Today’s my 38th birthday and this is the second article I’ve written starting with those words. I get very reflective some years, and this year I feel about as introspective as I ever have.
I remember where I was this time last year, and I remember what I was doing. I remember thinking that 2013 had only a few months left in it, and that 2014 was shaping up to be the best year of my whole life, and of all our lives actually.
I think about that and it makes me simultaneously angry and sad. This was supposed to be the year. It was supposed to be the start of something wonderful. It was supposed to be when the clocks were re-set and we all got another chance.
Now the building work is cancelled. The raw material of our dreams lies outside in packing boxes, unopened. The aspirations, the ambitions, the hopes we all shared … they have come to nothing. The “best year of my life” was a rollercoaster of stupendous highs, but ultimately I’ll close it off thinking of that awful, plunging low.
I think of everyone this result impacts on, and I feel sick.
I think, in particular, about the young, the newly born especially, those who came into the world in this last year. I think of the concept sociologists call “generational theft”, and I want to cry real tears, tears of frustration, tears of sorrow, tears of regret, tears of impotent rage because our best efforts resulted in crushing failure. We let them down.
I think of that final Yes poster, of the child’s hand.
I think of wee babies in hospital wards, or warm in their cribs, some just learning how to speak, and others taking their first steps. I think of children filled with joy, filled with the happiness of discovery, of first days of school, of the excitement of making friends … they have none of the fears that we have on their behalf. They don’t know of the struggles their parents endure, only the security of their immediate surroundings. They have no idea how hard life is going to be.
Their future has been stolen away from them. With every birthday they’re not only going to get a little older but a little wiser and the ground beneath them a little farther away.
These days, if you fall it’s a long, long way down.
Yeah, thinking of it upsets me. Things really are a mess.
The generation before mine had a lot of things given to them, as rights; housing, education, social security, the NHS and a period of relative peace in the world, at least here in the UK.
Yet that same generation’s politicians sold off the council houses to their peers, robbing my generation of affordable homes. They either took part in or wholeheartedly approved of the end of student grants, forcing millions of us into indebtedness.
They have attacked, or been complicit in, attacks on the social security safety net that underpins our lives, and whilst the older of them have been content for the rest of us to work harder, and longer, they made sure their own pensions weren’t touched, and their own retirement aged maintained.
They have colluded in and accepted changes to the NHS which put it under monumental threat and they have sleep walked us into never ending global conflict and war.
The children born today were already facing an uphill fight, and an uncertain future. Here, in Scotland, we have chained them to a political system that marginalised, disenfranchised and finally ignored this country until last month, when we scared them to death with the thought that the gravy train might be about to run right off the rails.
I am astounded, furious but ultimately depressed by the utter selfishness and disregard for that generation which lies at the centre of so much thinking on the No side.
A lot of them asked one question only; how will this affect me? They never gave a damn about the social impact on others. They couldn’t have cared less about the future of their children or their grandchildren. They made judgements based on fear stories aimed right at their own insecurities. They voted for themselves and to Hell with everyone else.
My 38th year on this planet begins, therefore, with that sick angry dejection. Through the last few weeks my mood has veered between high positivity – mostly about the movement that won’t die – to dazed incomprehension that the political map of Britain has so quickly been twisted into the shape of our worst nightmares in the aftermath of the vote.
I try to tell myself that it’s pointless to feel like this, that it is defeatist. Today I’m finding it hard to keep the straight path clear in my head. I try to tell myself that this is just what our opponents want, but it’s hard to look on the bright side when you read about the UKIP surge and how Labour wants to tackle it by veering rightward.
It depresses me to see the all-too-familiar tactics already being deployed against my friends and my comrades in the 45%, by unscrupulous swine telling us to consider other people in May next year, and vote Labour, or risk the Tories and their brand of evil casting a shadow over us all … the hypocrisy of it is enough to make me scream. That dark shadow grew out of what these same people tricked this country into doing on 18 September.
I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be this dejected, and at the same time this pissed off. I don’t want to look into this awful, bleak future where we are forced to choose between a Tory Party that openly views us with contempt and a Labour Party which sees us as little more than pawns in a giant chess game for power and pretends (but unconvincingly) to have our best interests at heart.
I realise, deep down, that this isn’t over, not by a long way. I’ve written about how we might yet turn this to our advantage on this site and elsewhere, but I look at the calendar and I wonder how many of us will be here to see it.
Yet even this belies a truth I spoke about in the last piece.
Since I was born on 21 October 1976, this country has gone to the polls about its constitutional future three times. It’s almost inconceivable that we will not get to do it again sometime in the next ten years, and probably a lot sooner.
Some years ago, back when I was still a Labour activist, I had a lengthy discussion with a number of people about the inevitability of change. Every generation there has ever been has looked at the state of the world and considered it settled. They all clung to certain fundamentals. Each and every generation has believed in a solid reality, a view of the world as having essentially stabilised.
And each and every generation has been proved wrong. One at a time they’ve seen the rug swept from under their feet. In the end, the one constant mankind has had to live with is change.
Nothing lasts for ever. The pattern is not set in stone.
If I believed in nothing else, I would have faith in that; in the great, sweeping tide of history, history and change, of new ideas and of new realities. Sometimes they have been cultural changes. Sometimes they were economic. At other times they have been political, and there have been military changes as well. Sometimes, as with the Romans, an entire civilisation is rocked by all of them at once and empires have fallen as a consequence.
World War II had that impact on the British Empire. It too was an artificial construct, held together by fear, and illusory dependence, run old Etonian clique who probably thought “what’s now is forever.”
When you look at the recent history of this island it is nearly impossible to view it as anything other than a path towards the breakup of the UK itself. That line might not be straight, but it’s clearly moving in one direction and towards one destination.
I thought this would be the year we got it across the line. I was wrong, and it eats at me. It fills me with sadness and guilt, and yes with that anger.
A birthday should not be a time for looking back though. It should be a time for looking forward. A new year brings with it a fresh start, and so I must, if I want to make this year better than the last, put aside all the hurt and the sorrow and swallow my fears and despair.
More than that, it’s my anger that I need to put away. The anger has no place here. It does not belong. All that frustration leads to hate, and hate will not lead us to the Promised Land.
For openers, I need to start changing the way I view the 55%.
I cannot claim to understand many of them, but I do have to forgive them, and I have to try, at least, and come to terms with those amongst them who do believe they voted their way because of their kids and their future. We have to speak to their concerns in a way that shows respect and compassion. They are wrong, but I cannot continue being angry with them for that.
Their decision will be costly for those they care about, but we cannot use that as a weapon to beat them. Some of them were made to feel afraid; others were lulled by soft voices speaking lies. I cannot be angry with them for that either.
That does not mean that we forget the lessons this campaign has taught us, but we can honour those lessons without letting it cloud our sense of purpose.
The Labour Party has betrayed the people of Scotland. The media has shown itself to be nothing more than a megaphone through which vested interests shout, in an effort to frighten us and cow us into subservience. Neither they nor Labour should be trusted again.
There are some within those institutions who do genuinely care, and those people will always be considered friends. Likewise, there are some who will broadly support their objectives for what they think are the right reasons, and I cannot continue being angry at them either, although I will continue to disagree and follow a different road.
Above all else, we need to think not only tactically but strategically. It’s the greatest mistake our enemies have made, and is ultimately what will lead us to victory.
Tactics win individual battles. Strategies win wars. They didn’t know the difference, and with every act that won them a handful of votes in this referendum they stored up trouble for the future, and theirs will ultimately be the history of the Long Defeat.
Pyrrhus at least recognised his victory over Rome for what it was.
Some on our side have to learn from those mistakes, and act accordingly. A lot of our people are engaged in the Big Think right now, and that’s all to the good. We have to plan for changing circumstances, and we have to be ready – always – to exploit opportunities as and when they arise.
Fortunately, our political enemies will provide us with plenty of those.
Above all else, we have to keep the pressure on and the momentum building, with one over-arching objective in front of us; the changing of minds.
We have to keep on raising issues. We have to keep on chasing facts. We have to keep on telling the truth, no matter how difficult or frightening that truth might be. The media machine has spent so long pumping out lies that countering them is going to be a monumental task, but together I know we can accomplish it.
At the head of our movement, there is now a new leader. Nicola will bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to things, but we’d be foolish not to think that she and Alex have worked out some things in advance, so it’s important that we trust her, and we have faith in where she wants to take us. Already, we can see that it is justified.
Think for a second about where the political debate around Scotland is right now. When Alex Salmond said the referendum was a “once in a generation” thing, this was the accepted wisdom of the political class and the press. Now those same people are openly discussing the circumstances under which the SNP might call another one. This is not an accident.
Note too that those voices are urging Nicola to rule it out, which makes a mockery of any suggestion that Westminster could “prevent us” from holding another one. They know if the SNP gets its mandate from the people that they cannot deny the people that choice.
The alignment of interests and political expediency which brought this all about was already foreseen before the referendum vote. Even Alex’s resignation must be seen in that light, as something that was probably long anticipated, and perhaps even planned.
In short, our leaders know what they are doing, and they always have. We can believe in them. They have thought this one through, on the tactical and the strategic level.
Ultimately, the success of our strategy will depend on us taking a realists view on what is achievable and what isn’t in the short term.
We can target people like Jim Murphy, and throw resources where they probably won’t do us much good, or we can put them where they can best be utilised, in races we can win.
If you think that sounds defeatist, ask yourself this; is it better to exhaust our efforts on taking down those who should be pariahs within our country … or should we concentrate on removing the entire support structure which sustains them first?
If we reduce Labour in Scotland to an insignificant rump, who’s MP’s are barred from voting on the majority of issues within the Westminster parliament, where all hope of political advancement is gone … how long do you think they’ll last?
Some will walk of their own volition – Murphy will be one of those, I can practically guarantee it; once English Votes for English Laws comes in no Scot will ever assume a major leadership position in a major political party based in London again and so that’s his grand ambition shattered already, and the reason he was willing to settle for leading the Scottish party instead – and others will see their support wither away over time.
More than anything else, this all means work; a lot of it, from a campaign already exhausted from fighting one long, losing battle.
Yet buried there too is a reason for optimism, for the foot soldiers on the other side are just as tired, and many of them had to be bussed in from places where they’ll be needed during the general election campaign. There will be no chance of them pounding the pavement in sunny Dundee or in rainy Easterhouse, or being chased up Buchanan Street by a guy on a bike.
The 45%, with an army of volunteers who’ve already been blooded in a war, will simply overwhelm them when the time for the next action comes.
You know, someone posted on Facebook recently, asking how other people have been coping with their feelings in the aftermath of the no vote. I said that I stayed optimistic, and focussed on the task at hand. I made it sound like I never have bad days.
Today, another year older, looking back at last year and my hopes for this moment, I am having a really bad one, but writing this has had the usual cathartic effect.
To everyone else out there who’s been feeling like this, I want to say that you’re not alone. I understand where you are, and I’m sending you some love and respect.
There is a way to beat this thing. Don’t look back in anger.
Look forward. Look to the future. And continue to believe.
It ain’t over by a long way.
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