Today the Church of Scotland has come out with what’s being called a reconciliation service after the referendum. The Rev John Chalmers, soon to be installed as the moderator of the Church of Scotland, is quoted as saying “In the coming months there is a danger the referendum will set people against each other, in their own community, their own street-even their own family.”
Almost sounds like Unionist propaganda, really. Maybe that’s for another day-feels like a Separatist would’ve spoken of extending olive branches whatever the outcome rather than ramping up fears of unpleasantness over the next few months. We need to remember that we’re doing this right-politically, non-violently. The Church of Scotland seems to be adding weight to the sense that even discussing things calmly might be too much for some.
What’s striking about it is the idea that we’ll need reconciliation after the referendum.
Nobody, at least nobody I’ve heard, is talking about violence breaking out before or after the vote. It’s one of the proud hallmarks of this process: we’re managing hegemony’s funeral arrangements in a way that keeps our dignity and means we can all go to the wake knowing there won’t be a punch-up.
And, still, there are those of us on the left wondering if a referendum is a revolution. It’s easy to think of revolutions as being a bit more than the sum of their glitzy, violent parts; the Sierra Maestra, Petrograd, Derry. It’s not the case, though. It’s a lot easier to think this way in the midst of the material comfort afforded us by our developed world status, even if Westminster’s austerity programmes are putting peoples’ lives in legitimate danger. Revolutions live in peoples’ hearts and minds. Episodes of violence are just flashpoints for that, and they’re more readily assimilated into our histories and identities than the civil determination of non-violent debate and discussion.
There is a revolution happening in Scotland at the moment. Day by day we see more and more of the citizenry challenging, in their own minds and with their compatriots (of all backgrounds), the legitimacy of the Union’s status. We wonder not just what security the Union affords us but whether it’s a security we would even want. We ask ourselves if we can remember any time in our lives when there was such optimism for the future, and find ways to channel the energy of our newfound enthusiasm. We question the extent to which pride in what we have is just fear of whether or not what we really want is achievable.
These are the questions people are asking. Even Unionists. Nobody is implacable in this debate-being a separatist means you have the future as a canvass on which to expand on your imagination. Being a Unionist means going to bed at night hoping that people across the country buy into your fear so you can keep your future as narrow as it is now. It isn’t malice, it’s terror. The grassroots No campaigners are people I’ll hope to sit down with after independence and talk about how we can build a new country. Nobody who’s out on the streets in weather like we have, talking about their ideas, lacks drive. They might not know it yet but they’re as invested as the rest of us, even if they aren’t quite as imaginative.
We’ve already had conversations where people have been sceptical about independence, to varying degrees. Sometimes they’re people we expected more of. Realising people you care about are unconvinced of their ability to rule themselves is confounding and sometimes frustrating. But most of those people seem to be coming around. Yet there are others who legitimately don’t have the wherewithal to see past the Union to something better. It’s saddening and frustrating, and it becomes hard to see how people of such narrow, limited worldviews could play much of a role in running anything in the future-even if they have done up until now.
None of this is to discredit them as human beings. Hegemony makes fools of us all, and some people will take some getting used to. Don’t think so much about the Scotland of October this year but the Scotland of 2024, 2064, 2114. They’re the countries which will have people looking back without anger at what Scotland has become. Hopefully they’ll be mindful of our history, and that at one point we were part of a much larger, much more malevolent political and social force. But they’ll live their day-to-day affairs with the intention of putting that right, domestically and internationally-supporting humanity in the struggle against its baser, capitalistic impulses.
We’ll remember the political forces which Independence put paid to. People whose fear was either so consumptive that it gave rise to a shameful, resentment-laden aggression (Lamont). Whose lack of imagination, social vision or instinct led them to their own downfall against the rejuvenated optimism of a people who asked questions without demanding answers (Rennie). Whose paymaster status ultimately exposed them as exploiters and abusers, vainly declaring any opposition to their malfeasance an attempt to stoke up the barbaric impulses of their idiotic countrymen (You can guess.)
Reconciliation shouldn’t be necessary in our new Scotland. People who legitimately, if misguidedly, believed they were doing the right thing or who were enticed by their (often state-backed) fear should be welcomed with open arms, so long as they are prepared to work for the benefit of the wider population. But there should be no room for the people who looked only to maintain their comfort and luxury through exploiting and belittling the people they share this space with. We shouldn’t want to reconcile with them-their expulsion from our public and political life should be as thorough and declarative as every Yes vote struck in September. While revolutions don’t have to be violent they do have to be transformative, and we can’t do that if we offer amnesty to those whose interest was our subservience.