“People are daft eh? You dinnae see a bird charging another bird ten seeds a week to live in one wee branch o’ its tree – they just get on wi’ living.”
That insight, by a 15 year old in response to complex explanation of how public funding is allocated, isn’t a new concept. But seeing the process of how we distribute wealth, through his eyes, in that moment, made the whole system look cumbersome and ultimately pointless.
We inhabit a public life that cages us with its bureaucracy. Where forms are filled, meetings are held, reports are submitted, every policy has a corresponding procedure, two pieces of formal identification are always required and, if your name’s not down, you’re not getting in. It doesn’t leave much time for change. The endless red-tape tethers our ideas to the ground before they get a chance to stretch their wings. By the time we get to the creative, exciting, life-changing stuff most of us have given up and no action is ever taken.
In the past, the best we could hope for was that we were aware enough to be disgusted by the impenetrable networks of power – some of us would sign petitions or write an angry letter about injustice to our local MP, a tiny minority might run for council and attempt to work from within the system. More often than not, we’d feel out of our depth and unable to see how our one voice could possibly effect change. The motivations for (and machinations of) maintaining that system are analysed far more knowledgeably by others, the point here is that it is a system the majority have quite passively accepted for some time – or at least it was until recently.
The change in the air as the Yes Scotland campaign progressed was palpable – the burgeoning feeling of hope that we, as ordinary people, had a say, that we could make Big Things Happen. We met in church halls and community centres, armed to the teeth with plans to share and information to exchange. For the first time in a long time in Fife, the community felt wholly inclusive. Social networking helped to ease the way – no one was there to say, “that’s not how we do things round here” because this was a brand new thing that we were doing and anyone could have a go.
Friends with contacts invited activists, writers, musicians, and even shouty old socialists along to our gatherings. They became the poster boys and girls of the campaign: Robin McAlpine, Lesley Riddoch, Alan Bissett, Pat Kane, Eddie Reader, Stanley Odd, Tommy Sheridan. They shared a stage with local campaigners whose names were not so well known but whose contribution was just as respected. The result was people were inspired, informed, empowered and energised.
We took our energy to the streets and campaigned for positive change for all of Scotland’s people. It wasn’t “nationalistic fervour” as the media liked to represent it. For us it was about creating happy, hopeful and engaged communities where we all had a say and could stand united against the injustices of a me-first society. On the 18th September we Yessers were ebullient, chatting about how we were going to light the way for change. Scotland was showing the world how to have a peaceful revolution.
The devastating result that unfolded on the 19th September could have changed all that. We could have limped, embittered and down-trodden back into our homes, shut the blinds and gone back to posting pictures of our dinner on Facebook, convinced that we were beaten. That didn’t happen though. What did happen was we grieved some, then shook ourselves down and re-grouped in our meeting places. Robin McAlpine’s rallying cry of “Wipe your eyes. On your feet.” helped a lot. We consoled each other, we made brutal analyses of where we went wrong and most importantly, we recognised the wonderful network of people we had created who then moved things forward. We took flight. We did that. Us.
That is the thing to remember – it’s why we keep showing up to meetings and why our friends are joining us. We’ve seen what it can be like to take our lives into our own hands, we are hungry for the action we were ready to take together post-referendum. The only difference is, the red-tape is still there to be cut through. For that, our collective beaks are sharp and they are many.
Let’s continue to educate, agitate and organise but let’s also be sure to just get on wi’ living.