4 Years On...
The referendum was a personal journey for a lot of people. Here’s one of them.
`I was a young voter. By that I mean I wouldn’t have been able to vote if the Scottish Government hadn’t lowered the voting age to 16. I didn’t really ‘do’ the whole constitutional politics thing until the referendum was announced. My parents had taken me to the Make Poverty History march on July 2nd 2005 where 225,000 people marched in Edinburgh to end ‘absolute poverty.’ I enjoyed it, they had live bands playing and we walked around Edinburgh. It was a guid day oot.
But what shaped my view on where Scotland stood in the world? I started the Olympic sport of fencing at the age of 5. I preferred to wield a plastic golf club and pretend I was Aragorn from Lord of the Rings or Luke Skywalker from Star Wars to playing football. So I started fencing. From a young age we were taught to set goals for the future and fill in a wee diary, and in my young naivety I wrote proudly that I wanted to fence for Scotland at the Olympics. This led to a discussion with my dad in the car back home.
“But if Scotland’s a country, how are we not in the Olympics?”
“It is a country, but we compete as part of the UK.”
“Oh, okay, guess I’ll work towards that then.”
And I did work towards it. As a matter of fact, I represented the UK at fencing before I got to represent Scotland. To get to the stage of competing abroad, you had to fence in UK-wide competitions, the majority of which were in England. This involved a lot of early mornings and sometimes 10 hour car journeys south of the border to go and compete.
Now, fencing isn’t exactly the sport of the working man so you can imagine the reaction of some of the characters I met when they were faced with a punter from Scotland. My accent and class were mocked relentlessly. Some fencing gear is in the hundreds of pounds, and while my family did their best, we couldn’t get new kit every year. It was...an experience to say the least, one that probably impacted my thoughts on how Scotland was seen by other parts of the UK.
For the record, that’s just my experience, and I’m definitely not saying that’s any sort of prerequisite for becoming a supporter of independence. That’s just something that impacted me.
The referendum didn’t really come into vision until I was in my last year of high school. It was a weird time because I was looking to my own future while also looking into the future in what my country could become. My final year at high school came with ‘free periods’ which was supposed to be study time but ended up being a hotbed of debate and campaigning. Me and my friends huddled around computers and phones to check what was happening.
Sixth year also happened to be the year I was first introduced to the Chinese language, which I currently study. Could an independent Scotland have a need to trade with one of the largest economies in the world? Yeah probably, and a career in the Scottish civil service and the possibility of becoming an ambassador was something that I wanted to work towards.
I applied for and was the recipient of a scholarship to study in China. I got confirmation in late November. Boom, that’s one tick in the box for the future. Time to pour my heart into achieving the second. I was at the Yes stall every single weekend, I started a blog (the one you’re reading), and I was invited to speak at town hall meetings. I was also invited to TV debates, and there’s a video of me somewhere during one asking Ruth Davidson a question on EU membership. No surprises that she avoided giving me an answer.
The people I campaigned with were fantastic, they had so many different stories and I learned an absolute ton from them. It’s one thing to come into a campaign as a young voter when a referendum had been called, but I met people who were dismissed as pipe-dreamers until the SNP won the Scottish elections by a landslide.
September 2014 came, and my scholarship in China started on the 9th. I knew that I would miss the referendum, and for a young guy approaching 18, I was gutted I’d be missing any celebrations. I was still able to vote but I knew it wouldn’t quite be the same as if I did it on the day.
China is an incredible country. I distinctly remember picking up a newspaper that had Alex Salmond and David Cameron beaming laser-eyes at each other in the run-up to the 18th. The result the next day was unexpected.
I was crushed. It was such a disappointment, and it wasn’t helped by a few people who had decided to throw a party ‘in celebration’ of a No vote. They hadn’t even bothered to vote themselves. Was it a childish wind-up? Probably. I shut myself in my room, shed a few tears, and wondered if I could have done more. I remember thinking that it was probably a good thing I wasn’t in Scotland at that point, it probably wouldn’t have helped my mood.
Surprisingly I dusted myself off quite quickly. The spirit of independence hadn’t left anyone who had voted Yes. Aye, we were gutted, but we didn’t disengage from politics. We were now more engaged than ever. The referendum had actually unleashed Scotland.
After a year studying in China, I came back home and started university. Attempting to study both Chinese and Russian is no small task, and manage a Scottish politics blog that surprisingly hadn’t declined in viewership. Sure it doesn’t boast the awesome numbers of other blogs but it’s no a competition.
A year at university, and I finally get my chance to work in the civil service. In particular, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Beijing. This was during the summer of the EU referendum so I knew it was definitely going to be interesting.
Some people were in tears. Some people were cheering and rubbing it in their colleagues’ faces. I didn’t join in with any of it, I just sat there quietly knowing that Scotland could take another path. When a UK government minister came to visit, I half-jokingly asked if they were considering proposals from the Scottish Tories about federalisation. I was told there’s no appetite for any further devolution, federalisation, or independence...yeah, sure there wasn’t.
David Cameron left and Theresa May became Prime Minister, and since then it’s kinda felt like we’ve been strapped to a chair and forced to watch a really shit pantomime. Its sometimes hard to remember how far we’ve come since 2014 because we’re so caught up in the circus that is the British government attempting to negotiate Brexit. Second year at uni flew by, I honestly don’t remember that much of it.
My third year at uni was my compulsory year abroad. Half a year in Moscow, and half a year in Shanghai, and no matter what nationality I met, they all said the same thing: The UK is heading for a complete and utter disaster.
There were classmates that couldn’t stand me and my mates in high school because they didn’t share our views on independence. It’s staggering how much their opinions have changed with Brexit. They are seeing the UK, that they thought deserved a second chance, completely ignore Scotland. For some this has caused them to embrace independence, but it’s important we realise that not everyone will be delighted to vote Yes, some people will move towards Yes reluctantly, and that’s okay as well.
Scotland is an internationalist nation. We’ve more pulled our weight on the world stage in the past. We can do the same for the future.