Non-religion, the critical study of religion, sociology of religion, and more…

I recently had the pleasure of editing a review article for the journal Religion and Society: Advances in Research, on Abby Day’s Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. The article features commentary from Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez, and Abby Day herself, and begins with my editorial introduction, which focuses on the interactions between Abby’s work and research on ‘non-religion’, and critical research on ‘religion’ in general, as well as some reflections on the perceived divide between ‘sociology of religion’ and ‘religious studies’. The pre-copy-edited version of this introduction is pasted below. For the final version, and the full article, you’ll have to visit here (and possibly pay).

Enjoy


Editorial Introduction

I first had the pleasure of meeting the force of nature that is Abby Day back in 2010 at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network’s “Qualitative Methods Workshop” at the University of Cambridge (Cotter 2011). Back then I was working towards my Masters degree in Religious Studies and had little idea that in the coming years we would end up co-editing a book with Giselle Vincett (Day et al. 2013) or that I would find myself reviewing Believing in Belonging (see Cotter 2013) and collaborating on projects such as the one appearing in this journal. Given that the responses which follow this editorial—from Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez, and Abby Day herself—engage extensively and thought-provokingly with Abby’s work, I am going to restrict my comments to two brief points. First of all, the connections I can see between Believing in Belonging (Day 2011; paperback 2013) and the growing body of research into “non-religion”; and secondly, some reflections on the place of Abby’s work in the critical academic study of “religion” more broadly.

My own research has, in recent years, been heavily focused upon the problematic constructs of non-religion and secularity (cf. Quack 2014; Cotter 2015; Lee 2015) as limiting cases for their “semantically parasitic” (Fitzgerald 2007: 54) other, religion. Following Johannes Quack, I approach non-religion as “a descriptive term for a certain group of understudied phenomena and relationships and not as a term that seeks to draw clear boundaries between religion and nonreligion [sic]” (2014: 3). As such, I share many of the concerns addressed in Abby’s research—particularly concerning how, as Beckford puts it below, “census and survey questions about religion produce unreliable guides to belief and/or identities.” This point is exemplified best in the case of the “nones”—a residual category constructed by censuses and surveys which, once in place, has seen scholars, journalists, politicians and others rushing to “imbue this group with a material face, social interests and political persuasions, as if this group, always there but now with a name, is available for their commentary and speculation” (Ramey and Miller 2013).

Abby’s work with “census Christians” cuts to the core of this issue, examining individuals’ identity claims as precisely that—as “operational acts of identification”(Bayart 2005: 92)—and problematizing existing approaches to beliefs that privilege those commonly understood as being “religious.” Building upon Abby’s insight that “beliefs” are “performed through social actions of both belonging and excluding” (Day 2011: 194) my ongoing doctoral research takes a critical discursive approach to non-religion. With Steven Ramey, I argue that religion and, by extension, non-religion do “not have agency to teach or do anything” but are constructed by social actors who interpret situations “in ways that relate to their particular context and the range of interests that enliven that context” (2014: 109). Abby’s work contributes to a growing body of rigorous research into related categories (see for example Blankholm 2014; Lee 2015; Quack 2014; Quillen 2015), and serves as a useful and important manifesto for approaching those social actors who are positioned—by themselves or by others—as being other than religious.

As should be clear from the above, I position myself firmly within the critical strand of Religious Studies, and agree with my research supervisor that “there are no disinterested, external positions” (Knott 2005: 125) from which to examine religion. We do not occupy a neutral space but perpetuate and mold the “discipline of religion” (McCutcheon 2003); we are complicit in reifying this problematic social construct. From this perspective, surveys and questionnaires are no less problematic for the nuanced academic study of religion than are contemporary academic emphases on “lived religion,” i.e. on “religion as expressed and experienced in the lives of individuals” (McGuire 2008: 3). This relatively recent move away from the systematized theologies of male élites was certainly a welcome and necessary move for the field. All-too-often, however, such a focus merely privileges “lived religion” as somehow more authentic or more real than other aspects such as history, tradition, theology, and institution (see Cotter and Robertson 2016), and thus we return to the sui generis model so thoroughly critiqued by McCutcheon, Asad, Fitzgerald, and others.

In Vásquez’s contribution to this section, he highlights the important work that Believing in Belonging does in critiquing existing models of belief for ignoring issues of power, in demonstrating that belief is produced socially, and in locating belief in the activity of doing belief (if it is to have any meaningful sense at all). In this way, Day’s work facilitates a critical approach to that which is commonly understood as religious: it avoids unduly emphasizing both the individual and society, and simultaneously undercuts and challenges the constructed boundary between religion and non-religion by focusing on “alternative organizing principles independent of religious categories” (Quack 2012: 26). Although we could debate the extent to which “belief” is “independent of religious categories,” and although Day’s account arguably overemphasizes “relationships,” critical scholars have much to learn from her theoretically engaged ethnographic mutiny against established classificatory systems.

In lieu of a conclusion, and before I pass the baton to my esteemed colleagues, I wish to use my final paragraph to speak to a worrying divide that I perceive to be growing, at least in the UK, between Religious Studies (RS) and the Sociology of Religion (SOR). My evidence is little more than anecdotal, yet increasingly frequently I encounter colleagues who, while positioning themselves in one of these disciplines, dismiss the other as “too theological.” To translate these stances as I see them, some in RS have a tendency to dismiss SOR out of hand as being naïve in its reification of certain folk categories, its valorization of “society,” and its interest in large-scale surveys and social trends, whereas some in SOR castigate RS for being obsessed with category formation, and for being both uncritically wedded to phenomenological approaches and obstinately uninterested in “religion” in the “real world.” Although I would unhesitatingly admit that these criticisms ring true for much of what passes as RS and SOR in contemporary academia, it is my hope that my brief discussion above, and the extensive contributions below will demonstrate that each of these approaches has a great deal to offer. Working together is a much more effective route towards advancing critical thought, and increasing knowledge and understanding, and it is therefore with gratitude that I hand over to Grace, Jim, Saliha, Mia, Manuel, and Abby to demonstrate such productive collaboration in action.

References

Bayart, Jean-François. 2005. The Illusion of Cultural Identity. London: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.

Blankholm, Joseph. 2014. “The Political Advantages of a Polysemous Secular.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53 (4): 775–90. doi:10.1111/jssr.12152.

Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. “Qualitative Methods Workshop.” NSRN Online. http://www.nsrn.net/events/events-reports. (Accessed 27 November 2015).

Cotter, Christopher R. 2013. “Review: Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World.” Fieldwork in Religion 8 (1): 116–17.

Cotter, Christopher R. 2015. “Without God yet Not Without Nuance: A Qualitative Study of Atheism and Non-Religion among Scottish University Students.” Pp. 171–94 in Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts, ed. Lori G. Beaman and Steven Tomlins. Dordrecht: Springer.

Cotter, Christopher R., and David G. Robertson, eds. 2016. After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. London: Routledge.

Day, Abby. 2011. Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Day, Abby, Giselle Vincett, and Christopher R. Cotter, eds. 2013. Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular. Farnham: Ashgate.

Fitzgerald, Timothy. 2007. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Knott, Kim. 2005. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. London and Oakville, CT: Equinox.

Lee, Lois. 2015. Recognizing the Nonreligious: Reimagining the Secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCutcheon, Russell T. 2003. The Discipline of Religion: Structure, Meaning, Rhetoric. New York: Routledge.

McGuire, Meredith B. 2008. Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Quack, Johannes. 2012. Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quack, Johannes. 2014. “Outline of a Relational Approach to ‘Nonreligion.’” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 26 (4-5): 439–69.

Quillen, Ethan Gjerset. 2015. “Discourse Analysis and the Definition of Atheism.” Science, Religion and Culture 2 (3): 25–25.

Ramey, Steven. 2014. “Textbooks, Assumptions, and Us: Commentary on Jimmy Emanuelsson’s ‘Islam and the Sui-Generis Discourse: Representations of Islam in Textbooks Used in Introductory Courses of Religious Studies in Sweden.’” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 26 (1): 108–10. doi:10.1163/15700682-12341285.

Ramey, Steven, and Monica R. Miller. 2013. “Meaningless Surveys: The Faulty ‘Mathematics’ of the ’Nones.” The Huffington Post. November 7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-ramey/meaningless-surveys-the-f_b_4225306.html. (accessed 27 November 2015).

Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU

On September 10 2014, I wrote a post titled “Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence.” You can read it for yourself if you like, but I am always encouraged when I look back on it to see that I completely agree with everything I wrote back then. That vote didn’t go the way  I wanted it to go and now, 21 months or so later, I find myself much busier (my Ph.D. thesis is due in on 30 September), a paid up member of the Scottish Green Party (I joined the day after the Scottish Independence referendum, on 19 September 2014), with another referendum coming up – this time on whether the UK should remain in the European Union.In the post below, I use some of my tweets over recent months to articulate my views on the matter.

Some people might think it is an oxymoron for someone to want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but yet want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. However, I think that this view comes from the stereotypical assumption that anyone who wanted Scotland to leave the UK must be in some way a nasty flag-waving bigot who loves destroying cherished institutions that have existed from centuries – if this was the case, why wouldn’t the same uncritically (and this word is important) nationalistic people want to break away from another larger body?

First off, let’s get it out there – I do not like what the UK as an institution stands for. I don’t know that I ever really have since I have been ‘politically conscious’. This is not to say  I don’t like the people who make up the UK. Or ‘other’ nations in the UK. But, as an institution, the UK is not something I am proud of. The chance to reform the UK as a whole, starting from the ground up, was a large part of my wanting to leave the UK. Similarly, the prevalent attitude in the UK towards the EU as I perceive it is not something I like.

Personally, I am of the opinion that many of the ‘problems’ that UK citizens perceive with the EU are in no small part due to the regnant exceptionalist attitude, epitomized by the EU rebate negotiated by Thatcher, and David Cameron’s recent attempts at gaining ‘concessions’. The relationship that the UK currently has with the EU is not the one I want… but it’s better than the prospect of leaving. As Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party has recently much more eloquently put it:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider our current political context. In Scotland, and in the UK, a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from and sits with a right wing leave case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we must make Britain great again. That sends shivers down my spine.

It means going back to the days of the Raj, and a colonial project in Africa that was profoundly racist. And in the 100th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, which had everything to do with challenging imperial and anti-democratic monarchical power, we need to reclaim some of the collective solidarity of that century-old republican movement.

The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. However much we might wish it not to be the case, siding with these people means siding with those who do not not believe that the world has changed since the 19th century. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa, that horrifies me.

On another note…

And

For me, the EU is about so much more than money. Money comes and goes, and in our post-Empire, G7, G8, G20, G-etc. privileged position, we really don’t need to worry about it. Whatever happens, the financial wizards will magic up some other money, or find someone else to exploit for it. But the EU holds us to account. We put in money – much less than we should, of course – and it comes back with progressive conditions. Protecting the environment. Protecting workers’ rights. Regenerating areas that badly need it. And so on. But even more than that, the EU is an international exercise in co-operation, flying in the face of current ideologies of ‘protecting one’s own’.

This altruism, as I see it, should extend to migrants – whether from the EU or not. And rather than picking on those who have left their homes to come to the UK to work, perhaps we should be blaming those in power – politicians, employers etc. – for the lack of jobs, the poor state of the economy, growing inequality, stresses on our welfare system etc. I’ve written before about the need to defend the ‘wrong-type of immigrant‘, so I shan’t retread things here. But, another point to make is that

Finally, I think the EU is great for Green causes…

Maggie makes the Green argument much better than I could in her post.

I’m not naive. Much as I know things might not have worked out for the better if Scotland left the UK, so too I know that remaining in the EU doesn’t automatically make things better. But the EU holds the UK to account. It holds the Tories to account. It holds London to account. It allows progressive legislation to be pushed through and then rhetorically blamed on an outside force – “Oh, we’d totally lift fishing quotas, but it’s that EU making us do it” etc.

Don’t leave the UK at the mercy of the Tories, UKIP and their ilk. Don’t turn immigrants into the bad guys. Please… if you have a vote in this referendum… vote for the UK to remain in the EU.

An update on my attempt at online accountability: Falling at the first hurdle

Hi folks,

Time another update. I fell at the first hurdle of may amazing timetable to full thesis draft. I didn’t get my data analysis completed by 2 June. That is no great surprise given that I was in Northern Ireland visiting family and attending a conference for a full week in the middle of that period, and given the fact that analyzing data is incredibly monotonous. But a there a few positives to come out of this… first of all, my supervisor is awesome and completely understood the situation, particularly given the other projects I have been boxing off of late. We were able to revise my schedule and things should hopefully stay on track. Secondly, my workrate has been improving day by day as I get into the groove of working like a normal human being… this has been greatly helped by listening to the back catalogue of Kiss on Spotify… God most definitely gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to me!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1yvQV7J47o]

So, here is my revised schedule as it currently stands… additions in bold, changes scored through. You’ll notice that I have been accepted to attend an intensive 3 day writing workshop at Lancaster which will help me enormously in getting these chapters off the ground.

  • 2 June 2015: Complete Data Analysis. (4 June Supervision). MISSED DEADLINE… but Kim and I had a very useful discussion.
  • 15 June 2015: Additional Meeting to Discuss Data Analysis.
  • 24 June 2015: Draft Chapter 5. Written descriptions of key discourses, plan Chapters 5 and 6 (26 June Supervision).
  • 1–3 July 2015: Lancaster University Writing Retreat .
  • 13 July 2015: Draft Chapter 6. Drafts of Chapters 5 and 6 (15 July Supervision).
  • 5 August 2015: Re-worked Chapters 5 and 6. Structures for 2 IAHR papers (and potentially BASR paper). (7 August Supervision).
  • 23 August 2015: Completed IAHR Papers. (Supervision/Meeting during conference in Erfurt, 23-29 August).
  • 23 September 2015: Draft Chapter 7. (25 September Supervision).

And, in case any of you are interested in my bizarre motivational tools… here is how my data analysis chart is currently looking…

IMG_20150612_225224

I’m not even going to attempt to explain it, but once both of those pages are coloured in, I am DONE!

Finally, I’ve also been rehearsing for what is shaping up to be an excellent concert of very challenging music. Saturday 20 June 2015, Old Saint Paul’s, Edinburgh… do come along if you can:

Summer2015.2

My writing schedule – an exercise in online accountability

Hi folks,

As ever, it’s been too long. Today I finally submitted an overdue chapter for (fingers crossed) publication in a book resulting from the workshop I attended in Frankfurt last November on “religious indifference”. The chapter is titled “A Discursive Approach to ‘Religious Indifference’: Critical Reflections from Edinburgh’s Southside.” I’ll update you as and when I have more news.

In other academic news, it looks like David and I will be formally submitting the manuscript for our edited volume After World Religions to Routledge in the next few days. Just a few niggly points on a marketing questionnaire to go. Again, more information when I have it.

I’ll save “non-academic” life updates for another post… the main purpose of this post is to publish my writing schedule for the coming months. This has resulted from me getting through my third (and hopefully final) annual review at Lancaster University, and I am posting it a) to let you all have a flavour of what it is that I am doing, and b) perhaps most importantly to provide some form of accountability. My reasoning is that if I publish this in some form, and keep posting occasional writing updates, there will be more pressure on me to actually meet my targets – even if no one reads the posts. Keep reading over the next few months to see how things are going… For now, here is my thesis title, chapter headings, and list of deadlines. I currently have completed drafts of chapters 2, 3 and 4.


Non-Religion, Non-Religions, Non-Religious: Discourses on (Non-)Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside

  1. Introduction
  2. Building a Theoretical Case for the Discursive Study of Non-Religion
  3. There is Method to this Madness: Edinburgh’s Southside as Container for Religion-Related Discourse
  4. Religion-Related Discourses in the Peoples of Edinburgh Project (PEP)
  5. Religion-Related Discourses in Edinburgh’s Southside: 2014 (and 2011)
  6. (Non-)Religious Discourses of Moderation, Tolerance, and Indifference
  7. Non-Religion, Discourse, and Locality: Methodological Gains and (Theoretical) Conclusions
  8. Conclusion

Deadlines

  • 2 June 2015: Complete Data Analysis. (4 June Supervision).
  • 24 June 2015: Draft Chapter 5. (26 June Supervision).
  • 13 July 2015: Draft Chapter 6. (15 July Supervision).
  •  5 August 2015: Re-worked Chapters 5 and 6. Structures for 2 IAHR papers (and potentially BASR paper). (7 August Supervision).
  • 23 August 2015: Completed IAHR Papers. (Supervision/Meeting during conference in Erfurt, 23-29 August).
  • 23 September 2015: Draft Chapter 7. (25 September Supervision).

Defending the ‘wrong type of immigrant’, and looking to the future…

Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.

What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.

First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.

The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:

We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.

In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.

Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.

Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.

Some video evidence of me singing

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege and pleasure of singing the part of “Nanki Poo” in a concert performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”.

A video of the Act 1 Finale has emerged as if by magic… and I post it below for you to do with as you please.

(Hint: I’m the bald one…)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLwzb7EFZD8&t=802]

A Brief (Life) Update: Discourses on (Non-)Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside

I was recently asked to submit a short, interdisciplinary research brief for an event that I am attending on Urban Super-Diversity next month. In the interests of updating you all on what I am up to – particularly given that this blog has not been updated in a horrendously long time – I have posted this information below as an image. You can also download it as a PDF.

I hope to get back to blogging more regularly at some point in the future…

Taking a leaf out of my pal David’s blogging book, I guess I should update you all on what’s been happening.

Academically, among other things…

In my ‘real life’…

Ciao for now.

A-Cad Cotter

Discourse Analysis and the Study of Atheism: Definitions, Discourse, and Ethnographic Criticism

What he said…

Nonreligion and Secularity

In this post Ethan Quillen explores a discursive approach to atheism (and nonreligion) following the theoretical work of von Stuckrad (2003). Quillen suggests that researchers in this area move away from definitions and wrangling over the the meaning of words, and concentrate instead on the way in which these words are used; how these words are made meaningful and allowing research participants to ‘speak for themselves’. Here, Quillen proposes that this discursive approach has methodological implications for research in this field. 

Ethan

While admittedly my initial intentions for this post were a bit more malicious—repeating my old standard of arguing against the use of ‘nonreligion’ [1] —I soon felt that to be a bit tedious and wasteful. That is, where in the past I have spent a good amount of time offering a critical perspective on the use of the term, such as was the content of my presentation at the NSRN conference in 2012, for this post…

View original post 1,985 more words

Why “culture” presents scholars with no less difficulty than “religion”

While preparing a paper for a conference next month, I have been revisiting one of my supervisor’s books. Within, I found I had highlighted a great articulation of the problem I feel with some scholars who seem to advocate throwing away the term “religion” due to its ideological baggage, whilst wishing to retain other concepts and remaining seemingly blind to their ideological baggage. I have pasted below… but haven’t included the various footnotes…

“Whilst I appreciate Fitzgerald’s analysis, I draw the same conclusion as Carrette who concludes that ‘the idea of religion needs to be challenged… but it does not necessarily have to be eradicated’. Its eradication from the disciplinary agenda might very well mask ideological forces – liberal theological – of the kind that Fitzgerald is keen to identify, as well as those inherent within the secularist discourse of cultural studies. It would certainly remove a powerful – if contested – conceptual tool from the scholarly workshop. The proposed construct ‘culture’ is itself ideological charged and presents us with no less difficulty than ‘religion’ for an examination of Western spaces. Carrette calls for the strategic operation of ‘religion’ rather than its dissolution, on the grounds that the Western conception of religion provides ‘a location for understanding a regime of knowledge-power’. This brings me directly to my preferred perspective, one that elects to focus explicitly on the tension between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’, a major ‘binary constitutive of modernity’.”

Knott, Kim. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. London and Oakville CT: Equinox, 2005. p. 83.

Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence

A few days ago I was asked to answer three questions by the Bogata Post – my cousin works there – regarding my stance as a “Yes” voter in the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence. The piece hasn’t appeared yet, but I thought I might as well post what I wrote just to some of my views into the mix. Here it is…

twibbonI’ve been trying to put all of this in some form of elegant prose for quite a bit of the evening, but I figure I had better just get on with saying my piece in as concise a manner as possible, and leave the rest for you to judge. Before I answer the three questions, I feel that I should first state that I am not Scottish, but was born in Northern Ireland and have lived in Scotland for 10 years. This background makes me naturally quite jumpy when the issue of nationalism comes up – whether we are talking about Irish Nationalism, UK Nationalism or Scottish Nationalism. I deplore politics that is based upon “helping our own first”, or “defending what my grandparents fought for” and other such tropes. It took A LOT for me to come round to the idea of Scottish Independence. With this in mind, I’ll now quickly turn to the three questions posed.

  1. Why are you pro-independence?

I am voting for Indpendence because I see this as an amazing opportunity to effect change that could be immensely positive for every person living in the British Isles, and to a lesser extent those beyond this small group of islands.

Recently I bought into the #YesBecause hashtag on Twitter and posted two tweets which pretty much sum up my attitude:

“I’m #YesBecause UK politics is broken, and Independence provides the only real opportunity for actual change for everyone on these islands.”

“I’m #YesBecause both Scotland & rUK need to leave Empire behind once and for all and look to a peaceful, sustainable future of co-operation.”

To expand further on these soundbites, the future that I want for Scotland and the rest of the British Isles is one where we no longer try to play at the ‘big boys table’, where we have the courage to leave nuclear weapons behind us, where we prioritise welfare and helping those most in need, where we open our borders to those in need across the world and where we are willing to accept a much less comfortable standard of living in order to make real change for the better for everyone on the planet. The future I want is one where we care for the environment, promote equality across society, and participate fully in wonderful boundary-breaking and peace-building institutions such as the EU, rather than consistently and beligerently sitting on the sidelines refusing to compromise or change.

I am under no illusions that Independence will bring the idealistic future that I want overnight, or at all… but I do know that if Scotland votes for Independence from the United Kingdom it will force the United Kingdom to re-assess its identity, values and priorities, and provide the people of Scotland with an unprecendented opportunity to start the democratic experiment afresh in the twenty-first century, with the benefit of hundreds of years of hindsight. It might fail… but if we don’t take the opportunity we will never know. I know that this idealistic vision invites the response “yes, but how can you effect all this change if the country has no money?” And to that I would simply say a) money isn’t everything b) money hasn’t exactly helped the UK, as far as my priorities are concerned.

  1. What has the atmosphere been like in the run-up to the vote- any tensions between the two sides etc?

This answer will be much shorter, I promise. In terms of the political ‘debate’ – if we can call it that – the atmosphere has been particularly ghastly. Both sides simply shout at each other. Both demand factual answers to questions that cannot be answered in a situation where neither side will admit that a) their position might not win b) they might have to negotiate with the other ‘side’ even if they do win. The Facebook pages of both campaigns are some of the worst cesspools of the internet, attracting the kind of abusive comments that one would expect… on most websites, to be honest.

In terms of the way things have been portrayed in the media, I am utterly frustrated by this. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE ECONOMY, FOLKS. In particular, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT “THE CURRENCY QUESTION”. As far as I am concerned, and as far as most folk that I speak to on both sides of the debate seem to be concerned, the currency issue is far down on our list of concerns… yet the media has decided that this is what the debate hangs upon, and thus reports everything within that light. It also doesn’t help that the UK media is part of the UK status quo, and like any businesses which have UK-wide markets, they understandably want to avoid unpredictability and maintain things the way they are. Understandable, perhaps… but not great for unbiased reporting.

In terms of things on the ground, apart from a few clear exceptions I would say that the ‘debate’ has been pretty good-natured… except that in my opinion no one is really going to change their views. Everyone has differing priorities, and thus we all tend to talk past each other. I have, of course, seen/heard plenty of friends make comments that they are fed up of the debate, or that they feel that the debate is ugly, causing division and forcing them to choose sides etc. To that I can only say that I imagine people would feel the same way if ‘we’ got so worked up about ‘normal’ elections. I think there is a tendency on these islands to not like being confronted with ‘opinions’, or being seen to hold ‘opinions’… and perhaps this is a problem that we will need to address come the UK General Election in 2015.

  1. What do you honestly think the outcome will be?

Honestly, I think that the vote will be a “No”. I think that people are far more likely to “bottle it” than to say “oh, what the hell” when they make it to the polling booth. And I think that most people will vote “No” for potentially very understandable reasons… worries about their job, their family, their mortgage. All I will be able to say in that case is that I voted for what I thought was right, that I tried for once in my life to not be as selfish as I normally am, and that I will try to keep this level of political engagement going forward into the coming decades and try my hardest to effect the sorts of changes I would like to see occurring in Scotland, the British Isles, Europe and beyond. But I also think that the vote will be close… and that whatever happens, there will be a high enough percentage of votes for “Yes” to cause some serious questioning and reflection for politicians going forward. And maybe… maybe… I will be pleasantly surprised.

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