Letter to a friend, on the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum

Dear friend,

The Scottish Independence Referendum is tomorrow. The time for indecision has passed, and now it’s time to vote. I am not eligible to vote in this referendum, but you are. You’ve thought about it a lot, and you’re still not quite sure. Such a big, involved thing to do, declaring independence. If so many in Scotland still oppose it, who are you to compel them?

Many of those who oppose independence sit to the right of yourself on the political spectrum, but you never mind what they say. You already know that their reasons are wrong, even if their conclusion were to be accidentally right. What gives you pause is that some who oppose Scottish independence (or at least don’t think it’s worth casting a vote for) are on your left. Their reasons carry more weight for you. The SNP is dreadful, they assure you. Independence won’t accomplish all of these (wonderful but unrealistic) things that the pro-indy left thinks it will, they warn.

There are no guarantees, and this is the problem. Scots who want independence can’t guarantee that any of the things they’re gearing up to lobby their independent government for will materialise, or at least not that they’ll materialise much more quickly than they would have done without independence.

Here’s what we currently know for certain: Westminster is going from bad to worse. Labour has nothing to do with labourers (quite the opposite, actually), and the Liberal Democrats are anything but. The grim conditions of Britain’s sick and disabled, its unemployed, victims of the drug war, refugees and immigrants, political dissidents of any stripe, and students (domestic and international), amongst others, are certain not to improve under Westminster for the foreseeable future. Years. Maybe decades. There’s a referendum for Scotland’s independence, but there’s no guarantee that cutting off Westminster and localising Scotland’s government will lead to success in improvements to any of these things, however vigorously pro-indy Scots are eagerly prepared to fight for them.

The trouble is, friend, that it doesn’t matter, and I’ll tell you why: the most vulnerable members of our society, those who most need independence and who have experienced the worst of Westminster’s unconscionable policy strategies, those who would benefit significantly if even only a few of the most horrendous bits of British policy were trimmed away, matter enough. There are no guarantees. We don’t need one. Even if the most cynical and pessimistic predictions for an independent Scotland are true (incidentally, they aren’t), the people who need this most desperately, those whose lives depend on it, are reason enough for Scotland to cut the cord with Westminster and brave the complex web of challenges and political battles that wait on the other side.

The late middle-aged disabled woman whose hands shake and stomach lurches with panicky adrenaline every time she opens her mailbox lest there be a letter in there from Atos matters enough.

The young man who’s facing criminal prosecution because a cop doesn’t like that he marched in opposition to tuition hikes and welfare cuts matters enough.

The student whose lifelong ambition of being the first in his family to graduate from university is wavering under the crushing anticipation of an entire adult life spent paying off student loans matters enough.

The soul-battered long-term unemployed mother who scrapes by on pennies and now has to somehow shoulder her stresses and stay strong for her children while being pulled away from them for dozens of hours per week to stock shelves for no wages on a workfare scheme matters enough.

The stage four cancer patient who has to spend his last precious hours on earth in a Job Centre because Atos has deemed him ‘fit for work’ matters enough.

The asylum seeker fleeing homophobic murder in her home country matters enough.

The nervous adolescent international undergraduate who had to register her identity and all of her personal details with the police upon arrival in this overwhelming new city because they think that people from her country are probably terrorists matters enough.

It’s too soon to tell how much better things might be in an independent Scotland. Maybe the most zealous and enthusiastic of the Yes campaigners are right, and the force with which they’ll charge the doors of their newly independent government will succeed in making Scotland a very different place to the one it is today. Maybe the most jaded of the left wing No voters, and those who don’t see fit to vote at all, are right, and an independent Scotland won’t be all that much better than a Westminster-laden one. The reality is probably somewhere in between.

You and I, friend, are leftists because we think that a person, even a person who’s of no use to anyone but herself, has value, and a lot of it. She’s not just worth more than nothing – she’s worth a great deal. Even if no one but she and a few others like her were to benefit from Scotland’s independence (seriously unlikely), she would be worth the trouble. The stage four cancer patient’s last few hours on earth not spent in a Job Centre are reason enough. That woman’s daily stroll out to her mailbox unburdened by the paralysing terror that her government will leave her to die on the pavement is reason enough. The life of the mortally imperilled asylum seeker who cannot and will not just go back where she came from is reason enough. A young graduate’s freedom from the shackles of student debt is reason enough.

We don’t know for certain yet who in Scotland will benefit from independence, or how much (though we know that it won’t be David Cameron or the Royal Bank of Scotland, and that’s encouraging, isn’t it?). But whoever they are, and however much it is, they matter enough that it’s worth it. I can only say so with my words. I hope that you will say so with your vote.

With anxious anticipation of what tomorrow will bring,

Your Friend The Ineligible Voter

This post was written by Lisa Kalayji.

Lisa Kalayji is a feminist researcher interested in gender identities and sexualities, inequalities and liberation politics, politics and economics of penal systems, drug cultures and policy. L.Kalayji@sms.ed.ac.uk

Image Source: CC Licensed image by Scottish Government on Flickr

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