‘Relieved to still be British’: Why I voted No

‘Relieved to still be British’: Why I voted No

Jessica Howard-Johnson explains why she, as a proud Scot, said ‘No thanks’ this September

In the early hours of the morning of 19 September, I awoke to a BBC News notification on my iPhone, as well as about a thousand tweets, affirming that Scotland had voted to remain part of the union.

J.K. Rowling chimed in

As did the people who make up these lovely accounts on Facebook

During the final few weeks before the vote, the tension in Scotland was tangible. The Yes campaign was more visible, their stickers seemingly plastered across the entirety of the country. As the vote approached, the No campaign became flustered, hurriedly brandishing their own balloons and stickers emblazoned with Alistair Darling’s, ‘No Thanks’ slogan.

All of Scotland took to social media: hashtags were created, a neck-nominate inspired ‘Great British Selfie’ went viral, Yes and No ‘Twibbons’ appeared in the bottom corners of profile photos, politically motivated Snapchat stories were posted and intense debates dominated my Facebook newsfeed.

I was born and grew up in Edinburgh. All of my family is there and, although my neutral accent may deceive you, I’m very proud to call myself Scottish. Scotland is a great country: it’s beautiful, feisty, funny and cultured.

Independence could have been a fantastic opportunity. It could have been our chance to create our own country: a better, fairer one similar to the stable, prosperous nations of Scandinavia, like Norway and Sweden.

We have oil, and thus the funds crucial to a liberal welfare state. We were finally offering a solution to the ‘West Lothian Question’ that has plagued British politics for generations. We were being offered independence completely democratically – our own control and power was being handed to us on a silver platter. So then, why did we turn it down?

As the referendum neared, the campaigns became catty. Scots were essentially being asked to choose between their hearts or their heads: Alex Salmond’s unbounded optimism or Alistair Darling’s belittling pessimism. This pettiness became the focus of the referendum, creating a debilitating lack of clarity on what an independent Scotland would look like.

Too many questions were left unanswered: Would we still be part of the EU? Would Scotland use the pound? Would I be ‘English’ or ‘Scottish’? Would I have to cross a national border when going home for Christmas?

For these questions, we got no straight answers. To any queries concerning the currency, Salmond would confidently rebuff them, chuckling that ‘of course we will still use the pound’ (despite the fact that the Bank of England had said an independent Scotland would not have the right to use the sterling).

The independence offered by the Scottish National Party was powered by patriotism rather than policy. It was this lack of clarity that drove me to vote No when – on 18 September 2014 – my nation asked me: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Back at school, I had to begrudgingly represent the SNP in a mock election (much to the amusement of my politics teachers who knew exactly my sentiments towards Salmond and co.). My enthusiasm utterly contrived, I wrote and delivered speeches, plastered the school in yellow SNP posters and ‘proudly’ wore my SNP rosette. On face value, Salmond’s manifesto sounds great, and it was easy to convince my less-informed classmates to vote SNP.

In a predominantly Tory school, the SNP came third. This success made me realise just how dangerous Salmond’s position of influence was. If I could convince this many people to vote SNP, how much damage could Alex Salmond himself do?

Scottish Government/Flickr

Scottish Government/Flickr

An inarguably adroit politician, Salmond appeals to the strong patriotism of the Scots. A talented orator, his love for the nation is contagious and his policies hard to turn down. However, if you scratch just below the surface, his ostensibly flawless policies quickly seem to make absolutely no economic sense. What worried me is that Scotland’s electorate – like the pupils in my school – would not bother to scratch that surface.

But, like we all know, Salmond lost. The so-called ‘silent majority’ have now deflated their ‘No Thanks’ balloons and unpinned their badged lapels. Some Yes stickers, however, remain. Hanging in windows, they’re now accompanied by new signs with new slogans like ‘Next Time’ and ‘We are the 45%’.

On my first day back in London, I was crossing Westminster Bridge when I passed a kilted Scotsman, piping to the backdrop of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I like to think that man, like me, is proud to be Scottish, but also relieved to still be British.

Featured image credit: Jessica Howard-Johnson

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