It’s the morning after the night before. I hoped that Scotland would not opt for independence, for various reasons more or less irrelevant since I had no vote anyway. Now that it has, though, I feel no sense of victory, no gleeful gloating over those who campaigned so passionately and persuasively for the alternative. There is no pleasure in the hurt of decent people.
Yesterday’s referendum was about Scotland, and the message of the votes is from no-one else. As the political leaders settle, rather unedifyingly, to squabbling over the fall out, I still wish that the rest of us could have a chance to make our feelings similarly known.
I know that there was a certain degree of negativity on both sides. Primarily, though, I believe that whether choosing Yes or No people were voting FOR something. The huge turnout, the almost universal interest and the strength of feeling together show that people are not so much disengaged from politics, but feel under normal circumstances that their engagement is of no value. This time there was hope, alongside fear: hope of change, hope of better, hope of being heard. That hope deserves to be honoured, not used as a fig leaf for spinning and political machination.
There’s undoubtedly a regional – if not national – element of FOMO in all this. I’d argue that it’s now been seized on by those who will choose to use this as another distraction from the real direction of government policy. Why blame benefit claimants for your own hardship when you’re being officially encouraged to envy those lucky sods north of the border, or within the M25, or anywhere else just far enough out of reach to easily verify how much of that alleged good fortune actually exists?
Whatever the outcome, there were always going to be bitter times ahead, and my heart grieves at what I can already see coming. So here, for the record; for any politician or would-be politician reading, is the message I, in Northern England, want you to take from this. I don’t want to be coerced into feeling resentful about others. I don’t want an expensive debate about regional assemblies or elected mayors or any other window dressing. I want a substantive change of the way that our elected representatives govern in our name, a much shorter route of communication between them and me, and at least the prospect ever of being able to influence things.
Stop tinkering around with our money under the cutesy guise of balancing the nation’s books. We know, whether we’ve forgotten it or not, that the financial crisis wasn’t caused by some self-indulgent splurging on nurses and typists at the council, but by bankers playing silly buggers with confections of debt which are to money as spun sugar is to a loaf of bread. We didn’t max out the credit card on some national retail therapy; we turned a blind eye to an entire fashion parade of the Emperor’s New Clothes – and we’re doing it again.
Stop lining up the poorest and most vulnerable in our society like some grim audition for a national 10 Minute Hate. We’re becoming so obsessed with the fear that we’re being fiddled out of a few measly quid, that we’ve taken our eye off the fact that need and sickness can come to us all and that the real drain on our resources is happening elsewhere.
Stop saying that you’re listening, and then continue doing the opposite. Get out of Westminster and talk to people other than focus groups and special advisers. Employ people who’ve never worked in London or engaged in politics.
Much of the content of the independence debate is, of course, specific to Scotland. But many of the concerns of those people engaged in it, expressed in the context of a non-partisan vote, aren’t.
Think big. Health, welfare, education, jobs: security and confidence matter to us all. Give us a vision of something to believe in, don’t fight over the ever decreasing number of votes from people who think they have the most to lose from the menaces you’ve encouraged them to believe in. Create a future I want to be a part of and contribute to, rather than one I fear. Give us the headroom to grow into what we want to be, not dwindle into a shadowy, paranoid sideshow, living in the past.
Will anyone be big enough to stand up and take on this challenge, rather than falling into the trap of petty finger-pointing self interest?
I doubt it.
But I hope so.