Hope Over Fear

Yesterday, Thursday 18 September, I put a cross in a box and walked out into the autumn sunshine full of hope. Hope that my country would be allowed to regain control of its own affairs. Hope that each time I cast a vote, there would be a real chance it would have an impact. Hope that, together with my fellow countrymen and women, we would be able to contribute to building a more just society: a society where no-one would have to rely on food banks; where healthcare would be freely available to everyone; where people would take precedence over big business and bankers would be held to account. Hope that the divide between rich and poor would lessen not widen. Hope that never again would the needs of the many be marginalised in favour of the wants of an elite few.

Today, Friday 19 September, my hope diminished and the sun ducked behind a cloud.

I’ve always believed in hope over fear. I was brought up to be brave and aspire but not at the cost of other people. My late granddad was a great man and an ardent socialist (as are most of my family). He lived in a council house and would never see someone in need, even though he had little himself. He worked hard all his life, owed no money and lived simply. The small amount of money he ‘put by’ for his family was taken from him in his late eighties by a government who cared not a jot about the fact that bad advice and an administrative error had meant my granddad had been overpaid on his benefits. Even then my granddad didn’t complain, he took it in his stride and blamed no-one. He had moved to Yorkshire as a young man, fresh from the war, to marry my grandma but never forgot his beloved country. His political hero was Nye Bevan. My granddad never saw this day, and for once I was glad he’s no longer around. He’d already had to witness the death of socialism in England; this would have been too much for him.

At the announcement of the results this morning (45% in favour of independence, 55% against), the hearts of almost half the voting population of Scotland were broken. Too stunned to speak, Mr D walked around in a daze and I stood in the kitchen crying and hugging C, one of my closest friends. What now? we asked. What now?

We were dejected. We were emotionally exhausted. We felt defeated. But here’s the thing about hope, it never gives up.

The Yes Scotland campaign was positive and respectful. It rallied people together, encouraged creativity and when it was let down by a biased media it took the message to the streets. In the end, the referendum wasn’t lost by the Yes campaign, it was ‘won’ by deceitful politicians who operated a campaign of fear, in cahoots with a, for the most part, disgraceful mainstream media – in particular the BBC who seemed to have forgotten that it is a broadcast medium for Britain and, as such, its position should have been to represent all sides of the argument; after all, Scotland was (and unfortunately still is) part of Britain, a fact the BBC conveniently ignored in favour of kow-towing to the Westminster establishment. And as someone who once believed our media to be amongst the best in the world, this is not written lightly.

Yes Scotland rallyBut as I said, I believe in hope over fear and there were other things to take heart from.

For the first time in recent history, the whole country engaged in the debate. An unprecedented 86% of people exercised their right to vote. Young people were encouraged to participate and share their views. Yes campaign groups popped up in all areas: the National Collective with members from the arts; Business for Scotland; Labour for Independence; the Green Party for Yes; LGBT for Yes. Others such as Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and the Common Weal, disseminated the message via social media. All of them worked together on a single objective, to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands in the pursuit of social justice.

Volunteers manned stalls, signed up voters and answered questions. Flash mobs formed in city centres, coming together to share information, sing and celebrate the possibility of change. Westminster politics was shaken to the core. The political landscape has shifted as a result, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK. People have found their voice and are not afraid to use it.

‘That’s the thing,’ C said. ‘In situations like these you need to rise or roll, and I can tell you now, I’m not for rolling.’ And as the three of us sat around our kitchen table drinking tea, we were joined by our friends and family via texts, phone and social media, all saying the same thing.

Throughout the UK – in areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as a direct result of what’s happened in Scotland, people are starting to talk about change. Groups are forming. The energy of the Scottish referendum is galvanising people everywhere.

This is just the beginning. In the words of another friend, time will tell if we lost a campaign or if we exported it!

Freedom in Expression

It’s been a blur of tests, high temperatures and soft food for the last couple of weeks. I’ve felt fragile, addled and more than a little helpless under the scrutiny of doctors and nurses. I’m now familiar with a raft of medical acronyms and have a grasp of the numbers connected to blood counts and infection indicators. I’ve done very little writing, but I have had time to read, listen to the radio and think.

Before I carry on with this blog, I should make it clear that in the current referendum on whether my home country of Scotland should be independent, I stand firmly in the Yes camp. I’m not a nationalist and I was born in England. For me the issue is simple: Who do I want to make the decisions on the future direction of my country – a government voted in by the people of Scotland or a government where my vote has virtually no impact, if any at all?

But that isn’t what this blog is about. As a fledgling writer and someone who has worked in the media, I’ve been increasingly concerned with the way the referendum debate has been represented by our media outlets. Not more so than in the recent storm-in-a-teacup surrounding J K Rowling’s announcement that she is supporting the Better Together (No Thanks) campaign to the tune of £1 million.

Now I know very little about J K Rowling as a person but I saw her giving the commencement address at Harvard via TED talks and was impressed by her eloquence and compassion. Her statement, and I’m paraphrasing, that those more privileged are duty-bound to those less so not to squander their opportunities, was laudable and resonated with my own beliefs. She’s worked with Amnesty International, for whom I too have volunteered, and gives a substantial amount of her money to charity. In my view, this makes her a decent person. She also has a lot of money, to do with what she will. And that’s an important point – to do with what she will. In the same way that the Weirs (a Scottish couple who won a huge amount on the Euro lottery) choose to use their money to support worthy causes and the Yes campaign, JK is at liberty to use her money as she sees fit.

Similarly, she’s free to her opinion – on this matter (and probably many others) I don’t share it, but she’s entitled to it. It’s the beauty of living in a democracy and the right to free speech. Now here’s the rub;  in a democracy, oftentimes people will disagree with you. And with freedom comes responsibility. So when people, on both sides of the argument, start abusing others for not sharing their view, everyone loses.

What bothered me most about JK’s statement is this; she cites the ‘fringe nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence’ and then goes on to make the assumption that she will be considered ‘insufficiently Scottish’ by the same people. No-one had said this, she just imagined it would be true. Which would be less derogative if she had then gone on to acknowledge the fact that there is also an unsavoury element on the fringes of the BT campaign. She didn’t.

As the writer of one of the most successful series of stories ever, if she wishes to speak out on a subject (and that is her right), she does indeed have a responsibility to use her privileged position well, as does anyone with that kind of public profile, as do we all.

It wasn’t which side she chose, or in her donating money that I think she failed to live up to that responsibility, it was in her lack of respect for those that don’t share her view by failing to recognise the unpleasant elements of her chosen campaign.

The vast majority of Yes campaigners are reasonable, passionate, dedicated, positive people who are hoping for a better future for their country and its glorious mix of people – many of whom, by JK’s reckoning would also presumably be ‘insufficiently Scottish’.

That said, my bigger gripe is with the mainstream media. I worked in radio and as a press officer for various charities for a number of years and I’ve become more-and-more dismayed by the lack of quality journalism in this country – there are of course exceptions, thank goodness, but they’re few and far between.

When the Weirs gave money to the Yes campaign they were not only personally attacked but also lambasted through certain media outlets and their donation was questioned publically by politicians. I for one, saw very little sympathy for them in the mainstream media. Contrast this with the outrage at the nasty cybernats in the media when JK received some abusive Tweets (don’t get me wrong, they were horrible) and the difference is astounding.

One of the greatest rights of a democratic society is freedom of expression. As a child I was in awe of those who brought us the news, both from my country and abroad. I was proud that our media was considered to be amongst the most honest and unbiased in the world. I could weep when I look at it now.

I’ve deliberately chosen not to address the political issues regarding the referendum, I understand them enough to make my own mind up but would be unwilling to speak to them when there are so many others more qualified. The information is out there, you just need to want it.

My final thought on the matter is this: I believe most in the good of people and I respect their right to hold an opinion even if it opposes my own. I may sometimes find it difficult to swallow but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Opinions are there to be challenged, that’s how great ideas are born. But we should always do it with the utmost respect. Otherwise we all lose.