The political is the personal. Nobody comes out of the womb with a view on the merits of the free market versus state interventionism – opinions are formed by someone’s experiences and environment. So where do “cybernats” come from? Speaking as one myself, and quite a recently-minted one at that, let me see if I can explain it.
I wasn’t indoctrinated into the Nationalist cause as a child – my parents are pro-Union (but I’m working on that). My upbringing was British, and I was proud of it. So what went wrong with the United Kingdom that now in adult life I disavow the very notion of Britishness and strive to bring that same UK to an end?
Because I’m clearly not the only one who’s had this happen to them. The huge growth in membership of the SNP, both recently and as a much longer-term trend, suggests a similar awakening in many Scots. When I hear the stories they tell I’m struck by how remarkably similar they are to my own. They usually revolve around the theme of disenchantment with the political classes in the UK – a feeling of disempowerment, and anger at the inability to make changes to our democracy to better reflect society in the 21st century.
We’re supposed to have the “mother of all parliaments” in the Palace Of Westminster, but all too often it’s scandal, corruption and nepotism we see in its halls instead, and when the voting public finally expels a politician as undesirable they’re all too often elevated to the Lords, to retain their hold on power as an unelected, unanswerable, unremovable part of our government. Yet against this backdrop there’s a growing sense that the wind has changed, and that people aren’t prepared to lie down anymore and just blindly accept the old order of things. They want more, they want things to be better and where any sort of viable alternative exists they’re willing to make their voice heard to achieve it.
I’ve been writing for Wings Over Scotland for a few weeks now, and it feels like time I told you a little about myself and how I became a believer in independence. We all come from different walks of life but something binds us together and inspires us to better – a common faith that with the power to control our own affairs we can thrive and prosper as a nation.
My own transition to the SNP and independence happened over a long time, and I started out as a Labour supporter (well, you wouldn’t be Tory coming from a Glasgow steel-industry family). I rejected the “greed is good” motto of the Thatcherite 1980s, and preferred to think that it was the responsibility of the well-off to help the needy. I believed that with education came the opportunity to improve society, and that the NHS was an institution we should be proud of and protect. I admired the British armed forces and their professionalism in helping to restore order to war-torn communities. These things were the foundations that made Great Britain a great country, and I was proud to call myself British.
I wasn’t really into politics as a younger man, and when devolution came into being I felt no great excitement at the opportunities it offered, merely curiosity as to what would transpire. On the eve of the (re)opening of Parliament, the BBC happened to mention that as part of devolution the sea border at Berwick had been moved. It was glossed over swiftly and apparently unnoticed by the populace in all the hubbub of a new form of government, but it seemed to me a a shabby way to go about things. The old adage “a good day to bury bad news” sprang to mind.
After Iraq I was disillusioned with Labour, but still voted for them in 2005 to stop the Tories (it’s the real national sport in Scotland), although discomfited by the litany of infringements on civil liberties and the relentless rise of the “nanny state”. Things went downhill fast after that, but even then I still voted Labour for Holyrood in 2007, despite the lies, the ditching of manifesto commitments, removal of the 10p tax rate, the raiding of the pensions and the introduction of alarming free-market ideas into the NHS and education. I ‘d been conditioned by the mainstream media to believe that should the SNP gain power they’d be a disaster at government.
Yet once they were in in power, I was delighted to see that the SNP were not only capable but competent – a trait lacking in the previous administrations. I’d never bought into the visceral tribal hatred of the SNP that exists for some in the Labour party, but rather had felt that a vote for the SNP was a wasted vote – my thinking was at the time still clouded by the First Past The Post voting system of Westminster, and it soon became clear that the very different Holyrood method of representing the people offered tantalising opportunities.
Then came the expenses scandal and I just couldn’t do it any more. I couldn’t vote for Labour and the morally-bankrupt party it had become, unrecognisable as the party I grew up with. The corruption eating away at the heart of the British political system was plain for all to see. It was clear that vested interests and personal accumulation of wealth mattered more to Blair and Brown’s “New Labour” than the well-being of the people. To make matters worse, the system itself was set up to perpetuate this culture, with Labour and the Tories both hiding behind FPTP and its near-inevitable two-party duopoly of power.
The old pendulum was one thing, but with Labour now wearing so many of the Tories’ traditional clothes the system was fatally flawed, and unlikely to change without a major jolt to force the issue. In 2010 I wanted to bring democracy back to Westminster and could see that the only way to do this was to challenge the two-party power structure. Then a man appeared, a nice man with charm, ideals and a plausible vision of a better way. You can guess where this is going, right?
In 2010 I voted Lib Dem, in an effort to hamstring Brown’s detached, dysfunctional government and force them into a coalition with Nick Clegg’s party. The unforeseen, unwanted result was the unholy coalition under which we now suffer. (Unless we’re wealthy bankers, hedge fund managers or Tory donors.)
At first I thought “Let’s at least give them a chance, and see if they can tame the worst excesses of the Tories”. It soon became clear, however – with the instant capitulation on any significant voting reform and the wholesale abandonment of manifesto and personal pledges – that the lure of power, ministerial cars and feet under the cabinet table had won over the leadership of the self-styled party of reform.
By this point I was so disillusioned with all three UK parties that on the 5th of May 2011 I voted SNP for the first time (and, with a heavy heart, for AV). The scale of their victory was awe-inspiring, and left me confident that we really did have people looking out for the interests of Scotland.
But there was still one more leg to go in the journey from from uncommitted swing voter to dedicated “cybernat”. After the 2011 election I was reading various UK national newspapers online, and I quickly picked up a change in mood. It was probably always there, hiding mostly beneath the surface save for the occasional outbreak, but now you couldn’t miss it. It was a sort of jilted-lover mentality, full of anger and loathing, combined with borderline racism and a superiority complex directed against the Scots.
I couldn’t believe the vitriol and hate suddenly directed towards Scotland and its people, now that we’d had the temerity to reject the “British” way of doing things. Terms like “benefit scroungers”, “subsidy junkies”, “whinging Jocks”, “wasters”, “moaners” and worse were now commonplace in forums and comment threads. Even the three-centuries-old failure of a private business venture, the Darien Scheme, was wheeled out to justify the assertion that Scotland couldn’t survive on its own.
Horrified and angered by this reaction, I made an effort to find out the truth of these allegations, and determined to refute them if I found them to be false. I was soon immersed in the internet, ploughing through documents like the McCrone and GERS reports that I’d never heard mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone explained. I was flabbergasted that the McCrone report wasn’t more prominent in the national psyche, that the theft of 6000 square miles of Scottish waters was not more widely known, that Scotland not only paid its way but had been subsidising the rest of the UK to the tune of tens of billions of pounds.
It was at this point that I found myself applying for SNP membership. I’d only intended to donate - I’ve never been the sort of person to join political parties – but the bilious, contemptuous disrespect shown to Scotland gave me the push I needed to sign up. I started to post responses, ensuring that nothing was inflammatory or offensive. I vowed that if I came across a lie, half-truth, misrepresentation or omission, I would do my utmost to make others aware of the reality.
We can only have an honest debate about our society if we know the facts, and one of those is that the mainstream media is institutionally biased in their reporting against both the SNP and the wider independence movement. No government should be beyond criticism, but it must be up to the public to decide based on a fair and balanced presentation of both sides of the story, and it’s clear that we can’t rely on the traditional media to provide it.
Since I got involved in the online debate, attempts to smear “cybernats” have become commonplace. For my part, I have been touched and encouraged by the camaraderie, intelligence and drive of the ‘Cybernat Army’. It’s a grossly unfair distortion to see them passed off as a “nutter” fringe – the truth is, of course, that “cybernats” are a disparate group of individuals, bound together by a common goal and a belief that with control over our own affairs we can make Scotland a fairer, more just society, and protect that which we hold dear from the advancement of the neo-liberal ideology which now commands all three UK parties but has little if any public support in Scotland.
I’m proud to be called a “cybernat”. I wasn’t born a nationalist and the conversion didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t watch Braveheart and think to myself “That’s the bloody business… FREEDOM!”. I am not oppressed. The truth is that the negativity and abuse shown to Scotland when it elected an SNP government made me question the Union, and in questioning the Union I began to see what had previously been kept hidden. The real problem for Westminster is that once that veil is lifted, you see that not only would Scotland be a viable independent country, but a prosperous one.
That truth is what moved me over to the side of independence – you can argue about 300 years of ancient history, but in the cold, hard light of the 21st Century there’s simply no longer any benefit to being in the Union for Scotland. It’s now my mission to work towards independence, and forever prevent the Westminster political classes from again imposing on Scotland political values which it has emphatically rejected. To paraphrase a great document, we seek to exert ourselves at once to drive them out as our enemy and subverter of their own rights and ours, and make some other parliament who was well able to represent us our sovereign government.
That’s my story. What’s yours?