One of the most compelling narratives in the independence debate, a narrative now openly accepted by both sides, is hope vs. fear. Better Together actually let it slip that they dubbed their own campaign “Project Fear” which just about says it all. Yes Scotland has increasingly and quite rightly focused on the possibility that there could be a glimmer of hope peeping out from behind the dark clouds of Westminster-imposed austerity. The many and varied folks who make up the broader independence movement have been coming to the fore as well, with bold ideas about their hopes for a new nation.
At every stage, the only response from Better Together and large chunks of the press has been yet more fear. I didn‘t give them my dosh to read the “story” but the headline screaming out from the Express yesterday strongly implied the SNP had just banned cars. If that was the case, I’d be chuffed but I suspect that it’s total baws as always. How will we do this? How will that work? Will we get to play in the world’s treehouse? The “but it might be new and scary” brigade has had some success up to this point. Let’s be honest, we’ve heard these arguments on the doorstep, in our workplaces and online.
Project Fear is about those in positions of power projecting the fear they might lose power onto everyone else. Ordinary people are expected to care that the Westminster class might not get to run things for themselves forever. We’re told that if we challenge this, it will be a picture of eternal horror.
Scaring people into doing what you want has a long history as a political tool but as a recent electoral strategy in Scotland, it’s been thoroughly ineffective. All the scare campaigns since the Scottish Parliament was created have ended up going down pretty poorly in the long run. From ministers talking about “the terror and horror of youth” during the debate on Anti-Social Behaviour, to “the gays are gonna eat your kids” over Section 28 and more recently “24 hours to save the Union” being used as a slogan in an election that had nothing to do with the constitution, we’ve really not responded that well to Scottish politicians shouting “BOO” at us in recent years. As the referendum campaign continues, this particularly kind of scaremongering may begin to become less effective. There are a massive number of folk who’re not only “not tuned in” to the debate but who’ve actively tuned out. However, there is also a shift in engagement as some realise they haven’t really got long left to decide or indeed to argue about our future. As things progress, fears based on ignorance begins to lose clout.
But I’m scared, really scared. I may be hopeful and I’ve rambled about my many hopes for a better tomorrow outside of the Union many times. But I’m not ashamed to say that I’m also shitting myself and there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t worry about our future. I worry that we won’t get away from the terrible path that Britain has embarked on, worry we’ll continue to trample on those most in need to feed the greed of those running our economic system, worry for the young folk denied their chance to do better than their parents (perhaps even by their own parents). Many of us fear that if we don’t stop those in power in their tracks right now and begin to reverse their destructive economic and social policies, we may not get another chance to make such a clean break.
The fear of change is the biggest barrier thrown in our way when we think about Scotland’s future but we need to begin to shift the focus. Things will change, they already have changed. The Britain that we may be stuck with unless we transform the debate is a very different country to what is suggested by the pro-Union nostalgia fest going on in some of our media. It’s already a very scary place and unless we can build up enough protection, enough independence from it, then we may experience even greater and more uncertain changes. Britain used to have universal education and healthcare, it used to build houses for its citizens and offer a basic level of welfare for the most vulnerable – that’s changing. We cannot be afraid to say why we’re scared of that. It’s a very different kind of fear when it’s based on things that are actually happening to us right now. Our fears aren’t based on ignorance but experience.
We need to be much more upfront when it comes to laying out what Britain has become, what it does and where we think it’s going as we attempt to set out why we think a Yes vote is the right decision for Scotland. The new changes that are occurring right now in Britain: the massive restructuring of our economy away from secure employment, the increased attacks on the poorest, failure to maintain essential infrastructure which is undermining any prospect of economic growth, a more brazen reliance on jingoism; all give us plenty of reason to be fearful.
There was a big part of me that wanted to say that focusing on hope is all middle-class hippy nonsense that doesn‘t reflect the grim realities of those at the sharp end. That sounds dead radical and all that but it’s just not the case. Opinion polls have consistently revealed that support for independence is strongest amongst the poorest, the youngest and those most in need. Not surprisingly, people who know how rubbish things are don’t require to be constantly reminded and are less likely to be scared about the possibility that independence might mean new order codes for stationery at their work or different coloured stamps.
We need to start undermining the fear being projected at us but also to rationally analyse where we are right now – and say that the reality of where we are is precisely the reason we are so in need of hope. There is no plan from our masters to build a better future for us or they’d already be doing it, they just want us to be scared of how difficult taking power might be so we don‘t notice they’ve just let all their pals wreck our economy for their own benefit. It might be very, very difficult to take power in the long run if we reject our opportunity to be an independent nation next year. We also have to build a movement capable of making those who’ve run Scotland into the ground very scared because when they’re scared, they resort to all the tactics that simply don’t work.
Our fear is not the same as theirs. We don’t fear our failure, we fear not trying to build a more independent future, in the hope that we may have the power to change things for ourselves. Those in control are right to be scared of us because we are coming to get them. Project Fear should be very afraid because we don’t have time to let our own fears get in the way anymore, our fears are driving us towards a demand for change. A different constitutional arrangement doesn’t guarantee a bright future of hope and rainbows but it’s a clear statement to those in charge (who will most likely continue to be “in charge” whatever flag we fly) that we are not scared of them anymore and we’re not scared of ourselves or each other.
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