Saturday, September 20, 2014

Post-Referendum Blues & Dealing with 'Defeat': Is NO the Death of Democracy & Social Justice?

Yesterday morning, multitudes of bleary eyed, tired Yes supporters had to work their way through a swamp of competing emotions. Hopes were dashed. Depending on what an individual's hope was based upon ultimately determined the level  and nature of the disappointment experienced. For some it was a combination of disappointment and frustration, for others it was anger and despair. For some it signals the end of hope for Scotland, from this perspective, Scotland is now forever doomed to be Westminster's whipping boy. The sense of hopelessness was only intensified for some people when news began to leak regarding Alex Salmond's resignation and Westminster's alleged refusal to follow through on promises of more powers.

Consequently, there have been a number of negative reactions, not least the sense of grief that clearly marked the nation, yesterday. Skye was like a ghost town. Scotland was overcast and grey, a perfect reflection of the nation's soul. The heart had been ripped out of many Scottish people. Even some No supporters were experiencing it. "It's strange" a Glasgow No supporter said to me, yesterday: "There is an eeriness about today. Quiet and subdued". For me, it felt like national grief, many of us in Scotland had dared to hope, and that hope was now dead.

Even as a Christian, it took me the best part of yesterday to work through my own emotions and thoughts about this. My hope is ultimately in God, but I was invested in this thing in much the same way as many of us were. Yes supporters have dealt with this in various ways. I saw some great, mature responses on Facebook, responses which respected the democratic process and its result. However there were other responses. There was angry blame shifting. Some going so far to claim that the referendum results were fixed, and that Scotland had been cheated by a dishonest system. This is madness. Others were angry at Westminster and the BBC. The Yes campaign fought hard against the odds, it was an underdog campaign from the start. I can understand the anger here, I can understand the frustration and disappointment which springs from the sense that project fear was successful and many people seem to have based their vote on the basis of fear, fear of either losing their wealth, or fear of losing whatever little comfort they have. I think there is a lot of truth in this. The data seems to suggest that a large percentage of No voters were primarily made of people who had a lot to lose.

Consequently, those who feel they are already on the edge, who don't usually bother to vote, but did so out of hope of change, came out in vast numbers like never before. It is therefore no surprise that many in this category feel that they have lost the only chance to make things better. A disenfranchised group were brought back into the game only to suffer defeat. As far as many in this camp are concerned, their participation is over, for good. As far as they are concerned, Westminster have won, unfairly, and they are left lying on the pitch, wounded and injured, with no one to help them.

So what can be done?

I think, and I speak to Christians here. We need an army of peacemakers.  We need people who can identify with the pain, be objective about the facts and help impart hope. I do find it interesting, that many YES campaigners were able to spot media bias, spin and sensationalism on the run up to the campaign but they can't spot it post-results. If the media are to be trusted, Salmond has quit in despair because Westminster are blocking devolution of power. Of course, the anti-Tory feelings which run deep make this easy to believe. However, this is falsehood. And it needs to be pointed out as such.

Salmond has quit as part of a political strategy. He knows that someone else, probably Nicola, needs to take it to the next level. He is heading to work in Aberdeen. Why? That is the hard ground which needs to be cultivated to create a new harvest of SNP support. Alex Salmond is very much still in the game. Further, devolution is not off the cards. In fact, it is very much on the cards, not just for Scotland but also for England, Northern Ireland and Wales, along with Scotland. Now -- I appreciate that people don't believe that this will come to anything. Cynicism about Westminster means that people believe 'the baw's burst'. However, we voted Yes with no less assurances from Salmond. There were holes in Salmond's proposals for an Independent Scotland. The point I'm making is this, if we have put all our eggs in the basket of Scottish Independence, we have been very short-sighted indeed.

For me, Independence was not about nationalism and it was not about Salmond. I happened to prefer some of Jim Sillar's proposals for Independence over Salmond's. Many other YES supporters also claimed that this was not about nationalism or Salmond. Many of us claimed it was about social justice and true democracy. However, if we were a YES supporter, and we now think the world has ended, maybe for us it was in fact about nationalism or SNP proposals. So we didn't get what we wanted, have we  now thrown the political dummy out the pram?

One of the factors raised in the referendum is that Scotland has been trampled on by Westminster for years. There may be some truth in that. But we need to watch out we don't fall into the trap of National Wee Man Syndrome. We all know one. A wee guy who feels the world is against him because he is not as tall as the other guys. Consequently he is hyper defensive, intensely aggressive, always ready to shift the blame and always up for a fight. What are we saying? Are we saying that we were happy to get involved in a political process only to achieve our own desires? Are we saying that if we don't get our own way we are now going to assign ourselves to a life-long rant of bitterness, disillusionment and political disengagement? Are we saying, 'It is my way or the highway?' Kinda like a spoilt child, isn't it?

At the end of the day, the campaigns competed, the people voted, and the results were declared. The majority of Scots have chosen to remain within the UK. We need to respect that this is democracy. If we can't, we really need to examine our motives to see if we were really campaigning for a more democratic Scotland in the first place. Was it really about democracy, or was it about getting our own way?

So, if it was about democracy, a No vote is not the end of democracy. Contrary to popular opinion Westminster is not a dictatorship. They have promised more powers, but the outworking of that is a lengthy, political process. But that is politics. Some YES supporters are like a demanding teenager, not getting their first choice (independence) but then demanding the alternative (devolution) immediately. Some of the things that have been said by YES supporters, since the results were announced, have made me consider the possibility that a YES victory may have been a disastrous result for Scotland. Why? The insults and disregard for democracy has been very revealing.

The majority have voted to stay together. The conversation needs to now move on to working for further democratic powers and greater social justice as part of the United Kingdom. A vote for the United Kingdom may have, for the foreseeable future, removed the option of independence, but it has not removed the opportunity to work for democracy and social justice. Therefore, as YES voters, we need to lick our wounds, lift our heads in pride at how well the campaign was fought, shake hands with the other side and work together towards creating a better Scotland and United Kingdom.

I understand the disillusionment with Westminster, I understand the anger at the intimidation tactics during the campaign. However, we need to recognise the fact that we claimed we could play with the big boys. I'm not justifying the media bias and fear mongering, but at the end of the day political rhetoric is one of the main weapons in modern politics. This wasn't a battle that was fought with tanks and bombs, it was fought by dialogue, debate -- and rhetoric is part of that process. We need to accept that, and at the end of the day, as YES campaigners, we used rhetoric ourselves. And that was okay too.

So, what if Westminster doesn't deliver? That is another question. And an important one. But let's not sentence them to death before the trial has taken place. If there is no change, there will, very quickly be a stronger outcry. If Westminster do not want to see independence on the agenda anytime soon, they need to follow through. If they don't, I am sure we will see a stronger YES campaign emerge from Scotland. But let's respect democracy, 55% of Scots said they want to work for a better Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. We need to allow that process time to work through. In other words, it is time for us to search our motives. It's also an opportunity to man-up and grow-up. A successful No campaign is not the death of democracy and it is not the end of the fight for social justice.

Edit 12.09, 20/09/14

After posting the above, I realised that the conclusion was insufficient. I have encouraged those whose hopes for a better Scotland have been dashed, to rise above the propaganda and realise that democracy is not dead and the fight for social justice can continue. However, for those whose hopes have died, more needs to be said.

Many have experienced something they have never experienced before, an active hope. This is why the referendum results are so devastating. This is why it hurts so much, this is why the anger rages and this is why things seem so dark. When the hope of the heart dies we experience a kind of grief. However, a further problem is that hope based on a referendum outcome or a political dream, is a fleeting hope. It's like running after a mirage.

Here were two of my Facebook responses, yesterday, after the results were announced. (I don't make these comments as one who was detached from the political process.)

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life." Prov 13:12 There are a lot of sick hearts among YES voters. And while there are a lot of relieved NO voters, there is still an unfulfilled longing for a better society in the hearts of both YES and NO voters. May we all look to the Lord, the restorer of hope, the healer of hearts and the One who will one day make 'all things new'.

What now? Many have awakened to hope, after years of political apathy, only to find their hopes wrecked on the rocks of referendum results. Two things strike me, 1) Don't lose the determination and vision for democratic change and the better conditions for those in poorer conditions 2) As you have awakened to political hope, after years of indifference, why not awaken to spiritual hope after years of religious apathy? Hope in Christ, is a totally different ball game. It is eternal, not temporal, it brings peace and joy, despite your circumstances, it gives a vision and a purpose that are stronger and more powerful than your greatest challenges and fears. How does it start? By calling on the name of Jesus. "On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased." Psalm 138:3

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