Mary Irvine: Post Referendum Musings
I am grateful that I was born into and have lived in, for most of my life, a democracy. I believe I have an obligation to exercise my right to vote. People fought, suffered and died for that right. The least I can do is turn up at a local venue and put a cross on a piece of paper. My country also honours that right, unlike many other countries world-wide.
I grew up in a liberal atmosphere with the maxim ‘I may not agree with what he says but will defend to the death his right to say it.’ I have not always voted for the same party and often didn’t get the government I’d voted for, but in a true democracy one must abide by the wish of the majority, however small that majority may be.
When the referendum vote for Scottish independence became a reality I knew it was, for me, the second most important vote of my life. The first was for the plebiscite for the UK’s entry into Europe. I’m not sure I got that right. At the time I believed I’d made the right decision based on as much information as was available to me. So, with that in mind, I set about ‘informing’ myself re the overall situation in Scotland. Of course I accessed the media and listened to the conflicting arguments being put out by both sides. Many of my questions were never satisfactorily answered by either side.
Cognisant of bias and partisanship I widened my sphere of research. At the time I was conducting extensive research into the social, political and economic history in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries in connection with my writing of the biography of Margaret Harrison. I extended that reading further to the history of devolution.
Reading widely and bringing objectivity into play I assembled a list of pros and cons. I accessed websites for official statistics – rather than those put out by the two ‘sides’. Slowly I came to my decision and never wavered until the very moment I went into the polling booth and lifted that stubby pencil.
For the first time in fifty years in that situation I hesitated. My heart raced and my hand trembled. Was my decision the right one? I made my cross. Alea iacta fuit.* I did not have a last minute change of heart. Only one of the sides approached me on the way out and it wasn’t to ask how I voted but to ask if I was all right. She thought I looked shaken. I had just made a momentous decision, not for myself, but for my grandchildren and the younger generation in general.
In the run-up to this historic vote I had fears that the vote would be very close, with no overwhelming decision, that, whatever that decision, it would be divisive, leaving a large percentage of the country dis-satisfied. Already it was happening with reports of serious conflicts arising amongst families and friends. Certainly I personally came across two cases of quite serious bullying, not by family or friends, I must add.
One of my greatest worries was that many people were basing their decision on only one particular promise (not always the same promise) by one side or the other. Surely, I would suggest, your decision should be based on a consideration of all the issues concerning the whole of Scotland. This mostly fell on deaf ears.
Another concern was that many appeared to be voting for one or other of the particular political parties. When I dared to suggest it was not a vote for any specific party and that voting for any party would not ensure that party governing an independent Scotland the deaf ears came into play again.
Finally, the overall turnout percentage was highly praised but I felt saddened that some people had not bothered. Admitting that a small percentage may have had genuine reasons for not voting why did the rest ‘not bother’? For many years I lived in a country where voting was compulsory and a very compelling reason was required not to be prosecuted for non-compliance. We hear much these days of ‘It’s my right/We have rights’ etc. What about responsibilities?
The distressing post-result scenes in Glasgow are hopefully only the lunatic fringe. A democratic vote was held, the people have voiced their opinions. Everyone must move forward. And it is certain that all people living in Scotland, however they voted, agree on one point. We all want the best for Scotland now and in the future. Whatever happens will not happen overnight. We cannot change the past but only, hopefully, learn from it. There is only one way to go now – forward – together.
*Apologies to Suetonius for change of tense and, before any anorak tells me I should be apologising to Julius Caesar, I wish to point out that it was Suetonius who actually attributed that comment to Caesar, hence my apology to Suetonius, not Caesar!
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