Why I am scared to vote YES | John Paul Tonner

22 Jan

John Paul Tonner 21/01/14

Yesterday I had to give a talk to a very large group of student teachers in the Barony Hall at Strathclyde University. Now teachers, as witnessed first-hand at many in-service events, make the worst of audiences. Maybe it’s something about having to deal with unruly kids that turns them into a disengaged, apathetic congregation in a concerted effort to inflict poetic justice upon anyone who attempts to impart knowledge. I know; I’m a teacher; I act the same way. When attending these events the same strange puerile demon possess my body inevitably making me late and penless. Without conscious effort, I blankly stare at the speaker laying down the challenge with my disinterest: it’s your turn to teach me! Teachers are the worst audience.

So, with this in mind, I slowly ascended the platform in the Barony Hall in front of some 350 postgrads, heart sinking, pulse quickening and palms sweating. I fumbled over my notes so I didn’t have to appreciate the vast scale of the building and the endless emotionless faces whose blank gazes I would meet. I was scared. Fear had led me to accept the invite to speak here, fear had me awake until 3am the night before, fear had brought me here.

And yet, I enjoyed it. I knew I would. Certainly, I stumbled over some of my points and forgot plenty of my arguments. I lost focus a few times and became side-tracked by my own doubts. I saw a few people shaking their head in disgust at what I was saying and I’m sure, for a moment, I had the self-aware cringe of my own microphone enhanced voice booming through the speakers. Public speaking is frightening. And yet, despite the nerves and the sweats and the cringe, I enjoyed it. I think I came down from the platform a little more….’something’. It’s hard to describe. Not necessarily ‘confident’ or ‘happier’, but maybe something like more ‘experienced’; I finally know what it is like to stand up and talk to that many people about Children, Childhood and Constitutional Change. Would I be scared about doing it again? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Does the fear put me off? Obviously not.

Then it struck me. If I think about the times I was most scared, it was generally because something significant was about to happen in my life: exams, interviews, moving abroad. I remember the fear before I proposed to wife rendering me paralysed to the extent I could barely mumble the words, gesturing to the ring in a muted panic. Classy.

Life events, the big important things, do make you scared. It’s as if your body is preparing itself for a major change and it wants you to mark the moment. More than that. It motivates, pushing you through to the other side to a place of relief and, sometimes, elation. When I listen to some Celtic fans bemoaning the predictability of the league, I don’t think it’s Rangers they miss, it’s the fear of Rangers. For some, fear is a thrill, or at least the trigger which allows you to experience the excitement, relief and tranquillity at the other side.

Turning to the question of Scotland’s future, fear seems to be used as a justification for doing nothing, or rather, keeping things the way they are. That’s interesting because it don’t think this marries up with many peoples’ experience of it. I’m glad people are scared of voting Yes, so they should: all big events of this magnitude should frighten us. This is the one big life changing event that can create a new history. It is natural and reassuring that many people feel frightened. I would be more worried if people felt nothing: articulating that the referendum held little interest to the public. I think it’s healthier to have people in fear rather than a passive, zombified state of apathy. A state of no feeling can be ignored; fear has to be confronted.

So what is it people fear, what is it that people have to confront? Talking to a few don’t-knowers after the event, it was the same key issue that kept the flame of fear alive: the uncertainty of a financially viable independent Scotland. Could we continue to afford free Higher Education for all? What about free prescriptions and our pensions, surely they can’t last- the oil will run out! The economic uncertainty certainly wasn’t assuaged by the opposing speaker’s slide (the one about Scotland spending £63 billion whilst only raising £56billion). If anything, it reinforced a simple message the No campaign use in the arsenal of fear: that Scotland spends £7,600,000,000 more than it generates in wealth. Of course, that fear can be countered when someone from the Yes campaign can tell you that the UK spends £121,000,000,000 more than it generates; this is more as a percentage of revenue than Scotland (7.9% compared to 5%) and that most countries run a fiscal deficit (usually about 2-3%).

But that rarely matters; numbers on this scale are meaningless except in their ability to bamboozle those of us who are not au fait with economic norms; none of these numbers can tell you if you’ll be better off on the planet or how your life will unfold. So why are we told that it is one thing, a variation on a number no one knows (i.e. how ‘better/worse off’ we will be), that will decide the collective action of our nation? Is it really the case that £500 could make or break the Union? The price of a new TV to kill off independence; a new bike to break Britannia? The happy truth is, no one knows. Nor should they. They future is free to be written. The false certainty (in false hypothetical scenarios) stops people confronting the unknown; to live lives comfy, stunted and unexplored.

Uncertainty and fear are such natural things, steady companions on life’s journey. They will accompany us when we learn to cycle as children, leave home as young adults and confront our mortality as elders. Fear is motivator, it helps us change, to grow and gain confidence. On the prospect of Scottish Independence, of course many of us are scared; mainly because we aren’t there yet. But we are getting there and fear will help us embrace our destiny.

I’m glad I’m scared to vote Yes. Like marriage, starting a family, moving abroad or public speaking in front of 350 people, the feeling is a sign: we are preparing for an amazing experience in our lives. Let’s confront it together.

Come along to the Labour case for a YES vote. Thursday 23rd Jan, 7.30pm, at the STUC, Woodlands Road.

[1] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/Q/pno/3

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2222.html

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25833692


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