobia.
Held up against that side of the EU referendum, the nationalism of Scottish independence campaigners seemed to have more in common with Billy Bragg's assertion of "civic nationalism" – the idea that all citizens should be engaged in the process of deciding where society is headed – than it did with worrying, BNP-style "ethnic nationalism".
Smug, macho Alex Salmond – who was leader of the party at the time of the indyref – was never able to inspire much conviction in me. But now, with compelling female figures at the helm of the SNP – such as like Nicola Sturgeon and everyone's favourite Glaswegian socialist backbencher, 22-year-old Mhairi Black – I'm more willing than I was to take the party for its word on its continuing policy decisions.
They have, for instance, managed to maintain free university education and free prescription charges. They have also taken strides towards improving women's postpartum care with Nordic-style baby boxes, rebutting the Tories' "toxic" anti-immigration rhetoric and promising to look into free abortions for women travelling from Ireland, where the procedure is generally illegal – the exact type of clickbait populist left-wing policies that make a fickle heart like mine sing.
While there's plenty about the SNP to dislike and distrust (the internal contradiction of their one-issue status and their attitude towards free-trade and taxation cannot be dismissed), after the wipe-the-board 2015 election they are, essentially, all Scotland has to pin its hopes on at present. Interestingly, a 2016 survey of 10,000 people also found that SNP voters were far more left-wing than Labour voters, with nearly three-quarters of them backing left-wing policies.
I'm now ready to take a leap of faith in Scottish independence, and I'm not alone in my post-Brexit change of heart. Even Scottish celebs like Ewan McGregor and JK Rowling, who previously supported the No campaign, have said they could reconsider their stances.
When it comes to both Brexit and Scottish independence, if it had come down solely to young people, things would have gone the other way. Scotland would be out of Britain and Brexit wouldn't be happening. I still have research to do when it comes to the second Scottish referendum, but as we know: it's hard to change a made-up mind. And if the referendum was being held tomorrow, I know what my gut would tell me: to join my millennial peers in voting Yes.