For the last ten days I have been wearing my kilt and I don’t plan on taking it off until at least the 19th of September. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I started wearing it out of a feeling of anger, but I continue to wear it out of a feeling of pride.
My current abode is in Finchley, North London – the first constituency to ever elect Margaret Thatcher to office. I work in the local pub and therefore know a lot of the locals. They’ve known me for almost a year now, and apart from daily imitating my accent when I say things like “That’s Five Fifty-Five, please”, I’d not experienced racism at all. That was until one idiotic man approached the bar:
Me: “Alright mate, what can I get for you?”
Him: “Are you Scottish?”
M: “I am indeed. What gave it away?”
H: “What do you think about Independence?”
M: “Like all right-minded Scots I think it’s a great idea”
H: “The Scotch are racist. You’re all racists.”
Word for word, that’s how it started. I bit my lip and got him his pint of our cheapest lager, resisting the urge to spit in it, and ignored him. He kept standing at the bar, banging on about how “Alec Salmond is a dictator”, “It’s our pound”, “The bank of ENGLAND”, “the EU” and all of the other Bitter Together tag line he had seen in the London press. Unsurprisingly, his views were incredibly one sided. After about ten minutes of me refusing to engage him, he tottered off and started pestering somebody else.
The whole situation got me thinking. If I had been Polish, or Japanese or Indian or ANY other nationality, the man would have looked like a complete idiot and – although my optimism in this may be too much – he could have been charged with a racially aggravated assault. Instead because it was “only Scotland” he was being racist towards, nothing would happen, other than quiet tittering from other people at the bar. I didn’t think this was right, so instead of skulking into the shadows and trying to downplay my accent, I was going to step it up a gear. I would wear my kilt every day and then I would truly see what people in London thought of the Scots.
It’s been ten days now, and apart from a little chafe, everything is going to plan. My eyes are being opened to what people this side of the border have been taught about Scotland. To summarise what I’ve learned – nearly everyone loves my kilt, but Scotland is subsidised by London. If it wasn’t for the great wealth generated in London, Scotland would be a third-world country. Scotland has been riding on London’s coattails for so long, that they wouldn’t know what to do.
My approach to any argument thrown my way, is to ask people who they plan to vote for at the next election and what change they think it’ll bring. Those who say they’ll vote for the tories are a lost cause, but those who say they support Labour show me a glimmer of hope. I then ask them what Labour policy it is that they support – at which point most people become stuck.
Not one person yet has been able to tell me a policy which their political party supports, which they also support. Only one person has been able to show me a party with an alternative vision – UKIP. While I abhor the “BNP in Blazers” (*Aamer Anwar) I can see now why the far right is gaining ground. The perpetual cycle of Tories, Labour, Lib Dems fighting for a right of centre middle ground, has been failing the UK for 40 years. People in London want change, they want something new, and the only party offering something new is UKIP. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s different.
Luckily in Scotland, we have an alternative vote. Some people have claimed the SNP only won a majority in 2011 because of protest voters and if that is the case, who cares? They have a mandate to govern, which is more than can be said for any other party. I don’t understand why UKIP is seen as a legitimate protest vote, whereas the SNP isn’t. It truly boggles the mind.
One of the men who told me he’ll vote UKIP was a first generation Brit, born to Indian Sikh parents who moved here in the 1950s. He argued with me for a solid hour about how we need change, BUT that Scottish Independence wasn’t the right thing to do. His main argument was that “there isn’t enough money to set up a new state, never mind see it succeed”. I had to remind him that the debt we face now is a drop in the water compared to what the UK faced in 1945, and what did they do in 1945? They started building houses and set up the NHS. If somebody did a cost analysis in 1945 of setting up the NHS, we would not have a National Health Service today, life expectancy would be even lower than it is now, we would still suffer from diseases such as TB and rickets.
Sadly, I didn’t convince him of Independence, but I did shake his hand and tell him I admired him for having an opinion, because that is something which is rare down here. I work with a group of about ten people all under thirty and nearly all of them are completely apathetic when it comes to politics, even though current policies affect their lives so much. One of my colleagues is currently sleeping on his uncle’s couch, because his landlord randomly increased his rent, making him and his girlfriend effectively homeless – the same week as the job centre sanctioned his girlfriend, because they hadn’t written down that she was going for a job interview. She had given them three days notice, and yet she was sanctioned for not making her meeting at the Job Centre.
I went out for a drink a couple of weeks ago with this guy, his girlfriend and another girl from my work. In the pub we met some of their friends and after several hours of drinking we started chatting politics. I don’t want to sound boastful, but I felt like I was rallying them. None of them voted, because none of them felt like there was anybody to vote for, but as I sat there telling them everything that is on offer, everything that will be possible, in an Independent Scotland their interested peaked. One of the guys even joked that we should all move to Scotland, which is amazing, but why didn’t he joke that we should set up a new political party in the UK, a Peoples Party? Why could these young intelligent people not see that nobody is coming to save them, that if they want something new, they have to start it themselves? In France at their last election, one in every seventy-eight people stood for office. In the UK it was one in every 2000+. People are so far removed from democracy in this country, that they aren’t even aware of their right to try something new.
THAT is what I hope to see in an Independent Scotland. I hope that after years of the English being told they subsidise the Scots, they will look North and see our functioning NHS, they will see our massive house building programme, they will see our free Education, and our removal of weapons of mass destruction and they will want part of it. As Tommy Sheridan said, “if you build a conservatory on your house, your neighbours will all start peering into your garden and thinking ‘I want one of those’ and soon, your street will be covered in conservatories”. I hope that once people in England see that a different type of politics is possible in these isles, we’ll see an end to the politics of today.
Until then, I’m just wearing my kilt.