Guest post: An American explains.. I became a UK citizen to vote Yes

To mark American Independence Day, I’m posting an article from a friend and colleague, Dr Jonathan Sher. The article originally appeared in the Herald which has another great piece from him today. His is a lovely journey to yes and one that makes me smile, at the extraordinary lengths Jonathan has gone to, to participate in our referendum in September.

Americans have form on the issue of declaring independence from the “powers that be” in London.

Despite this, it is not surprising that America’s leaders support the status quo in the UK. They are content with Washington’s dominance of the “special relationship”. Scotland’s best interests are not their priority.

But they have become mine.

While I voted for President Obama, I am going to cast my vote for Scottish independence. In fact, I have become a British citizen to vote Yes. The journey to this decision has surprised even me.

When I moved to Scotland in 2005, I was undecided. Each side has valid points and arguments. I was, and remain, deeply distrustful of nationalism. It has often been used to excuse the inexcusable: racism, xenophobia, dictatorships and violence. However, such abhorrent nationalism has been conspicuously absent among mainstream Yes supporters. Originally, I thought Scottish devolution would transform into a federal UK. Understanding how deeply entrenched the UK’s power and money are in London, this outcome no longer seems feasible.

So, what led to me withdrawing £900 from my (meagre) savings to become one of the millions of Scots with the privilege of voting in September’s referendum?

First, it matters to me that Scottish votes and voices make a difference in what our government does (and does not do) to, for and with us. Secondly, the direction of travel within Scotland towards a more Nordic, egalitarian society has much more appeal than England’s rightward drift toward the American model of inequality with which I am all too familiar.

Scotland’s long-standing inclination towards fairness and progressive politics is part of what attracted me here. For example, Scotland is explicitly beginning to include children’s rights in legislation, policy and practice. That speaks powerfully to me since America is one of only two countries (along with Somalia) rejecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our Children’s Hearings are not perfect but this distinctive Scottish system remains a far better model than the alternatives south of the Border or in the US. Similarly, Scotland’s current determination to improve the NHS, rather than dismantle it, makes good sense.

The impulse toward self-determination is strong everywhere but Scotland has the rare opportunity, with Westminster’s agreement, to achieve a democratic ideal through a fair, non-violent voting process.

Enjoying true self-determination and becoming an increasingly progressive society seem an unlikely outcome if Scotland remains within the UK. Westminster has long bowed reflexively in favour of Washington’s wishes and keeps moving toward a more American society, even when doing so clashes with Scotland’s preferences and interests.

America has numerous wonderful qualities but it is not the model to which Scotland should aspire. Voting Yes opens the door for us to make a different set of choices than Westminster (or Washington) are likely to choose for us. It will enable Scotland consciously and confidently to travel in a fairer, more compassionate and positive direction. The referendum is our opportunity to show the world that we can, and will, turn our inspirational egalitarian rhetoric into reality so that this country can become “the best place to grow up in”.

We can awaken on September 19 to the hard but wonderful work of building an ever-better Scotland. On that happy day, we should take Margo Macdonald’s advice to heart and, with the eyes of the world upon us, put aside the passions of the referendum and act co-operatively to enhance all that unites us as Scots.

Of course, there are uncertainties. But we should remember that America started with a Declaration of Independence, not a guaranteed-to-succeed business plan.

Similarly, Dr Martin Luther King rallied the world with “I have a dream”, not “I have a blueprint”. These are the American precedents that have, to my surprise, ‘Yanked’ me into voting Yes.

Dr Sher is Scotland director of WAVE Trust. He writes in a personal capacity.


4 thoughts on “Guest post: An American explains.. I became a UK citizen to vote Yes

  1. Jonathan, whatever Country we end up in after this malarkey I’m pleased to have you as a fellow citizen/subject/punter.

  2. If you are against xenophobia and distrustful of nationalism, why are you voting for the side whose with a unpleasant anti-outsider fom of nationalism only caring for the folks who presently live here? whose policy is to create a power to exclude from citizenship of their own country the Scots who were born outside Scotland to emigrant parents, mostly in rUK, and who can’t arrange to be resident here on indy day? It will affect who can live here if the common travel area breaks down, and who can get services here evn it it doesn’t. This is a new Clearances, an immoral rejection of some of the nation, and a division of families, against ECHR article 8 on family life. Scots who moved away economically reluctantly, who were even supposed to be a Yes argument, never imgained this threat to their exile born children’s automatic inclusion in their own country and family. They will not awaken happy after a Yes vote, they will awaken as state persecuted families.

    Ever since the White Paper, all Yes sources have refused to budge on not making citizenship by descent unrefusable, and the govt’s position is to only compile and release the system’s details, “including the evidence required and any discretionary elements”, during the transition after a Yes vote, not letting you know all the details of the citizenship system you are voting for. Were you aware of this, or had you assumed there could not possibly be any problem like this because you had not heard of it in the campaign? I have petitioned the European parliament, for the EU not to accept the ref as fairly conducted or a new state as mandated unless by automatic right this citizenship question got enough coverage for the mass of voters to know it exists.

  3. An apposite article, and also a very clear summary of what a Yes vote is about. Thank you, and Happy Independence Day!

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