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.