Scotland has been a part of the UK for over 300 years, but in a week all that could change. On September 18th, Scottish voters will head to the polls to vote on whether Scotland should become a sovereign state. ‘Yes’ campaigners see this referendum as a chance for Scots to declare self-determination and govern themselves. ‘No’ campaigners see this referendum as a threat to the unified social justice power of Great Britain. Both sides have resorted to scare tactics, and both sides make good points.
I always welcome political participation in national matters, but we as non-Scots must recognize that the influence of our thoughts and feelings towards Scottish independence must be limited. It is simply not up to us. That said, what I hope to do here is outline a few reasons why I support the Scottish people’s right to declare independence.
For as long as memory serves, Britain has undergone worrying trends. We’re witnessing the silent privatization of the NHS. We have seen the poorest among us repeatedly failed by the government. We have seen our soldiers sent abroad to fight and die in two illegal wars. We have seen those in power commit tax evasion and expenses fraud, and abuse their offices.
These trends did not start with David Cameron, and won’t end when he’s gone, but our current government is especially odious where these patterns are concerned. The Better Together campaign tells us that as a united force, the UK can tackle social justice problems and bring about greater equality. They say this without a hint of irony as the Tory war on the poor rages on with a right-wing ferocity we haven’t seen since Thatcher. The bedroom tax. Cuts to disabled welfare spending. Penalties for people who are too sick to work. A £1.5 billion cut for low-income family support. A £1.8 million cut for emergency poverty funds. An entire generation of poor people have simply been left behind as the “recovery” rages on.
All the while, we face an increasingly narrow political climate. The Tories are bad. UKIP are worse. The Lib Dems have failed us. Labour are useless. The Greens are being ignored. What choice do progressives in Scotland and England have?
Alex Salmond is in the uniquely frustrating position of being so close to combating the Tory trends, and yet so far. The Scots, like the rest of us, languish under right-wing policies that they didn’t vote for and have absolutely no interest in. Conservatism has never properly taken hold in Scotland and at every Scottish Parliament election the vote count has clearly attested to this.
In 1999, 81% of Scottish voters chose a political party that wasn’t conservative. In 2003, 76% of voters did. In 2007, 78% of voters did. In 2011, 82% of voters did. The Scots have chosen left-wing politics since their very first regional election. Throughout these elections, Labour has seen its votes drop by a third, and the Scottish National Party has soared to become the dominant voice in Scottish politics. That’s fifteen years of a clear desire for progressivism and liberalism in Scotland, of a kind that’s never truly taken hold in the UK on such a massive scale.
But it is not just the vote count that attracts me, nor is it the abstract conception of an independent Scotland. At the start of this piece I mentioned self-determination for the Scots. Generally, they will benefit from deciding their own fate, but specifically, a group of people very close to my heart will be especially liberated by self-governance. That group is the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Scots, i.e. the sexual minorities.
Unlike the UK, an independent Scotland would have a written constitution, an inviolate document that lays the basic and fundamental foundation for what direction a country is headed in. It cannot be destroyed by new laws or governments, unless an overwhelming majority of the government and the people approve the changes. Enshrining human rights in a written constitution benefits everybody, especially LGBTI Scots.
The Yes campaign has published a Rainbow Paper, which outlines some of the ways that LGBTI rights in an independent Scotland would be protected. Given that David Cameron and some Conservatives in the UK want to repeal the Human Rights Act and leave the European Court of Human Rights, Scotland’s LGBTI population, and the UK’s population in general, may find themselves without basic protections, however temporarily.
If Scotland gains independence and the promises of the Rainbow Paper are fulfilled, Scotland would join an elite group of nations that protect LGBTI rights in their constitutions. There are only 7 countries in the entire world that guarantee constitutional protection for their LGBTI citizens. Scotland could be the 8th.
We sexual minorities in the UK have fought tooth and nail to ensure that our rights are respected. The fight has largely been won, but it is not over. England is not yet at the point where LGBTI rights are fully enshrined and accepted by law. Gay men cannot give blood unless they are celibate for a year. No legislation exists for defending gender identity from hate crime. Gay asylum seekers are forced to undergo invasive and degrading procedures to “prove” that they are gay.
Without a written constitution, these limitations to our rights can go on, and our rights in other areas are always at risk of being quietly reversed. If the rise of UKIP continues, we will most definitely see such revisions. A written constitution combined with the backing of a Scottish Supreme Court is the answer to that constant, quiet threat to the liberties that some of us died for and most of us suffer for.
Scottish independence is a way for the Scots to shake off all of the conservative relics that the United Kingdom as a whole is suffering under, most important to me are ones that affect LGBTI people. But I won’t pretend that Alex Salmond is my political idol. I have worries about how much of the Yes campaign relies on the animal of nationalism. I have worries about the plans for extensive oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. I do not believe that Alex Salmond’s plan for an independent Scotland will benefit absolutely everybody, nor do I agree with all of his policies. Most of all, I do not believe that an independent Scotland will become an equality utopia overnight.
It is also true that too much of the Scottish independence campaign seems to rest on a desire to get away from the Tories as soon as possible. But David Cameron is in with a chance of a second term, and Ed Miliband is moving further and further to the right in order to catch UKIP voters. What exactly does Westminster have to offer the people of Scotland? If we are Better Together, why aren’t we Better Together already?
Above questions of who is in power at any given moment, what I do believe in is the right of the people of Scotland to govern themselves and write a constitution that once and for all destroys threats to LGBTI rights. That is my priority, and I’m sure it’s the same for the hundreds of thousands of LGBTI Scots. That’s why I’m saying YES to Scottish independence. Whatever the referendum’s outcome, ALL of our rights must be protected.