You might have wondered why I didn’t mark yesterday: what could have been the first anniversary of an Independent Scotland’s reappearance after three centuries of union. We could dream about a Scotland that didn’t suffer the indignities of yet another government they didn’t vote for, a Smith Commission where the party of Scottish Government’s proposals were rejected, a Scotland Bill without a single amendment from a Scottish MP, a European Union referendum they didn’t want, and a forced exit from a European Union they didn’t want to leave. We could imagine a Scotland finding its feet, facing the challenges, and working to overcome the obstacles which any nation braves willingly as the responsibility of a sovereign state. We could fantasise about the books finally being laid open, the vindication of Scotland’s real finances, and see how the EU really would treat a “new” pro-EU nation, which already adhered to EU legislation for 40 years, that wanted to remain.
Yet we’ll never truly know, will we? A Yes vote would have changed everything. Nothing would be the same. Would David Cameron have stuck it out until the General Election? In the event he resigned, would Theresa May have succeeded him – would she even put herself in the running? What would have happened in the 2015 election – would Scottish constituencies even put forward candidates for a Parliament that would no longer rule them? Would there even be an election that year, given the upheaval the breaking of the Treaty of Union would have undoubtedly wrought? Even if there was a General Election, could we be so sure the party which lost Scotland could have succeeded in gaining a majority? And even if that majority was gained, would a European Union Referendum even take place – “Now is not the time” for another referendum being a popular refrain in this timeline? If so, what guarantee is there that Leave would be victorious in the aftermath of Scottish Independence?
Such is the nature of the Butterfly Effect, where one decision – one that might seem small, like a cross in a ballot box – can have far-reaching consequences.
There is probably a law, or at least a pretty strict guideline, that says that every book with the word ‘Chaos’, ‘Time’ or ‘Fractal’ in the title must, on some page, include an illustration of the Trousers of Time … The trousers are used to demonstrate for very slow people the bifurcating nature of Time – how, for example, one simple choice can cause the universe to branch off into two separate realities (This One, and the One You Should Have Been In Where the Bus Wasn’t About To Hit You).
– Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion… So Far by Stephen Briggs & Terry Pratchett
Alternate timelines are proving popular these days. The Terminator and X-Men franchises, Doctor Who, Fringe, Inglorious Bastards, Watchmen, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Resistance, The Man in the High Castle, SS-GB, and many more posit events which take place in our worlds, but following the other “trouser leg of time.” Sometimes they’re quite horrifying. Sometimes you feel this, right now, is “the darkest, most terrible timeline.”
As a Star Trek fan, I loved the stories centred around time travel – many of them seeking to preserve the established timeline from alteration as a result of a seemingly inconsequential moment. A New York social worker whose fate determines the outcome of the Second World War; how a young cadet reacts to a challenge in a bar determines his entire career; an unemployed homeless man who would instigate the start of worldwide reforms; a drunk inventor brings Earth into contact with to the other beings inhabiting the galaxy. They rarely went into the past to explicitly change the future – it was always about preserving time as it already was, hence why they never went back to stop the Second World War from happening in the first place. I used to think: if I had a time machine, I would go back and do whatever it took to ensure it was a Yes vote.
Now? The last referendum is firmly in the past. It’s been over two years. Scotland, the UK, and the world has changed. I’ve changed. In changing history, I would be changing the last two-and-a-half years of my life – everything I’ve learned, the wonderful people I’ve met, the incredible things I’ve experienced, all changed irrevocably. The shared experience of loss on the 19th of September 2014; the sense of purpose as pro-independence supporters coalesced in the pro-independence parties; the election of the first female First Minister of Scotland; the unprecedented success of the SNP in the 2015 General Election and the return of Alex Salmond to Westminster; the historic 3rd term for an SNP government after “losing” a referendum that should have destroyed them; the sight of every single council area in Scotland voting to Remain in the EU. None of that would have happened – at least, not in the way we all know. For good or bad, the 2014 referendum is part of our history now, and we can’t be bound to the past in this way. In other words, we’re deep in the other leg of the Trousers of Time. We can’t go back now.
Another Independence Referendum is built on that history, with a new franchise, a new electorate, a new debate. This is no longer a battle between Alex Salmond vs Alistair Darling (standing in for the cowardly David Cameron), the SNP vs the Other Party, “narrow nationalism” vs “pooling & sharing internationalism” – though of course in actuality, it never was a battle of personalities, parties, or politics. Now, the narrative is of Nicola Sturgeon vs Theresa May, the SNP vs the UK Government’s Party, “tunnel vision obsession” vs “getting the best deal for Scotland.” It is as false a narrative as its predecessor.
And this time, we have new friends.
Every time I remember the 19th of September 2014, my heart still aches, and I still find myself wishing, desperately wishing, that Scotland defied the combined might of the British Establishment, the mainstream media, big business, and the UK Government machine to vote yes. But in doing so, would the stories compiled by Phantom Power be the same? Would those who voted No immediately become Yes following a Yes vote, or would they be as heartbroken on the 19th of September 2014 as we were in this leg of time?
I remember “the 45.” It was part of that shared despair and regret which so many of us felt on the 19th: a salve to sooth our souls when it seemed, for a short while, that we had lost forever. We had our chance to grasp our future, and we let it slip away. The only consolation we had is that we could band together, us 1,617,989, who believed with all our hearts in Scotland, even if many more of our people sought a different future in a United Kingdom.
But, as the song says, those days are past now, and in the past they shall remain. A new Scottish Independence Referendum is coming. We are no longer the 45 – we don’t need it any more. With a new referendum on the horizon to determine the future of Scotland, how you voted in 2014 simply doesn’t matter any more. The vote happened. It’s done. In the past it shall remain. What matters now is how you will vote in this referendum.
If you voted No in 2014, but will vote Yes whenever the next referendum takes place, then you are as surely a Yes voter as anyone who voted Yes in 2014. You are as valued, deserving, and welcome to the debate as anyone. You are not a “latecomer,” a “fair-weather nationalist,” or anything which places you on a different tier to other independence supporters. If you’re voting for independence, then you’re a supporter of Scottish Independence. Simple as that. You’re as much a Yes voter as I am, or Nicola Sturgeon is, or Margo MacDonald was. The point of democracy is the freedom, the power, and the right to change your mind without fear of ridicule, scorn, or embarrassment. As Bashir Ahmad said, “It’s not where we came from that’s important, it’s where we’re going together” – a sentiment which I think reaches beyond nationality and birthplace.
The 24th of March, then, is an anniversary we can leave in the past, and for the other Leg of Time’s Trousers. Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the agreement which established the European Economic Community, forerunner to the European Union. Hundreds of thousands are marching throughout the EU in support of the project – not for the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the legislation, but for that which they protect. Freedom to move and work and live throughout the continent; the facilitation of trade, exchanges, and collaboration of information and services; the sense of international community that isn’t quite like any other part of the world. Even those who support Leave talk of “Love Europe, Leave EU” – proving that there’s something worth supporting behind the red tape and the obfuscating myths. Would we be seeing anything like this in the Other Leg, with the remnants of the UK possibly still in the EU, perhaps no EU referendum at all?
As we hurtle down the Other Leg of Time towards a very uncertain future, we consider the new circumstances we find ourselves in.
Let’s get hopping.