Why I’m Voting Yes

Sam-YESBy Peter Arnott

I value people in different ways at different times, ways that reflect who I am and what I’m doing.  My family, my friends, people I work with, people who live next door, people who live the the next street. And it’s not that these relationships have a ranking order…it’s just that at different times they are of differing importance to me. Mostly that’s just accidental…whether I’m at work or not.  Or on Facebook.

My identity, or identities, are made out of how I am related to other people. There’s no PRINCIPLE involved. I haven’t got a fixed hierarchy of “relationships.” I am part of the subset of “things that are alive” which is in turn a subset of “things that exist” if you want to get cosmic about it. I am also Tom and Gregor’s Dad. One relationship I have, one identity I have, doesn’t cancel out all the others. We’re all allowed more than one.

It depends on circumstance which one happens to matter most at that moment.

My circumstance on September the 18th this year is that I am one of the Scottish electorate who get to make a really important decision. A decision that I and the rest of the people voting that day have never been able to take before. And that a peculiar set of historical circumstances that seem unlikely to recur in the immediate future have accidentally conspired to affords me and everyone else I am voting with that day.

So what are “we” – that day’s accidental, contingent “we” going to do about it? Are we going to collectively decide to be “a nation” ? Not again, like in the song, but a functional, sovereign democracy for the very first time? Are we really going to reinvent ourselves and our relationships with our families, our neighbours and the wider world…by voting Yes?

What do we mean by “nation”?

For me, a nation is not a flag or an anthem or an accent. A nation is a way of thinking about ourselves and then organising ourselves. Most of all, a nation is a way of valuing people. And I think we need new ways to do that. I think we can do that better if we decide to be a nation, and decide that a nation is a way orf organising things for the good of the people who live there.

Oh, we can value people by how much they spend or how much they earn. Or how much they inherit. Or how much they manage to avoid paying in tax.

But a “nation” is a way of valuing people as people, just because they happen to be people.

It’s not the only way to do it, it’s not even the best way to do it, philosophically. But it is a way of valuing people practically, on an organisable scale. On a practical scale that is democratically accountable, for example.

Now, Scotland is no worse or no better than anywhere else. It’s just another place, probably more fortunate than most in terms of its economic and human potential, but not intrinsically or essentially different from our neighbours. I’m not voting Yes because I think we’re anything special. But I do think we’re a nation. Or, to be more precise, I do think that we could be.

I think that we might be offering ourselves the chance…just the chance…of re-designing the society we live in on the basis of a principle of human value. That if I value my autonomy, my health, my work, my place in my society, then I cannot logically deny that same valuation to anyone else. And that if i choose to pool my autonomy with those of others in order to get things done, then what those things are should be decided by those who will benefit from those things.

It’s not rocket science. It only sounds like a daydream because that is not the kind of country I live in now.

I think the country we’d be unilaterally breaking (which is another story), the UK, I think that was a nation once. I think that when we all together elected the Labour Government of 1945 and set in train the reforms we are all so familiar with – the welfare state, the nationalisation of essential industry and the NHS – that was Britain’s national moment. Perhaps its most important democratic national moment when we collectively decided that the dreadful poverty of the 1930s and the war of the 1940s were telling us that we had to re-organise “Britain” on the principle of the welfare and security of its people, on banishing the evil;s of ignorance and want. I think that was a moment of national solidarity.

I absolutely defy anyone to identify anything like that in the country we live in now. I defy anyone to describe it to me anything as like a nation. Scotland or Britain.

If Margaret Thatcher came to power to cancel everything that Harold Wilson ever did (as a clever and dear friend of mine in London said once) then this lot are in power to cancel 1945, to return us to the pre-democratic Downton Abbey world of the 1914 they seem so curiously keen on celebrating.

(Perhaps because it was in the war of 1914 to 18 that the Britain “they” cherish began to be taken from them, by, among others, the Labour Government of 1945.)

The UK really is a place of flags and parades. It is hardly a place where the welfare of the people just because they are people is a defining value of government or economy or dominant culture. And Scotland is locked into a distorted relationship with it, anomalous and clumsy.

I really believe that if we vote Yes we will be at least starting the project of the “nation” with an assertion of human value and of democratic participation as being the root of that value. Of the supreme autonomy of the individual, with all his or her complex of identities and relationships, being pooled for practical purposes with those same complexities and richness in everyone we meet.

This is not to deny anything to anyone else on these islands or this earth. It is just that, it seems to me, an independent Scotland is an exciting place to start a project of renewal of values that seem lost and even absurd in the country we live in now.

We used to call them British values. I’d prefer to call them human values. I will continue to share those values, as values, with my dear and clever friend everywhere else on earth

But I would like to stop dreaming about them as values and help to invent and organise a nation where they can at least aspire to becoming real. Where human value can be the principled basis of all policies, all political decisions. If that’s a leap in the dark, so be it.

That’s what George Washington called an Independent USA. I think we’ll be fine

Who’s with me?



Categories: Commentary

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18 replies

  1. “I prefer to call them Human Values”.
    That sums up neatly the reasons I advocate independence.
    I currently live south of the border and I find it disturbing how mainstream ‘far right’ values have become in everyday society. Even among my colleagues I see a troubling absence of empathy and humanity and increasing judgementalism.
    I no longer recognise or feel comfortable in the nation that now exists down here. It’s the kind of place I can imagine trying to escape from in a few years, like the former DDR.
    I’ve wanted to leave the UK for years now but lacking marketable skills has hamstrung those notions.
    Now, if you’ll all vote Yes next month, I can leave the UK AND come home at the same time.
    We can build something new and better; a humane template for the 21st Century world.

    • Right ! As a community we will be simply better not necessary ‘better aff’ with greater cultural confidence and no longer needing to look to London for validation. We will feel better; with Scotland no longer ‘almost afraid to know itself’. WS

  2. There is absolutely nothing that i disagree with here. For me though, particularly at this stage of the Referendum and when people who are to be convinced are more likely, IMO, to be convinced by shorter, sharper message, my “Yes” reason is more along the lines of:-

    I live here.
    My wife and children live here.
    My grand-children live here.
    We all would enrich our lives, and be able to help others in the world more effectively, if we had more control of our own destiny than Westminster allows.
    With Holyrood now properly functioning, we no longer need Westminster.

  3. “…a nation is a way of valuing people.”

    What a wonderful phrase. My hand is firmly raised to create a nation that values the people who live within it, as well as those outwith.

  4. No question about it, well said.

    One is never too old to unlearn bad habits, nothing is easy to the unwilling.
    Behold the turtle, he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.
    Boldness has genius, power and magic, learn to listen, opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly.

  5. Peter Arnott goes from writing one of the more pertinent pieces about the referendum the other day (summed up broadly as, a No Vote Is Still a Vote For Change, Just The Wrong Change)…

    ….to writing this confused, rambling, illogical piece, so much so that I think maybe I just dreamt I read it Bella, (and maybe I did)…..reducing the word “nation” to a am empty term broadly meaning “a country which embraces the values Peter Arnott likes” as opposed to….as opposed to what exactly?.I don’t know.

    Never mind, Peter, that the word nation comes from the same Latin root (natio I think) as words like natal and nascent and is hence linked to the Latin verb “to be born”, ie, a nation originally (a very long time ago) meant something like a place where the same people were born (which is what we don’t like about the word nationalism without the word civic before it you might remember).According to Peter here, the word “nation” can be used like a joker in pack of cards to mean anything you want.

    One thing I know for sure: Scotland has been a nation for about seven centuries, and it will continue to be a nation no matter the result in September at least for the foreseeable future. The referendum is not about Scotland becoming a nation. It is about Scotland becoming a fully sovereign and independent nation State.

    How do I know Scotland is a nation? Because Scotland has all of distinctive the things which all the other nations in the world have, and no “region” on earth has: a number of unique and distinctive institutions, three different languages, three very different geographical regions, its own legal system, its own education system, it’s own religion, and its own cultural, artistic, musical, philosophical, intellectual traditions.

    In short, all the complexities and contradictions of a nation which make a Nation State the optimum form of government for the people who live here.

    But to suggest that nations only qualify as such when they adopt the values Peter Arnott endorses (which he then calls “human values”; fascism is just as much a manifestation of the human as social democracy; the only fascists on record were humans as far as I know) is nonsensical.

    You can vote YES because you think that Scotland is a nation and nations do best when governing themselves.

    Or you can vote YES because an indie Scotland offers the opportunity of us doing things very differently from UK plc.

    Best of all, you can vote YES for both of those reasons, because they are both true..

    ,

    • Maybe I’m Better at being cross….

      • Hi Peter, that’s true of all of us no doubt…; )

        Just a wee bit tired of this idea that Scotland can’t just be an independent nation like all the other nations in the world, it has to be an independent nation with “the right values”, ie a centre left values, just as it;s not enough for us to do our best, we have to “lead the world”, “be a beacon”, have “second enlightenment” etc.

        All of these things are worth striving for, but to predicate indie on them is unnecessary, because the main reason for indie is that we will be governed better – regardless of the politics – if we govern ourselves.

        Centre left values are my values too, but you can’t intellectually argue this is synonymous with the Scottish nation, You work in the arts, you must know who Miss Jean Brodie’s political hero was and why she gets sacked at the end of that memorable novel?

        That’s a Scottish tradition too, which stretches from Calvinism and its theory of “the elect” (one step away from a chosen race) through to Germany via Thomas Carlye who was very, very influential there and all the way to Miss Jean Brodie in the classroom a century later.

        So there are plenty of strands in the Scottish tradition, which is full of kinks and bumps and shadow and light like all traditions.

  6. Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    I am voting yes because its the right way to be.

  7. I’M voting yes because its the right thing to do.

  8. Peter seems to think that Scotland in 2014 can be compared in any way to the United Kingdoms that existed in 1945, based on what? The people he so eulogises were people who embodied self-sacrifice, a commitment to ‘stick to it’ through the very worst of possible times, who mucked in together (mostly; so we won’t dwell on the Kentish Miners) to destroy one of the most evil cancers to infect humanity. I say destroy and not defeat because they recognized that only the total annihilation of the ideas of Nazism would put the matter to rest for good. Off the back of that endeavor the British electorate, quite rightly, set out to establish the brave new world they were promised in 1919, which never materialized through no fault of theirs, nor of the ‘Downton sets’, but mostly due to a continued naivety to the real threat and a vindictive sense of French entitlement.

    Unfortunately I see very little demonstrable evidence, today, of the character that would be required by the Scots to achieve anything that will be considered noble. Why? Because the intellectual leadership required is, simply, not there. The loudest shouters all seem to have the closest horizons, and let’s be brutally honest here, way too much of the Yes campaign is about sticking it to England and the memory of Lady Thatcher. Which is so sad because Scotland could be an awesome place to live, work and enjoy – but it won’t be if the vote is successful in September.

    After the euphoria wears off, reality will set in. All the questions that Mr. Salmon has avoided will still need answers. Budgets will need to be balanced. People will need jobs. And a currency will be needed.

    I have yet to see anyone argue for an independent Scotland that was anything other than a socialist Scotland. Why is that? After all these years, and all the many examples of its true form the facts remain the same: the one fundamental problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.

    So I ask again, why can’t Scotland be a land of small government, low taxes and prosperity? A land where the priority of the government is its own people and what affects them – health, education, law & order to name just a few. A land where having a better quality of life than your grandparents is not frowned upon. A land where enterprise and ingenuity is rewarded and the thrifty are not fined to fund the spendthrifts. A land where people take responsibility for themselves, their health, their education and their society in partnership with government for the betterment of all.

    But that will never happen, and Scotland will never fulfill its potential whilst it is a land encouraged by a leadership and intellectual elite to have chips on too many shoulders driven by memories tinged by the most imprudent roses whilst it follows the piper playing the old lament of beer dreams at champagne prices.

    • “Sticking it to the English” you say? I haven’t seen a single example of that. Could you maybe provide a couple?

      I think quite a small minority of YES voters want a “socialist” Scotland, and probably the majority want a social democratic Scotland. They are not the same thing.

      By the way, it was social democracy which led to the biggest spurt in growth in European history, through the 50’s, 60’s and right up the oil crisis of the 70’s, as well as the founding of the EU and a whole host of fundamental institutions like the UN.

      I would say that the social democratic model deserves much better press than it gets. It provided stability and growth, as opposed to the anarchy of the Great Crash, the banking meltdown and never ending illegal foreign wars, which has always been an integral part of the deregulated, unfettered capitalist model and led to the carnage of the 20th Century in the shape of two world wars which cost 100 million lives.

      Not even the most rabid free marketeers support low tax economies during war; it was because of foreign wars that the State started collecting taxes in the first place centuries ago (oh, the irony…)…

    • Hi there hamishsg,

      You’re clearly getting your information and commentary from the mainstream press, and are unaware of the depth of thought going on here.

      You say “I have yet to see anyone argue for an independent Scotland that was anything other than a socialist Scotland” but even on Bella there have been many other perspectives – e.g. http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/07/22/sweet-release-from-undecided-purgatory/ – and maybe you noticed the Adam Smith’s input today? – so maybe clue up on the real debates that are going on here and then rejoin the discussion rather than adopt what seems a very odd aloof dismissive tone full of assertions – “But that will never happen” – a tone which seems to emphasise your distance from what is really going on on the ground.

      Look forward to hearing from you after that

      Welcome to the welcoming (and not dismissive) Yes movement!

      Justin

    • Seems to me,you sir have a chip the size of a boulder on your shoulders with a blind racist hatred towards Scots,put simply,an arsehole of the highest order.

      • Ok Einstein I’ll make this easy for you…

        The Scots are not a race, therefore how can I be racist towards them?

        Much like you cannot be racist towards Arabs or Americans or any of the European nationalities.

        You, Sir, are simply making my case for me.

        So, thank you

    • Hsamishsg:
      I see very little demonstrable evidence, today, of the character that would be required by the Scots to achieve anything that will be considered noble. Why? Because the intellectual leadership required is, simply, not there.

      Given a plebiscite on our future by a democratically elected administration presupposes there exists such a nobility, the same that submits itself to the will of the people.

      The rest of what you have had to say is nothing but posturing.

  9. It is sad you see us that way hamish. As a former lib dem voter and someone who didn’t vote for devolution I’m voting yes because I see no other political avenue for change in uk politics. My last hope came into power in 1997 and abandoned one of its key policies – the abolition of the city of London corporation followed on by complete capitulation to the banking lobby – take a look at the city of London wards act of 2002 for example. There’s also foreign policy of course which has been commented on already.

    I guess perhaps my view of many no voters is as narrow, yet I always ask what the main strength of the uk economy is and invariably I am told that it is the finance sector….

    How can this be perceived as a strength? Our private debt to GDP ratio stands at over 400%, and climbing and yet it was private debt that caused the current recession. Lord Adair Turner recently termed the uk as a hair of the dog economy. Both labour and the conservatives seem to take the view that it is sensible encourage and even fund another private debt bubble, underwritten of course by the public purse – privatise the profits and socialise the losses. The sick joke on our children is that they will be paying our burgeoning debt whilst being unable to afford a place to live.

    As for being told scotland is pinning its economic hopes on a single physical asset, it’s ironic given that our only path to ‘growth’ is the continued expansion of a very large Ponzi scheme.

  10. Scotland does have other assets Hamish. You should have known that.

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