The day after the Referendum, I woke up and posted on Facebook. The last message, from 4am, was ‘I feel sick.’ I couldn’t write a long analysis, a look at what went wrong or what we could have done differently. I couldn’t look to the future. The only thing I could say was ‘This is not the country I thought it was. I need to re-evaluate some things. I need some time.’
While many friends commiserated, a few understood what I meant. It wasn’t that I’d thought we could win on a tide of joy and hope, or that I hated the people who voted No. It was that I had spent months explaining to people outside the UK who asked what the Referendum was about that Scotland was, even without borders and history, a different country from England. We saw the world differently. That Scotland’s core, even in the right wing, was community.
A few weeks before the vote, I wrote the only piece I would write asking people to vote Yes rather than just making my case. The premise of it was that there is a kind of denialism when it comes to disability which makes people vote against their own interests. People refuse to believe it can happen to them, but the stark truth is that one in five of us will either be or become disabled. It’s the one minority group anyone can join at any moment. That means either you or someone you love will be at the mercy of the system eventually so, however much you don’t want to think about it, it is in your best interests to ensure that the system of support for disabled people is the best it possibly can be. If people really understood their risk of becoming disabled, they would be rioting in the streets at the litany of horror visited upon disabled people by the government because they would sense that horror slouching towards them and their loved ones.
In that light, and with the understanding that I had a vested interest, I begged people to vote Yes for the simple reason that England, as a whole, does not care about marginalised groups and Scotland, as a whole, does. Given independence, we could create a country which might be volatile and might struggle, but would have people at the very heart of it. We would consider the protection of our most vulnerable people a moral duty, and, indeed, that’s what the Scottish Government had been creating already.
So, when the morning of September 19th dawned, and the votes were counted and those hopes shattered, it wasn’t just a dream of a better country that I mourned. It was the lives of the people like me which would be sacrificed on the altar of austerity because the people of Scotland did not care enough about disabled people to break free from that murderous government. It was that it turned out that I was wrong about the core of Scotland, and our priorities. It was not the country I thought it was.
Obviously, it was an unfair point. Independence was a massive step, and people made their decisions for a vast array of reasons. I was in pain and in despair. Then came the General Election, and, again, a desperate plea to not vote for the Conservatives, because we may have pled ignorance the first time around, but this time we had the stacks of coroners’ reports, the death statistics, the stories of the people broken on the Tory rack. This time, to vote Tory was to be complicit in state-organised murder. Scotland made me proud, rejecting that narrative almost in its entirety, but I still had to watch as my feed filled with disabled people voicing the same fear: ‘I don’t know if I will survive this government.’
Many haven’t. Many have already died, more have had their conditions exacerbated by fear, stress, cruelty and the inability to risk treatments which may only help a little but would result in losing all their support. Still, I was proud of Scotland’s rejection of the Tories, our ongoing refusal to accept Thatcher’s edict that ‘there is no such thing as society.’
I am glad that the SNP won the election. I am thankful to everyone who voted for them or the Greens or even Labour. But to see so much of my map turn blue makes my breath catch, my muscles tense. I grew up in West Aberdeenshire, so it was no great surprise to me that, if it was going to happen in the North, that’s where it would be. I often joke about being burned as a witch by the village I grew up in when I go and visit my Mum with my car bearing SNP stickers. But there are so many blue sections.
When I woke up on Friday morning, and checked my phone for the results, the only thing I could find to say to my husband, the only thought which rose to my throat, was ‘Do we really mean that little to them?’ He tried to comfort me, tried to say that they were just looking after themselves, but that isn’t enough anymore.
I don’t care anymore if you just want to make sure your kids get an inheritance. Or if you want to make sure you can afford to send them to a good school. I don’t care if you’re worried your property might lose value or that you worry for your local economy. Those are all valid concerns, and in a reasonable world they would be valid reasons to vote in a particular way.
We do not live in a reasonable world anymore. Bodies are stacking up by the hundreds, and disabled people are being culled by a government which has full access to the coroners’ reports explaining that these deaths are the direct result of Tory policy, and which chooses not only to not fix those policies, but to expand them to kill more people. It doesn’t matter that the murders are being committed using economics and social politics rather than gas chambers or guns – the Tory government has made this active choice to systematically withdraw the necessities of life, and that is considered murder in this country.
By voting Tory – even Scottish Tory – those voters are now complicit in those murders. They have decided that their comfort and their unionism are more important than the lives of disabled people, and, whether they choose to see it or not, they are drenched in their blood. Just looking after their own interests, just following orders, isn’t an excuse for handing power to murderers.
We all know that the dividing line in Scottish politics is no longer left or right, but unionist or nationalist, but for Labour voters to choose to vote Tory as a tactic is the purest representation of their moral vacuum. Labour is still a unionist party, and they could have voted for them, but instead they chose the surer party and chose unionism over social justice, over reason, over the lives of the poor and the sick.
Seven constituencies. Thirty-one seats. Nearly a quarter of the votes.
This is not the country I thought it was.