Well. We have to talk about the be-kilted elephant in the room, slumped in the corner, clasping a sticky bottle of Buckfast to his chest.
Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth tells me that referendum questions in the States are usually comprised of statutory legalese. Below that, they’re explained in less comprehensible terms for the voter. But the choice on Scotland’s #indyref ballot paper was stark.
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With a turnout of 85%, the No vote won, 55%-45%.
More and less oblique versions of my views on the question are accessible by clicking the “Referendum” category off to the right (or maybe the bottom, if you’re on a mobile device). In summary, I have a lot of fondness for England and the English, and little for the United Kingdom. I walked past the craven Scottish Labour Party placards outside the polling station reading “It’s not worth the risk,” thought “Nothing risked; nothing gained,” and put my cross in the “Yes” box.
The day after was an odd kind of day, after being woken up with confirmation that Scottish residents — not least because of the massive “No” majority among the over-65s — had voted to remain part of the UK. It was the wrong day to be reading Joseph Conrad’s An Outpost Of Progress, a bleak tale wherein one of two useless European men in Congo accidentally kills the other before hanging himself in desperation.
Walking through the quiet city streets in the afternoon, I thought I had identified the cause of the ennui running through my veins and muting my reactions to my surroundings. I was grieving.
In the last days of the campaign, while I read of No-leaning voters making last-minute swings to Yes, my commitment to voting Yes wobbled for the first time in the face of the culmination of two years of threats delivered by every media outlet in Britain bar the Sunday Herald. I broke down the reasons for my vote to their most basic, to check the basis for that commitment. I came to a conclusion that it was a commitment to the ideals of parliamentary democracy. The great Athenian, British and American political philosophers formed their theories of democracy in times and places where the population and the leaders of the state were in reasonably close proximity. The UK population has increased around 14% even since the year of my birth.
Its axiomatic that Scotland needs to maintain — and increase — immigration to maintain a growing economy. Heck, I’m a sometime immigrant. So let’s not go there. No, what I’m saying is, we need to bring our leaders closer to us. Having a fully-empowered parliament in Edinburgh would make our government more answerable to the electorate — and the electorate more responsible for their own decisions. We could maintain the level of engagement everyone has applauded in the #indyref. Yes, things would have been complicated in the aftermath of a Yes vote. But as a new and enthusiastic member of the creative community, I found the idea of the Scots finding imaginative, modern, and informed answers to the problems of the modern state “in the early days of a young country” exciting.
My resolve was screwed to the sticking place, but with the unfortunate consequence that an independent Scotland briefly existed in my mind before its existence was snuffed out.
The Kübler-Ross model describes a series of five emotional stages experienced when faced with the impending death or death of someone. It can also be applied in grieving a break-up, grieving substance abuse, and to children grieving a divorce. I was told by my out-patient neuropsychologist that I would go through a period of grieving what I had lost in my stroke. The Kübler-Ross Model is also a great name for a band, although not as good as Nërd Baït — Yay, Nerd Bait!
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross noted that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are not meant to be a complete list of all possible emotions that could be felt in grief, and they can occur in any order.
Denial flashed by pretty quickly. When you’ve seen replays of Johnny Rep punting the ball past a static Alan Rough from fifty yards as often as the average forty-year-old Scot, denying disaster isn’t something that comes easily.
Anger shouldn’t be too much of an issue, given my commitment to mindfulness practice. Many people I consider friends are No voters, and rapprochement was achieved even before the vote.
Although, when the No vote was clinched by pensioners voting 73%-27% to consign their (29%-71%) grandkids and my (47%-53%) Thatcher generation to an outcome they don’t want to live with, I do kind of want to kick the patrons of the local Waitrose supermarket up in the air.
The Kubler-Ross ideal of bargaining is out, too. I don’t believe in a higher power. I live the life of a forty-year-old stroke survivor with two brain aneurysms, so a reformed lifestyle would involve… what? Cutting out the cream cheese on my Ryvita?
So, I flirted with depression. But it was necessarily a brief fling, when my true love inspired the following tweet on the morning of the referendum:
As always, most exciting part of day is waking up w/@bethmonahan, w/o whom I wldn’t be here – or in Edinburgh – to vote w/hope for future.
— Ricky Brown (@ricky_ballboy) September 18, 2014
So only acceptance was left. But with the other four stages having been so… incomplete, that was going to leave an empty feeling. As a result, I’m fighting off acceptance a little longer. And I’m not the only one. Slowly, the population of the “Independence” list on my twitter feed shook off the despair of our loss, and thought of the man who invented Scotland before Walter Scott.
As Katie Stevenson writes in her LRB review of Michael Penman’s Robert The Bruce: King Of The Scots, Robert I of Scotland — by his political acumen — “re-established something that could be called Scotland and imbued it with a sense of identity and a belief in its right to sovereignty,” an action that led to the Declaration Of Arbroath.
It’s Scott, though, who first relates the story of Bruce watching a spider spin its web, trying to make a connection from one area of the roof of a cave off the north coast of Ireland to another. It tried and failed, tried and failed again, then succeeded on the third attempt. As I stood on my stroke-afflicted leg in the middle of the bedroom, lifting my healthy foot and towelling it off, I remembered when the idea of being able to dry myself was comical. When I was instructed that the safest way to dress myself was to sit on the edge of the bed and clothe my left side first.
That is to say, it’s not time for acceptance. Thankfully, the folks at National Collective who spurred me into my first activism at the Edinburgh Sessions issued a statement on 20 September. I’d urge anyone who’s interested in what happened in Scotland in the days leading up to 18 September to read the statement in its entirety. We, the residents of Scotland who voted Yes on Thursday — we Scottish, English, and friends whose families have come to Scotland from around the world — imagine a better, more engaged body politic. The folks at National Collective want to harness that energy:
Now, to paraphrase a recent Facebook status update, let’s briefly return to Doctor Who and the Stroke-Afflicted Cats in Modern Chairs….