Nationalism? I say it’s a new breed and it’s bonny – Pauline Lynch

Like every other Yes voter I know, I was heartbroken by our failure to win enough people to our side. Like every other Yes voter I know, I did not anticipate feeling this way. I’d gone to bed in the wee sma’ hours of the 19th with a very bad feeling, having seen the first two counts announced and having read ICM were 99% sure it would be a NO victory.
    When I woke in the morning and reached for my phone, it wasn’t just tiredness that made me want to stay in bed. And then the worst was confirmed. We’d lost. And properly, too.
    I wasn’t always a Yes voter. I lived in London for fifteen years. At one point I’d have laughed in your face if you’d told me I’d ever move back to Scotland. It was wee, parochial, limited, limiting. I was nineteen when I left, technically still a teenager. I realise now all those years I spent outside of and looking in on Scotland, I was looking through teenaged eyes.
    When I moved back I wasn’t alone. I brought a partner and a son. Work dictated our decision and it was the best thing we could have done. We came back when the Edinburgh Festival was in full swing, all our pals were up from London, and most importantly, one third of our little family wasn’t constantly working away from home. Very quickly my blinkers fell away. Scotland wasn’t at all as I remembered it. It was as I’d forgotten it: utterly gallus.
    But even then I considered myself British before Scottish. That thought is now so strange, so unfamiliar, that it may as well have belonged to someone else. The Yes side was accused of being rabidly nationalistic throughout the campaign, but of course the counter to this argument is that blind loyalty to the UK is its own type of nationalism. Don’t get me wrong – the notion of nationalism is as frightening as ever it was. I paid attention in history class. I’ve always been wary of flag waving and large crowds chanting in the streets. So why, having never identified as a nationalist, does it suddenly feel so important to say out loud: I Am Scottish and proud of it? Does that make me a nationalist? Why do I suddenly care?
     To my mind it’s very simple and nations and race have nothing to do with it. I wanted to elect people to power who were answerable to ME. And a few others, obviously. It struck me as an absurdity than anyone could use a line drawn on a map hundreds of years ago as a pin on which to hang their personality. It was only about power, surely? And the potential of that power to effect change in our immediate environment. Which leads any thinking voter to ask: what type of change do I want to see?
    So you look around and you see the food banks, you read about a diabetic man dying because he couldn’t afford to feed himself, you read about all the sick people who died within months of being declared fit to work, you read about people being made to work for no wages, about books being banned in prison, how much Trident costs and the moral implications of such a weapon, you think about how much our foreign policy costs, not only in money but lives too, you learn that our National Health Service is under threat, that the minimum wage doesn’t even approach the living wage for ‘hard working families’, and you find the answer to that question ‘what change do I want to see?’ comes very easily indeed.
    You imagine a future where your vote can actually influence the decision makers, a future where the decision makers have full control of our tiny country with its massive resources; you imagine a future where the poorest people are treated fairly and with respect, you imagine a future where we live in a society that recognises we’re all born equal, or should be, and that if we treat each other decently, we all end up living in a better world.
    But you wake up on September 19th and realise your message didn’t get through. You hope the No voters have the same dreams but a different way of bringing them into being because the vision you’ve held in your mind for so long – that spurred you to be the most annoying facebook presence ever, that led you down unknown roads to deliver letters, or talking to people in the street – has gone.  Evaporated faster than that morning’s dew. What do you have left? Only 1.6 million friends, each and every one of whom you’re extremely proud.
    And you will hang on to that pride with a shocking fierceness. Because did you see the tears David Cameron almost squeezed out as he promised us more powers? Did you see how all those Westminster MPs looked so disconnected from ordinary people as they took to the streets of Glasgow? Did you see the bags of food left at impromptu food banks?  Did you see what we actually achieved? Did you feel how we connected with each other and tasted the possibility of a different world? Do you recognise how, even as we concede defeat, none of us are prepared to settle any longer for what passes in 21st century Britain as society? Who could have anticipated this movement of the people, this incredible surge of energy, all of us working for the common good of our country?
    And that’s what makes me finally proud to call myself Scottish. And all those English people who campaigned for Yes, and the Welsh and the Mexicans and Italians and Germans and all the other nationalities that live on this small land – I’m proud of them too. If anyone wants to call that nationalism, I say it’s a new breed and it’s bonny.

Pauline Lynch’s blog

Sticky Love by Pauline Lynch

Scenes from Highland life, part one: Jane-Sharon Regent
Scots and British? Still Shifnal’s Son! – James Christie

This section: The Referendum and Scottish Politics

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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