Matt Gemmell


politics 5 min read

I have two rules for my writing here: tell the truth, and don’t talk about politics. Today, I must break the second one to obey the first.

This week there was a referendum here in Scotland to decide whether we would declare independence from the United Kingdom. I’d like to talk about my own perspective on the issue.

This will be a brief essay. I’ll never be your definitive source for political opinion; you should look elsewhere for that. I’m going to focus on my own feelings, and my perceptions.

I personally identify almost as much with Britain as I do with Scotland. I’m Scottish first, certainly, but British culture is a huge part of who I am. I also identify with Europe, but in a secondary way.

I’ve grown up immersed in the UK. The idea of a Scotland that’s no longer part of it is a troubling one. Troubling, but by no means unthinkable.

I’m a cautious person. I prefer the devil I know, and I’m averse to risk. Uncertainty is stressful for me. I don’t enjoy change. These qualities can be useful in moderation, and self-limiting (or even damaging) when taken too far.

I do take them too far.

You can find all the relevant arguments both for and against independence elsewhere on the web, on TV, and in newspapers; I won’t attempt to rehash them. I’ll just say that I look upon patriotic fervour and romantic notions of the past with disdain. I think they’re disturbingly emotional, and that most important decisions shouldn’t be made emotionally.

I’m attracted to unity, and the safety it brings. I like being part of larger things, and I believe that togetherness usually brings more benefits than costs - but not always.

I don’t like the British House of Lords, which is a laughably antiquated, undemocratic, and self-serving body. I don’t like a monarchy having any influence on government. I don’t like not having a constitution. I also don’t like the London-centric Westminster government. I think the UK desperately needs electoral reform.

I very much don’t like the elements of class warfare and wealth inequality that the Conservative government seems dedicated to, nor the erosion of cherished public services. I’m very concerned about the growing foothold of xenophobic fringe parties in England.

I would very much like to remain part of the EU, which is something that the British government has always tried to both have and avoid, and may soon remove itself from altogether. By contrast, I would happily welcome the Euro as our currency.

Had I been given the option of devo-max, I’d have voted for it without hesitation - and I think the same is probably true for the majority of Scots. But that choice deliberately wasn’t offered.

So what of the outcome? As you read this, you’ll already know what it is - but as I write it, on the evening of Thursday 18th September, voting still has a few hours to go.

From my perspective, the result isn’t yet fixed. The box on the ballot paper has not yet been checked.

I voted No.

I did so weeks ago, with my postal vote. Since that time, I’ve watched the referendum loom, seen the campaign literature falling through my letterbox daily, and even visited Barcelona during their two-million-person rally for Catalonian independence from Spain.

No matter the outcome, I’m proud of our high voter turnout. Democracy is either something you participate in, or something that happens to you. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see so many people participating in the democratic process.

I’ve had a number of conversations, with everyone from close friends to taxi drivers, about the big question. My feeling is that the result will be No.

But then there’s my first rule to think about: tell the truth.

I really do try to follow it, and this would be a poor time to stop. So I’m compelled to tell you that, in my heart of hearts, I hope that the result is Yes.

You already know whether that came to pass or not, but you can’t send that information back in time twelve hours or so to where I sit now.

Accordingly, I’m going to continue this piece twice; once for each quantum universe I may find myself in tomorrow morning. We’ll split up here: you follow one path, and I’ll take the other. I’ll see you in just a few short paragraphs.

Scotland will become an independent country.

I don’t mind admitting that I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.

I can’t claim any credit for this historic change, but I can celebrate it.

It’s amazing how we can adapt our feelings to suit the circumstances. I’m still afraid, most certainly: there are so many unanswered questions. So much that was solid and predictable and comfortable is now going to be swept away. There’s a great deal of risk; essentially an unlimited amount.

But there’s also limitless potential. Truly having the reins of one’s own nation is an invigorating and rejuvenating thought. To be able to cast off a centuries-old system that’s often still based on long-gone social values and practices, and build a modern country, is an intoxicating prospect.

It’s my hope that this separation will be a route to a larger togetherness, with a fairer focus on the people of Scotland and the strength and potential of this country.

Scotland will remain part of the UK.

I don’t mind admitting that I feel like we’ve missed an opportunity.

I’m worried about the future, because this referendum has created a schism in our society, and nothing has meaningfully changed. I find it very likely that the British government will renege on at least some of its promises of increased devolved powers in the event of this outcome.

And when the Europe question is raised again, we may find that we’ve only exchanged one form of isolationism for another.

Still, I feel British, and that will never change. I’m proud to remain joined to Northern Ireland, Wales and England. This United Kingdom has some serious issues to resolve with regard to democracy, process, government, and the prevailing politics of the people - but it has faced far greater adversity in the past.

For better or for worse, we’ll move forward together.

This result was the will of the people. I support it without bitterness.

There’s an old piece of political rhetoric that says there are votes based on fear, and there are votes based on hope. I succumbed to the former.

Was it a prudent vote, given my feelings and concerns? Probably, yes - and I don’t think it’s inconsistent to say so. We must each vote according to our conscience.

I’ve told you about it freely. I’m not going to misrepresent my position, because this was a difficult act. Most people never face a decision of this magnitude. And absolutely nobody is ever truly qualified to.

What I know is that Scotland as a country, and my fellow Scots as people (amongst whom I include all nationalities, whether they’ve lived here for a week or a century), are unchanged. We’re the same nation we were last week.

There will be other questions, and other challenges ahead. What’s important, as always, is our sense of shared identity. The feeling that unites us is that we love this land, and that its heritage and values are worth preserving.

If we’re vigilant, no political boundary can ever erode that.