What we can learn from the Scottish Independence Referendum

By Charis McGowan

Anyone who has lived in Scotland the past two years will have witnessed the ‘Yes’ campaign grow from grassroots origins to a large-scale political movement supported by 45% of the nation. After relentless campaigning and consistent growth, the outcome comes as a bitter anti-climax for ´Yes´ supporters.  For the 45%, the 18th of September was a shameful day when Scotland rejected a better future. As supporters of an independent Scotland express disappointment and disillusionment, it is easy to feel as if, for them, that there has been nothing gained from this whole campaign.

Yet the experience of the referendum has changed the country, and the UK, entirely. The referendum created an interest in politics across the nation. It inspired people to search for sources of information aside from the news, exposing disturbing inaccuracies in the UK media. As friends and families held opposing opinions, the referendum stimulated educational discussion and social media was used as a key tool to share information. Almost 85% of the electorate turned out to vote – every vote counted. This will hopefully influence other regions in the UK to follow Scotland’s lead in engaging an entire nation to learn about inequalities and demand change from the government.

Admittedly, the experience was not all friendly discussion and erudite banter. The atmosphere in Scotland has been tense. The referendum revealed political intolerance from both sides. The ‘Yes’ side gained a reputation for viscously opposing anyone who confronted them with justifiable doubts, while ‘Better Together’ issued insulting advertisements and patronizing slogans such as ‘I am voting no. I love my children’. Brutal words and hostilities were exchanged on the web, which both official campaigns simply seemed to encourage.

The backlash began as soon as the vote was in. The outcome was met with anger, with ‘No´ voters being labelled as ‘cowards’. Insensitive ‘No’ celebrations provoked clashes in Glasgow, resulting in riots. The violence was especially heart breaking, as the two years had demonstrated effective peaceful campaigning.

However, the legacy of the referendum will not be remembered by the inexcusable behaviour of a few.  Let the referendum be remembered, rather, as a time when Scotland showed how people can be heard through civilized rallies and free speech. At a time where Ukraine and Russia are locked in conflict and Venezuela is suffering violent oppression from its government, the UK set a global example that political change can be achieved through non-violent means.

Glaswegian comedian Limmy tirelessly tweeted his support of the ‘Yes’ campaign, yet he encouraged his followers to unite for a better Scotland: ‘I’m sure a lot of no voters care about poverty and inequality, but just want it sorted a different way. So let’s work at it together.’ On the morning of the result, Alex Salmond greeted the public with a slogan that read ‘One Scotland’, Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us focus on the distance we have travelled…we will go forward as one nation.

What we are left with is not a new independent Scotland, as many had hoped. Yet it is not the old Scotland either. It is a Scotland matured from a period of political activism, community, and desire for change. Scotland is no longer a small country overshadowed by England – it has pushed its devolution, identity and courage into global discussion. This referendum has influenced and taught the world how to demand change peacefully. Now more than ever, do not be ashamed. Be proud of Scotland.

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