So, dear blog, it’s been a while. What can I say? It’s been a bit busy recently.
As ever, I’m arriving fashionably late to the party. The #100daystogo milestone has been and gone. But only if you subscribe to the fact that 101 days actually equals 100.
What have I been up to? This and that. Public meetings. Edinburgh Women for Independence stuff. Politics but not how I or you might know it. Writing (just not here). And talking, aye talking.
To groups, to individuals, to colleagues, to friends, to neighbours and even to strangers. And all about the same thing. It’s as though Scotland has emerged from a centuries old vow of silence and now that the nation has found its voice, it can’t stop. Conversations are happening everywhere, all of the time and mostly about the same, singular thing. The referendum.
It’s one hundred days to go until we choose our future. To trust ourselves enough to be bold and brave and vote yes. Or to be found wanting at the last, too timid, scared into submission, beaten down by all those stories, all that mongering and fail to grasp what is tantalisingly within reach. A country, a sovereign state, a nation to call our own, to make of as we will. The normalcy of being just like any other people, standing on our own two feet, taking and making all our own resources, all our own decisions for better and for worse, just the same as every other country.
I met a young Polish couple last weekend, keen to know if they could vote. They came here three years ago. Met here, fell in love here. Waiting for voter registration forms, they asked, “Would Scotland be better if it was independent?”. I answered with a question of my own. “Is Poland better independent?” They exchanged a glance and nodded, realisation dawning what this vote is about. Of course it is, they replied. Not always good, but better. We remember, just, what it was like before. The old ones, though, never forget and don’t let us forget either. Then and there, they said they’d be voting yes to Scottish independence. They will stay and make their lives here, together, but haven’t ruled out going back either. We like that we live in a continent without borders, they beamed. I’d like to live there too, I beamed back.
Mostly, I’ve been blethering with women. And more often than not, listening. Remarkable as it might seem, I can keep quiet some of the time. I’m keen to know what furrows their brow when they think about Scotland being independent. The money. Jobs. Can we afford it? Often, their hearts tell them yes but their heads persist with niggling doubts. As it should be, it’s a big decision with far-reaching consequences. Why shouldn’t they take their time, mull it over and seek out as much information as they can find?
There is an economic case for independence but we are not making it clearly enough, in language and in numbers which seem real to these women. Never mind the billions, tell them about their sixty pences and what they could buy. So I have and I am. You’ll see it shortly on the Aye Talks website. I won’t be winning any Nobel Prizes for economics anytime soon but all those sixty pences are beginning to drop.
On Saturday, I chatted with a woman born and bred and scarcely travelled much beyond Craigmillar. Hard to when you’re on a mobility scooter. She had that hard worn look of ground down poverty, ill health and inequality. Of a hand badly dealt. With all her cares creased into her threadbare anorak. With a lifetime of poverty comes a practised effort of shrinkage, of wearing greys and browns, of trying to be inconspicuous. “Ah’m voting naw” she said. Can I ask why? “Cos things would only get worse.”
This from a woman bequeathed poverty and inadequacy and scarcely enough from her mother, whose only legacy to her own children will be more of the same. Who was trundling past boarded up shops and a wasteland where promised new housing has yet to materialise nearly a decade after the old stock was demolished. Where jobs are few and bookies thrive. Where the post office is the busiest store in the street, but only on Mondays and Thursdays. Where the only shiny new buildings are cooncil ones and she sticks firmly to the other side of the street, finding comfort in the shabbiness of her surroundings.
Worse. Things could only get worse when everything has been bad for generations. Through nothing she ever did but by everything that has been done to her, her family, her neighbours and her community.
That’s what decades of being telt, of being kept in your place, of being denied dreams, of being served a diet of want results in. The poorest in our society thinking independence would deliver worse.
So, a pledge then that has been a long time in the hatching. Nearly two years ago, when Scotland was still doing its best to ignore the referendum, I told a sceptical journalist type that Scotland would vote yes. That the yes side would win. Because it had people who believed, who had spent a lifetime believing in a cause and a purpose and who would spend every hour they could convincing others to believe too. Because this meant so much to supporters of independence that they would do all they could, make sacrifices big and small to make the time to get out there and engage. The SNP had long years of practice of mustering an army of foot soldiers because for long enough, that was all it had to call on to make progress, to win elections. When it had no money, no status, no elected representatives, what it had was people who shared a common cause and belief. And when the time came, those people would do all that they could to make sure they could give all that they could to make this happen. Folk like me who would try to find a way to give over all my time to working for a yes vote.
He scoffed. Well he kens noo.
For the last six months, I’ve been saving furiously to see if I could make it happen. With the blessing of an understanding employer, to whom I will be forever grateful, for taking the time to appreciate my dilemma, of the need to answer what one friend referred to as the calling, I am making it happen. On Friday, I stop work for three months. And instead I’ll be giving over as many days and evenings as can be managed to working for a yes vote. There will be more meetings. A little blogging. A lot of canvassing – even a canvassing holiday. Mostly, there will be talking. And there will be precious little bevvying. That can wait. Everything except keeping the chicklet hale and hearty can wait.
For 100 days, I pledge to work til I drop. To devote every waking hour to persuading more people to vote yes. I’ve set myself a target of 100 people a week to talk to, to convince at least half of them every week to at least consider the possibilities offered by independence. Talking until I’m hoarse, listening to my ears are burning.
We’ll be on beans on toast come September but it will be worth it. I might even manage to banish my pot belly and rediscover my slim self from all the walking and leafleting. Best of all, I’ll be spending time with the parents who are also back on the campaign trail with a vengeance. If this is their and mine last big hurrah then I want to spend some of it with them, so that at least we all wake up on 19 September knowing that we gave all that we could, that we did all that we could. And we couldn’t have given any more.
There are some who have been doing so for nearly two years. Out every Saturday and Sunday, and on Mondays and Thursdays too. I am definitely unfashionably late to their party but better late than never. I know I’m not the only one: I have friends and acquaintances saving up all their holidays for the last big push in August and into September. I know folk who have jacked in their jobs altogether, others who haven’t bothered looking for a proper one, to give over as much time as they can to this. If we fail it won’t be because we didn’t try hard enough.
We have this one chance in my lifetime to change Scotland forever. To have better, not worse. And for the next 100 days I pledge to do all that I can to make it so.