Neither 45, Nor 1
by Harry Giles
Two pernicious numbers are being trumpeted in the wake of Scotland’s independence referendum.
The first number, 45, refers to the (rounded up) percentage of voters who stuck their X next to Yes. #the45 is the cry on social media, the six characters serving as a rallying point to rage, reminisce and consider what might happen next; its connection to another number, 1745, and its Jacobite rebellion is surely not a coincidence. These numbers are laden with grief, nostalgia, failure and longing. As a temporary rallying point, 45 has been effective; as a way to organise for the future, it’s miserable and miserably lacking.
Technically, I am a 45er, but I have no desire to join the number. Nothing unites the 45 apart from their vote. I voted Yes as an opportunistic move to secure a few radical goals – the banishment of Trident and closure of Dungavel foremost – with some watercolour hopes for localised democracy and empowered movements in the background. In that, I have more in common with a Labour- and No-voting communist who seeks radical social justice (they exist!) than I do with an SNP- and Yes-voting nationalist who seeks only a strengthened Scottish nation (they exist too!) My goal is not a Scottish state: it is a radicalised people and a more just society.
The second number, 1, refers to One Scotland. While #the45 is the hashtag of the angry masses, #OneScotland is the banner of the political classes. It has been used by both Alex Salmond and prominent Labour campaigners to call for ‘healing the wounds’ between Yes and No in working for a better Scotland. In whose interests the wounds are healed and what actual politics are held in the promise of ‘better’ is quietly forgotten. While 45 asks us to rally together behind a lost cause, 1 asks us to forget our grievances and carry on with business as usual.
We are not one. The independence campaign succeeded in opening and exposing the many rifts and wounds in society: not just a vague resentment of Westminster and the political classes, but a focussed rage at income and health inequality, at ableism and exploitation in our work system, at outrageous patterns of land ownership, at institutionalised racism in media and immigration policy. The campaign did not open these wounds: it just gave voice to people, showing the world that the wounds were always there. These wounds cannot be healed by spin – One Scotland can only hide them from sight. These wounds can only be healed by a more just society.
Those of us campaigning for radical social justice have handed over our story to nationalism. We have allowed nationalists to argue that only a Scottish state can bring justice to Scottish people; we have allowed people to believe that the problem is solely Westminster, rather than a global neoliberalism of which Westminster is merely the most pustulent local extrusion. We should not now be campaigning for a Scottish state as the primary means to radical goals; rather, if a Scottish state is to come it must come through our struggle for social justice. Similarly, we cannot allow the ruling classes to paper over the cracks between us: there are women and men, there are workers and bosses, there are disabled and abled, there are divisions in society across which oppression works, and through which we can act in struggle and solidarity.
The Yes campaign was an uneasy alliance between a hundred different factions, temporarily and strategically united, each hoping for different goals from the same answer. That Yes must now fragment back into those factions – but this is a strength, not a weakness. We are more networked than ever before; we can be friends and comrades; we can go on each other’s marches, support each other’s occupations, sign each other’s petitions. We do not need to unite behind the number of nostalgia or the number of amnesia. If we must be a number, 99 will do. But now we are many, together.
Harry Giles is a performer, poet, and general doer of things. You can find out more here.
This piece appears in issue 12 of Gutter Magazine alongside new work by Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway, Cheryl Follon, and William Letford. You can order a copy here.