Another Year Gone

 

Two years ago from right now (00.01am on the 19th) I still had hope.

Iwp_20140918_005 was exhausted, because I’d been outside a polling station in the drizzle all day, smiling my heart out, infused with the knowledge that these few hours on a single day was the chance people had been fighting for for so long.

I’m going to repost below what I posted last year, because it’s still true. I just wanted to update that sentence in the middle (you’ll know it when you get to it).

It’s so much worse than we thought it would be on our worst days, the ones where we were told we were hysterical and fearmongering and conspiracy theorists.

Imagine if we’d told them back then that Boris Johnson would be our Foreign Secretary, that Theresa May, fresh from building a piece of legislation so invasive and dangerous that China sees it as a defence of their own surveillance, would be crowned Prime Minister after Labour detonated itself with an internecine war on socialism.  Imagine if we’d told them that, not only had all those disabled people died in the years of the Tory government, but that people would decide that they wanted more of that and give them unfettered control.  That Farage would see all his dreams fulfilled, and the new UKIP leader would point out that Theresa May, in her first months as PM, put into action almost the entire UKIP manifesto.  That the Tories were successfully gerrymandering constituencies to ensure that only people on the electoral roll were counted as people, meaning that students, foreign nationals, children, and various other marginalised populations would no longer be properly represented.

Imagine if we’d told them we were leaving the EU, and that the aftermath of the vote had caused skyrocketing racist abuse, that an MP would be gunned down in the streets by a British nationalist in the weeks before.

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My nails on Referendum Day

I don’t know what kind of Scotland we would have been living in by now.  It would have been difficult.  We would have been angry at each other a lot of the time as we negotiated the construction of a nation.  We would have been blamed for all kinds of ills.  But it wouldn’t have been this living nightmare.

Tonight, I’m drinking to the dead.  To the disabled people who haven’t made it this far because independence was their last hope.  To the disabled people south of the border with even less.

Hope still exists, in little pockets here and there.  I was at the Depute Leader’s Hustings yesterday, and there was hope. We see our politicians fighting every day  that Westminster’s in session for human rights and fairness and support, so at least someone is opposing the dystopia.  We are surviving.  We’re holding on, because the fight goes on.  And I hope.  Still.  Most of the time, anyway.

 

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Memories of Last Summer

There is a strange, sweet cruelty about Facebook’s ‘Memories’ function: watching the different iterations of yourself go through times of joy and sorrow, which you remember the shape of but not the details. Each post is like a lens suddenly focusing, with sometimes razor-blade clarity.

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It is September, and I am watching myself get ready for my wedding. Six years ago, I am scared of what might go wrong (with the event, not the marriage), excited to see everyone, recovering from the Swine Flu my body so thoughtfully picked up just two weeks before the date. I see everyone’s joy at how beautiful the day was, how much fun we had, how it was the best wedding they had been to. People talk about the music, share their photos. And then, a few days later, I start talking about how I am recovering. My chronic illness, which I made an executive decision to ignore on the day, is taking its toll. I expected this, so I am still sanguine about it.

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Here in 2015, though, I know what’s coming. I know it will take me another two months before I am able to really move properly again, and it will be ten long, frustrating months before I am back to the level I was at the day before the wedding. I know that I will accept this as the price for a perfect day, but that it will be lonely and painful and mind-numbingly tedious. This is the cruelty of these Memories: we forget pain, we blur the edges of it so it can’t cut us anymore, and this simple social media function gives us back the full story.

It is September. I have been watching the Referendum campaign pick up pace. I wondered, back at the beginning of the year, whether I could have made more of a difference if I’d just started talking about it earlier. I couldn’t have made enough of a difference, I know that, but I still wonder. As the summer passed, the joy and hope of last year was a balm for the soul. Remembering that we had so much fun, how I came to be part of this group which is so central to my life now, how we thought if we could just show people what was possible they would join us. We’re reaching the last week now, though, and now the mood has changed. I want to yell back through time, but I don’t know what I could say. I think it isn’t me I want to yell to.

The great fallacy of the Referendum was that it was a choice between change and the status quo. It was never that. It was a choice between two types of change, and it was that realisation which made me switch sides. I was a lifelong Unionist, for many reasons, but chief among them was that the risk was too great. We had a good thing going, and giving it up for an outdated version of irrelevant patriotism was foolish. I became disabled when I was just 19, and the arguments about freedom and pride were nothing when set against the risk to the state on which my survival depended. Smashing the state is a lovely idea when you’re able-bodied and healthy, but when your life depends on a system of social security, risking all the disabled people for a flag seemed murderous.

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Things began to change around the turn of the century. Rather than supportive, it became humiliating to seek the necessary help. People became spiteful, brittle, when talking about the welfare state. And then came the Tories. Whatever their electoral power was, their real success was the changing of the narrative. They turned ‘scrounger’ from a descriptor of a person committing fraud to ‘anyone claiming any assistance for any reason’. They lied, openly, in Parliament – something that surprisingly isn’t illegal. People began to die. In the midst of this, Scotland chose another way. I was hilariously antagonistic about the voting in of the SNP, who I saw as hopelessly idealistic and dangerous. I had no idea. I had no idea. I want to tell myself back then to actually read some research instead of relying on the prejudice I’d grown up with. I want to tell her to get involved then. That they were the only people who had both the power and the will to save lives. They tried to mitigate the worst of the effects, and while people kept dying in England and Wales, we had some respite. The Referendum was set. I was terrified. And then, one day, I realised I had been terrified of the wrong thing.

I was at a talk by Blair Jenkins in the village I grew up in. Someone asked about the risk of leaving the UK, and he, so simply, asked about the risk of staying. I missed the next few minutes of the talk while my world view tilted on its axis. I had read so much about the psychology of decision making, about risk taking, about willpower, about how we see our current situation as safe even when it isn’t and the change as dangerous even when it’s statistically much less risky. I just hadn’t applied it to the decisions I’d made before I read all that.

It is the last week of the Referendum campaign, and I am trying, with every shred of my soul, to trigger that understanding in everyone, anyone, else. I am disabled, and I see what’s coming. I know how bad it is going to be for us, if we lose. I know this is the one chance we have to save the lives of the hundreds, thousands of people who will suffer and die while the UK tries to figure out if it’s going to remember that the NHS and the Welfare State are our greatest triumphs or if it’s going to fully commit to following America into corporate oblivion. I am begging for my life and for the lives of the people like me, or who will become like me.

I want to talk to me a year ago, but I don’t know what I’d say. She is still hopeful, still desperate. She doesn’t know what’s coming. She thinks she does. She knows we’ll be punished for stepping out of line if we lose. Knows the dawn of a new country will be difficult and tense but worth it. Knows that losing means the fight for justice will become a symbolic struggle, that she can’t stop because stopping would be complicity, but that it will be useless in the face of TTIP, a Labour party who has forgotten who they are, a Conservative Party consumed by ideology and willing to sacrifice the lives of the poor and disabled in its pursuit. She can’t imagine how bad it will get. I can’t imagine what I’ll be reading a year from now, in 2016.

She doesn’t know how bad the loss will feel. That we will get so close and then sit and watch the No votes roll in, sobbing and devastated. That tears will come easily for months, whenever the loss is remembered. It will be like grieving. It will be grieving. I cannot imagine now what the Scotland we could have had would be like. It would have been so difficult: we would have been blamed for the oil price drop, of course, we would be in the midst of fighting for our assets, and we would have been scared and tense and it would have been so, so worth it. We would be watching the refugee catastrophe and finally feel that we can offer assistance and that we are no longer complicit with the Empire’s stranglehold on the world. The death statistics would have been published and we would have grieved with the marginalised people and be insistent that it is not the only way to run a society. We would be determined to show that austerity is not good for a country, only for a very tiny group of people right at the top, and that investment in people and services makes a country strong, not weak. We would be arguing, all the time, about how best to pursue justice, prosperity, support, and it would be wonderful, because our arguing would have purpose. We would have a chance at enacting our ideas, instead of sitting in our homes, numb with horror, talking amongst ourselves about what should be done but never will.

I can’t tell her any of that. It’s too late. We didn’t convince enough people in time. Instead, we’ll watch the memories tick past, day after day, blow after blow. I’ll still read them, though. It’s important to see where we’ve come from, where we still have to go. I am mortified by some of my past posts, by how ignorant and uninformed I was. I am thankful that I am learning. These memories give our lives context.

Six years ago, I am on a sofa, recovering slowly, surrounded by the people I love and newly married to the man I adore. Some of the friends who were there that day are gone from my life now, but I have new ones, and life goes on. A year ago I am looking forward to the new country we will build. Like Arundhati Roy, I can hear the better world breathing. Today, I am still adrift, casting about for the path to that better world. Maybe in a few years my Memories will show that we found it. I hope. Still, I hope.

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Culture Matters

One of my American friends commented recently that the ‘Glorious Britain‘ souvenir shop in Heathrow is stocked to the brim with icons which don’t seem to represent anything other than England and, in reality, don’t represent any of England outside of the square mile at the heart of London. Red double decker buses, red phone boxes, Beefeaters, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the Palace of Westminster – all icons of London.  So seeing the new post at Wings (where the photos are nicked from) about the new brand blitz made my head hurt.

Culture matters. It may seem like things like this are ridiculous trivialities to get upset about, but the symbols of a culture are important. It’s why kilts were outlawed in Scotland for so long, why we’re still having to fight to get the Scots language taken seriously (because language, more than anything, gives a people power). If you can reduce a culture to its most inoffensive aspects – for us, shortbread, whisky, haggis, Scottish country dancing, kilts – and then usurp even them, you can successfully eradicate a cultural identity. The first part was finished years ago, to the extent that the 2015 GE was covered by endless political cartoonists and commentators mocking us for these things.

We’re now into the second part, and here are the photos to prove it.

 

 

The icons printed on these products don’t imply Scotland’s part of a great union of countries in which each culture is respected and part of a bigger whole. They show that even the things we have managed to keep through centuries of having our culture intentionally suppressed and made as toothless and quaint as possible, all of it belongs to London.