Neal Ascherson has written an interesting article in this week’s Sunday Herald. It echoes a belief that has always served me well. Neal writes that the way to achieve independence is to act as though Scotland already is independent. By believing and by acting on our self-belief, we make a reality and bring it into being. To believe in your goal means to act on it, and when you act on it you demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is not only possible, it is a good thing, a necessary thing.
Many years ago not long after I had come out as gay, I met an older gay man who had been campaigning for LGBTQ rights for decades. It was back in the 1980s, and homophobia wasn’t just widespread, it was practically compulsory. The gutter press was regularly filled with hysterical stories of perverts and AIDs risks seeking to undermine and destroy civilisation. I came out so long ago that we were still arguing about the B part of the LGBTQ alphabet soup, the veteran of the campaign I met had done so when it was still illegal to be gay. Just living his life as a normal human being put him at risk of arrest and imprisonment, but that’s what he did anyway, undaunted, unafraid.
This veteran of the equality campaign told me that the campaign for lesbian and gay rights was a civil rights campaign, a campaign to demonstrate that we were just as good as straight people, that human rights were our rights too. What he told me stayed with me, a valuable lesson that has served me well. He said – if you believe that you’re the equal of anyone else, act as though you are, and by acting as though you are equal, you become equal. So I acted equal. I became equal, and equality then became an established fact. Believe. Act. Become.
The greatest shackles of all are the ones we place on ourselves. When you believe and act as though you are equal then homophobia is no longer your problem, it’s a problem for the homophobes. If someone can’t deal with who I am, that’s not my problem, it’s theirs. That was the path to liberation. Oppression and restriction of liberty rely on your consent, remove your consent and you’re no longer complicit in your own oppression, you’re already free.
I had children with lesbian friends at a time when it wasn’t commonplace for lesbian and gay people to have families. We didn’t do it because we wanted to prove a political point, we did it for the same reasons that anyone wants to start a family, but we were aware of the political import. We didn’t wait for anyone’s permission, we ignored the overwrought editorials in the press that said that people like us shouldn’t be “allowed” to have kids. We did it anyway. Straight people didn’t require anyone’s permission to start families, and neither did we. Nowadays no one raises an eyebrow at the idea of LGBTQ families. We believed. We acted. We became.
My partner and I had a humanist wedding ceremony which wasn’t legally recognised because equal marriage was just a pipedream then. We legally joined our surnames together. We took power of attorney for one another. We did it anyway. We believed we were a married couple, we acted as though we were a married couple, and we became a married couple. We were far from alone. Lesbian and gay couples all over took similar steps. Now equal marriage is widely seen as a right for everyone irrespective of their sexual orientation. Well, except for the DUP in Northern Ireland. But even there they are now seen as unjust and unfair dinosaurs desperately trying to pretend that it’s still 1957. Equal marriage is now an established fact of life. You start with belief. You act on your belief. Your belief becomes real.
This is a lesson that the Scottish independence campaign must take to heart. If we believe in independence, we must act independently, and then we become independent. If you sincerely believe in Scottish independence, you should act as though Scotland is independent, and dare Westminster to stop you. Scottish independence isn’t Scotland’s problem, it’s Westminster’s.
Westminster tells us that broadcasting is a reserved issue and we’re not allowed a Scottish national broadcaster. That doesn’t mean we can’t create one anyway. Westminster tells us that we must abide by its racist and unfair immigration policies. That doesn’t mean that we have to concede and cooperate when the Home Office seeks to deport our friends, families, and neighbours. We can develop proposals for land reform, for tax reform, a land tax, proposal for fair and dignified social security policies, for community action, for sustainable development. We can work on regional plans which will demonstrate how the issues and concerns of each part of this diverse and distinctive land can benefit from independence – autonomy plans for the islands, development plans for the deindustrialised towns of the Central Belt, plans to repopulate the depopulated hills and break up the great estates. A transport plan, an energy plan, a plan for housing, a plan for agriculture and fisheries, a plan for education. We can create plans for what independence looks like, and then as far as possible act on those ideas. By acting on them, we bring them to life and we make them real. And then we become independent.
Independence starts in the head. Self-determination starts with the self. Believing in independence means that you’re saying that you don’t believe in requesting permission, you don’t believe in asking for approval. You certainly don’t believe that you need the Westminster parliament or the British state to grant you authority. You’re independent in spirit, you’re independent in your soul. You can do it anyway. The fact you’re told that you can’t do these things is not your problem, it’s a problem for those who tell you that you can’t. Your authority is independent and you challenge the world to stop you. Scotland’s path to self-determination starts in your own mind and in your own heart. It walks on your feet, it strides with your legs, it’s a vision you see with your own eyes, it becomes real by your hand. Believe in independence, act on independence, and Scotland becomes independent. Believe. Act. Become.
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