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Scottish Independence Debate / Opinion: One way or another, change is coming

Campaigner Louise Thomason is hopeful the renewed clamour for social justice will outlast the referendum campaign. Photo: Shetnews

WAKING up ten days ago to the news that Scotland had voted against independence felt like the worst kind of heartbreak, writes local Yes campaigner Louise Thomason.

For someone who had stumbled fairly accidentally into campaigning, the hurt came as a surprise. Perhaps that compounded the pain. While I obviously hoped it would happen, I had told myself that a Yes vote was probably unlikely, and had even spoken to friends and family of my ease with this.

After all, with a supposed voter registration on 97 per cent and political engagement at an all time high, democracy was already winning: political apathy was a thing of the past, and change would come, regardless of the outcome. Naively perhaps, I simply wasn’t prepared for just how bad it would feel to have your country pass up on self-governance.

I should have known. Accidental though it may have been, my involvement (like that of many others across the country) had become all-consuming. From going to my first Yes Shetland meeting in September 2012, almost shamefully tucked away in a room in Islesburgh, to organising a street party the weekend before the referendum, the campaign had drawn me in: it was all I could think about. I was hooked.

I say accidental, because Scottish independence is not something I ever thought I would find myself campaigning for, and this, I suspect, is true of many Yes campaigners. Although at first I’d had my misgivings, when I understood the voting Yes was about much more than nationalism it seemed like the obvious choice.

Discovering groups like National Collective and Women for Independence, and websites like Bella Caledonia and The Common Weal, was inspirational, and confirmed what independence could mean. The movement unleashed an outpouring of political and cultural discussion that I’ve never known before. Essays, talks, artwork, poetry, rap, parody music videos (if you haven’t checked out Lady Alba, do so), a whole host of creativity inspired by questioning the status quo and imagining a better future.

Where the media refused to represent them, people became the media. Across the country, people – notably, many of them young, and previously uninterested – were discussing politics, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

It was the loss of this I feared, perhaps more than a No vote, on the morning of the 19th. But it is also this that gives me hope, because, so far, it has continued.

In the first weeks post-referendum, as we wait to hear what form of “devo plus”, or “devo max”, or whichever version of “extra powers” Westminster sees fit to allow, pro-Yes parties have seen their party memberships increase at an astonishing rate: the Scottish Greens have seen it quadruple to 6,000, thought to be twice the size of the Scottish LibDems membership; while the Scottish Socialist Party membership has tripled. The SNP has also seen its ranks swell – while the number keeps rising, at the time of writing it was an unlikely 70,000, making them the UK’s third largest party political party.

Scottish Labour’s failure to address their supporters’ calls to challenge the austerity drive being pursued south of the border and instead, pandering to the market-driven, fear-fuelled warnings from supermarkets and banks in the run up to the referendum, was rewarded with Yes votes from their traditional strongholds in the west of Scotland.

Yes supporters outside Mareel during the 'Yestival' visit to Lerwick in July. Photo: Alex Aitchison

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will alter the political landscape come the elections, but it’s impossible to ignore the prospect of what it could mean.

The real victory of the independence movement was undoubtedly played out away from the mainstream media and traditional political arena, and so it follows that on the ground, engagement is continuing: National Collective’s Facebook page now has more “likes” than The Herald, Sunday Herald, Scotsman or Scotland on Sunday pages. On Twitter, a new hashtag which served to capture all things indyref and act as a reminder of the 45 per cent of people who voted for independence  – “the45” – was born, which soon morphed into the more inclusive “45plus”.

In Shetland too, new groups such as Common Weal Shetland have sprung up and public meetings to discuss real ways people can meaningfully implement change in the manner they hoped independence might have achieved are being planned.

The fact that the aim of these groups is to further inspire political engagement and not to continue to discuss the possibility of Scotland becoming independent, puts paid to the lazy accusations that they were simply swept up in nationalist feeling that many in the Yes movement endured.

These people were inspired to vote Yes not because they wanted Scotland to be independent for the sake of it, but because it offered hope of a better future – one that is not represented in the mainstream media, or by the mainstream political parties.

Yet the challenge of how to bring about such change remains. It is important not to become bogged down in a potentially endless discussion of winners v losers, terms I find repellent in their total lack of scope, but to continue to encourage dialogue on what is important – how we can nurture this environment of newly politicised people and, vitally, open it up to those outwith the Yes movement.

Indeed, with further devolution for Scotland inextricably linked to negotiations for decentralisation throughout the rest of the UK – and rightly so – localism is perhaps even more vital than ever.

Scotland may not have witnessed a transformation as radical as independence, but the journey has been no less important for it. It is impossible to ignore the feeling that in getting to this point, something has been awoken. One way or another, change is coming.

Louise Thomason