conscientização and dancing in the streets
I’m glad I made this trip to Scotland, not just because of it’s original purpose, but because of the serendipitous discovery of an atmosphere that I had never before experienced in that place. An energy, a buzz, a sense of anticipation — more than that — an actual sense of hope and a glimpse into a different set of possibilities.
Not that the other, more usual, pessimism and cynicism isn’t still rife. It is. But the difference is that amongst those espousing doom and gloom, there was just a little hint that their voice was a little hoarser, a little more strident, than it needed to be if they truly were the majority.
I hung around with different groups of people over the weekend, from family to academic colleagues. So many people with ‘Yes’ badges on their lapels or simply smiling if a badge-wearer walked past. People saying hello to complete strangers, engaging in conversation, talking about hopes and beliefs. It’s as if over a million people have woken up. Although the others, asleep as they walk, still clutter the place with their zombie-like gloom, one by one you can see a spark as another comes alive, then another, then another. Slowly, but steadily. Whether by Thursday, most will have woken or not, we’ll find out. But for those who have, there’s no going back. They switch off the TV, they ignore the newspapers. They realise that these are all part of the drug that numbs, that feeds the fear; the medication that induces anxiety, nurtures dependency and imposes compliance.
Amongst the unwoken (or should we think of them as those who are in denial?) are many academics. The number I met (during visits to three universities) that muttered about grants and research funding ‘under threat’. As if that paper they dream of publishing in Nature has the moral equivalence of ending the foodbanks, or tackling the shocking ill-health statistics of Glasgow’s East End (average life expectancy 58). A visiting English academic agreed wholeheartedly that ‘Yes’ was the only sensible choice and an unparalleled opportunity to escape the corrupt Westminster kleptocracy.
The ‘No’ voters, almost all of them, had a look of fear in their eyes. Their Labour Lords screaming about the sky falling on their heads, arm-in-arm with landlords, multi-millionaires, bankers and (Sir) Bob Geldof, (Sir) Richard Branson, (Sir) Paul McCartney ….(you get the idea).
But they have the heavy weaponry of the BBC, ITV and all the newspapers (except one Sunday edition), and the heavy shelling began with Saturday’s mass rallies in every town and city in the country (largely unreported) and the 54% Yes in the polls. Since then it has been relentless. Scare after scare. Primetime programmes, commentators on every channel blatantly on the No side. ‘Panels’ on political shows that have either no ‘Yes’ supporters (journalists are ‘neutral’ you see, so if you fill your studio with ‘Chief Political Correspondent’ and ‘Westminster reporter’, ‘our Scotland correspondent’ then you have no need to invite on anyone to challenge their views).
Come Monday, and not only was the bias evident, but the shift to actual lying was complete. Allegations made about the disaster that will befall us on Friday, not just unchallenged but repeated throughout the day, hour on hour; the only other news items being terrorism and a comet hurtling towards us. No politicians’ slogans repeated as news headlines, photoshopped images of ‘rallies’ against independence (the only such actually held were either in England or were Orange Walks — indeed the Orange Walk in Edinburgh was described as a ‘mass march in support of the UK’ and the bowler-hatted, be-sashed gentlemen somewhat obscured in carefully composed camera angles).
Orwell’s Ministry of Truth were mere amateurs.
So here I am, leaving the country again, leaving behind those campaigners for social, economic and environmental justice whose message needs to be heard by all who dream of a world unshackled from the neo-liberal morass in which so many lives are left unfulfilled, in which hope is bereft. Whether that gleam in the eye, the spark of life, the smiling awareness of solidarity is a temporary ‘Awakenings’ moment or whether it survives the next few days, time will tell. But at least for a few days I had the privilege of experiencing a country transformed, Scotland as it should be, as we have always dreamt it one day could be.
Main photo shows Patrick Harvie MSP, leader of the Scottish Greens speaking at spontaneous rally in Buchanan Street in Glasgow on Saturday.