I’m shit at updating this thing.
Yesterday I finally got to do something relatively important. I got to go see Colin speak in front of a group of Germans visiting the Parliament since he’s in the CPG for Germany. It was really cool listening to Colin speak, since he’s never in the office and I’ve never heard him speak in front of other people before. He’s really casual but charming and he knows a lot of facts and figures about the referendum (though Iain has pointed out that he sometimes makes mistakes. Which begs the question, how does Iain know so many facts and figures about the referendum that he notices that Colin makes mistakes???). Colin is a really good speaker. He makes it lighthearted without taking away from the seriousness of the issue and the passion he has for it. I guess that’s just something a politician needs to know how to do.
Anyway, Parliament is in recess right now, so everyone just comes in casual wear. So I found out that I finally get to leave my desk for once, and I’m excited. Then I realize I’m wearing my dollar sign shirt. So the one time I wear something stupid to work, I get assigned to greet people. Great. Just. Great.
Luckily, I had a jacket so I just wore the jacket to the talk. But they wanted people to stay for the tour so Iain and I stayed for the tour. As you may recall, Colin is on the CPG for Germany. And he was speaking to a German group. So the tour, naturally, was conducted in German. So I effectively spent three and a half hours yesterday listening to a talk and went on a tour of the Parliament… in German.
I’ve moved into my flat for a little under a week now and I feel so much better. We live two blocks from the Meadows so I go jogging there sometimes. I think it’s a little over two miles all the way around, so I’m determined to be able to run the entire thing by the time I leave. I’m also really starting to get the groove of the food and whatnot here, and it’s honestly not that much different from the US. But like Hannah said, it’s exactly the same… but just a little different. But it’s that little difference that’s enough to change everything. Like, washing your clothes is the same, except there’s no dryer. And walking and taking the bus is the same, except they drive on the other side of the road. What I’m saying makes no sense. I know.
The other day Leoda and I were trying to look for a launderette (laundromat) and couldn’t find one so we asked some man on the street. While we were talking to the man, a lady started shouting down at us from her third story window. She was like asking us if we needed help and we explained our situation. She then pointed us down the road to a laundromat. It wasn’t open when we got there, but I mean, having a lady yell at you from her third story window is just about the most Scottish thing that can ever happen.
I’m also starting to really notice the subtle differences in language, like “I’ve just off the phone” and “hiya.” I don’t know. It’s different. Weird. Friendly. I am determined to develop a gnarly Scottish accent by the time I go back to the US. (I also haven’t said bomb, fly, jam, d, or chill in a very long time.) Also, Indian food here. Y e s.
This weekend is the first weekend I’ll have that I’ve just been able to do whatever I want. I’ve moved into my flat, I don’t have to worry about anything, so I’m just gonna sleep in, wander around the city, go into quirky stores, visit thrift stores, find a nice coffee shop, not buy coffee but instead buy a hot chocolate or something, and read some Jonathan Franzen. I’ll get around to reading Ulysses before I go to Dublin, I swear. Really. And I can finally get around to taking pictures.
It also feels really weird not talking about the referendum so if you want to read about my thoughts on the referendum, continue on. If not, check back next time!
So. I haven’t written anything about the referendum on this thing. Is it because I wanted to wait until I understood it more? It is because I didn’t feel like it’s the right place to write about it? Or is it because I’m lazy? Regardless, here we are. A little introduction: On September 18, 2014, Scottish voters will be presented with a choice between separating from the United Kingdom and becoming an independent Scotland, or staying with the UK and continuing under Westminster policies. The Scottish Parliament, which I work for, gets some powers, but not much. Most of the important powers are decided by Westminster in London. The majority party in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP), is currently working toward Scottish independence (Yes campaign). There are a lot of parties in the Parliament, but the main opposing party to this is the Labour Party, representing Better Together (No campaign).
I work for the SNP so I naturally get exposed to a lot of Yes propaganda. And I mean, coming here as a foreigner, I really didn’t know what to think. But I very quickly became sympathetic to the No campaign. I understood what a lot of No voters were concerned with: the Yes campaign simply didn’t have concrete answers to how they would change Scotland. They have a lot of ideas, but no actual plans. And it’s true—even if the Yes vote prevails, it only gives Alex Salmond the power to start negotiating with Westminster. It doesn’t grant the SNP or even the Scottish Parliament any powers to enact its platform.
Moreover, watching the debates between Darling and Salmond cemented my feelings about the Yes campaign. I don’t personally like the way Salmond presents himself. He tries too hard to be personable. It’s gimmicky. Though as Iain pointed out, he did learn this from Bill Clinton. (But Clinton allowed Gingrich to run amok the House, which directly led to the gridlock we have today, so I mean. More on that some other day, and not on a travel blog.) Whatever. I don’t like how Salmond tries to present himself. Watching the second debate, I was much more sympathetic toward Alastair Darling because he had the facts and figures to back himself up, whereas Salmond was just trying to appeal to the emotional core of the people.
Which is what I have noticed a lot about the entire debate. The No side is more about using facts to point out their fears (though some of it does indeed come across as scaremongering), while the Yes campaign is much more about Scottish identity and emotion. Which makes sense. The support base for the Yes campaign indeed reflects the very people independence should help—the lower classes. They need to be appealed to emotionally because all these numbers don’t mean shit. When there’s a growing number of children in poverty and high unemployment in a post-industrial society, what they want is to be told that there will be change that is directed at them. And it’s true. I do believe that the Yes campaign is trying to put forward the best view of Scotland they can.
It very much reminds me of the social justice cause in the US. Yes, of course people fighting for social justice are right. But there’s such a difference between being right and being able to get your point across and legislated. The reason the social justice people can’t get their legislation passed is because they don’t go about it in a political fashion. They scream and shout and protest and it just makes them seem crazy. But there’s no other way for them to get noticed if they don’t scream and shout. It’s a double edged sword.
And it’s how I see the Yes campaign. They’re fighting for the little guys, but that also means their support base is, on average, less educated, less politically active, and less compelling. See: crazy lady in the back of the room at the English Speaking Union. But again, I work for the SNP. So I personally help write this propaganda that goes out. And you know what? I changed my mind after writing a particularly impassioned piece.
George Fitzhugh wrote this book called Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters. His main point is that slavery in the US was a good thing because it promoted community bonds. Masters took care of slaves not because of any racial hatred, but because they thought of slaves as children. So Fitzhugh argues that slavery is actually a good thing because it created a society in which people took care of one another.
That being said, in this situation, at least to me, Westminster is the master and Scotland is the slave. I mean, “Better Together.” The comparison can’t be more obvious. And I’m not particularly drawn to the community/love argument that Fitzhugh puts out. (Malcolm X for life.) I’m more convinced by the individualistic camp. That being said, you go Scotland. It’s like, yeah okay it’s scary if you separate. But if you do, anything that goes wrong is your fault. And that’s fine. Make a mistake, vote your MSP out. Do it.
What worries me, however, is that the Scottish people themselves are not ready for such a drastic change. I mean, there are people writing in to their MSPs about their lawns not getting mowed. And come nineteen months from now, the Scottish people are going to have to deal with the fact that their MSPs don’t have the time to deal with their miniscule shit. Yeah. So with two weeks to go, I am a steadfast Undecided.