I was born in Brasil to a Brasilian mother and American father. When I was 5 and my sister was in utero, we moved to the US so my dad could take care of his ailing mother. Circumstances made what was supposed to be a temporary stay into a permanent one, so as we couldn’t move back to Brasil, my dad would send my mum, sister and me down there almost every summer for 3 whole months. Having only 2 weeks holiday every year, he could never join us. I missed my dad of course, but I was surrounded by my big, noisy family, loving grandparents, cousins my own age, a culture I loved, so I wasn’t as troubled as they must have been.
Growing up so internationally meant I was not as immersed in the blind patriotism of the American midwest, and even at my most patriotic, I still saw the flaws of the US, particularly the cultural imperialism that was simultaneously adopted and resented. By the time I was halfway through uni and had made my first trip to Europe, I knew I had to get away. I came to Scotland for a summer research project at St. Andrews, and I loved it so much I decided to come back for my PhD.
Four and a half years later I got that PhD and switched from a student visa to a highly skilled migrant visa. About a year later I switched again to an unmarried partner visa, as I had been living with my Scottish boyfriend for over 2 years by that point. I got my indefinite leave to remain in 2011 and applied for citizenship after our wedding. I officially became a citizen on Leap Day, 2012, after more than 8 years and several thousand pounds in visa fees. The next day I sent off my voter registration, and soon after, I joined the SNP.
For you see, in the 9 years I’ve been here, I changed my mind about a few things. I was your typical Britophile back in the day. I loved tea, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and ‘Jane Eyre’. My favourite living authors were the very British Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett. I thought ‘Coupling’ was better than ‘Friends’, and my boyfriend knew that as much as I loved him, Colin Firth was top of my list. I thought ‘The Dambusters’ was the best war film ever. I thought Westminster was a fine political institution, especially compared to the US Congress. And I thought Scotland was probably better off as part of the UK in the same way that Ohio was better off within the US.
Most of these things are still true. I still love tea, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Colin Firth, etc. I walked down the aisle to ‘The Dambusters March’. However, I am no longer a believer either in the quality of the Westminster government or of the benefits of the Union for Scotland. My reasons for this are many and complex, but I will try to give a brief summary of some of the main points.
* I am a firm believer in small countries. The complexity of modern societies is leading to diminishing returns, and I think the best way to counteract that is to have countries that are smaller but cooperate more fully with each other on the global scale. Smaller populations can have more representative governments that are more in touch with the people they represent, and resources can be more effectively utilised. The perfect examples of this are the Nordic countries, which have populations of 5-10 million people, moderate levels of natural resources, and some of the most equal and least corrupt societies in the world; they also cooperate with each other extensively and have shared institutions. This is the sort of model I would like to see for the British Isles.
* Westminster has shown itself to be corrupt and beholden to a very select few in the upper echelons of the financial world. This is true of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Expenses scandal, Iraq war, financial deregulation, bailed out banks being allowed to give out millions of pounds in bonuses for failure, cruel benefits legislation, terrible immigration legislation, inappropriate media relationships, tuition fees, NHS privitisation… the list goes on and on. This is not the government I want representing me.
* If the Union has been so great for Scotland, why does it have the lowest life expectancy and highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe? Why are the industries decimated? Why is there so much child poverty? How can a country with so much wealth in the form of natural resources seem to have such difficulty coping with these problems? And why have these things only started improving AFTER devolution, and particularly after the SNP, a party answering not to anyone in London but only to Scotland, came into power?
* By definition in Westminster, Scotland cannot have an equal voice. Some might say this is fair, because it is so much smaller in population than England, but being constantly run by an unrepresentative government is a sure source of resentment. The framers of the US constitution recognised the danger in such inequality, and created a bicameral legislature with one house representative of population and the other giving equal representation to each state. I’m not normally one to praise the US method of doing anything, but this basic idea is at least fair. Westminster’s second house is one of privilege and cronyism that does nothing to redress the balance of the UK’s smaller countries being at the mercy of England’s electorate, regardless of how different their views might be.
* The West Lothian question. Of course it is a problem that matters affecting only England and Wales can be voted on by MPs representing Scottish constituencies. This shows that the Union as it stands is also not always fair to the rest of the UK, and not just Scotland.
* I want a society that is left-of-centre, socially liberal, equal, honest, with a strong emphasis on social justice and social welfare, that values education, intellectual endeavour, science, the arts, and people, takes care of its most vulnerable, and interacts with the rest of the world with respect. I do not believe Westminster is capable of delivering this society, but Scotland is much better placed to do so on its own.
That is why I will be voting ‘Yes’ in 2014, and I hope all my fellow Scots will join me.