So this weekend Ukraine gets a referendum. Or does it? What exactly are they voting for? Is it independence? Is it democratic? Will it be a Russian version of the pregnant chads? Do we really need to keep asking what the outcome will be? I predict that Ukraine will be just a little bit less ‘independent’ come next week. Referenda have their dark side.
Remember the 1970’s. I know it’s hardly the same thing, but the 1979 Scottish Referendum holds nothing but bitter memories for me. Back in the 1970’s I believed in things. I believed in Independence and I believed Scotland would vote for it. Here’s what happened:
The Scotland Act 1978 made provision for a referendum on devolution. Although the March 1979 referendum found a majority of those voting in favour (1,230,937 - around 77,000 more than those against), it did not achieve the 40 per cent of the overall electorate threshold required for the result to stand. For me the sell out in that 1979 Referendum was the strings attached nature of the deal. The 40 per cent trap. It's something we should all watch out for... those hidden and not so hidden 'conditions' in life. The small print. The devil in the detail.
Now Scotland manages to turn out between 60 and 70% for a UK general election, so you may just say I'm a sore loser and I suppose we could expect people to get off their bums and turnout for an Independence Referendum … but then typical turnout in local council elections is historically around 40% (even less for European elections)
This sends me off to the land of research to find out more - watch this space - and to remind you that while I hope I'm not talking out of my a**ehole on this one, blogs do encourage what I'll call an 'arsehole opinion' style of writing - fast trigger reaction, not reflection, and I for one am trying to work out how to marry the problems of wanting to 'react' and 'respond' to the need for 'research and reflection' on a limited time budget.
For the meantime, back to my 'opinions' which are fairly closely linked to my 'belief system' (if such a thing hasn't become an outmoded fashion accessory!) One thing I do believe is that not many people in Scotland in 1979 (apart from the SNP) believed Scotland would gain ‘Independence’ and indeed it was a ‘Devolution’ referendum which is something of a different animal entirely. And most thought politics just lame and boring and pointless. So can I blame them for not turning out? Isn't this somewhere a 'small print' part of the political elite... keep the people ignorant and apathetic so that we can 'rule.' ? I would hope that the last 30 odd years have taught us a thing or two in that respect. Are there still enough people who believe ‘it’s Scotland’s Oil’ to make a difference? Are there enough who can see in David Cameron the child of Margaret Thatcher?
However, I am forced to conclude that in politics in general, maybe a lot of people don’t give a damn. We live in our pretty golden cages, whining about what's bad but not taking any responsibility to change it. What can we do? Not much, but we can get out there and VOTE when we get the chance. By not taking part you condemn others to lesser freedoms and that's just selfish, no? We need to remember that getting the chance to have your say is important and not getting Independence because lazy people couldn’t be bothered to vote (twice) is a seriously annoying prospect for me at least.
Herein lies a message to those Ukrainians who are not planning to vote in what they believe to be a ‘rigged’ Referendum on Sunday. JUST VOTE. You may not win but your conscience will be clear.
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to be defeatist. It’s easy to believe (it’s probably true) that what we do matters not a jot, it’s all being decided at a far higher level. I’d just observe that Ukraine held a referendum in 1991 calling for Independence and 84.18% of registered voters participated in the referendum, of which and 90.32% of them answered "Yes". I have to admit I’ve not kept up with things in Ukraine since, I didn’t ever really get my head round the Orange Revolution and can’t work out which side is which most of the time due to my pathetic inability to read names to the end if they have ‘ski’ or ‘chev’ or whatever… typical decadent western laziness which I should address! but it shows that people CAN turn out when it's important and I would urge them to do so again, Let's hope they haven't caught the apathy disease off us as part of their burgeoning Western value system!
So... now another ‘Referendum’ for Ukraine. Or to be more specific for the Crimea. As far as I can work out it’s not really about Independence, even if we could be kind and say it’s about ‘self determination.’ But it doesn’t sit well with me even given my limited knowledge. It feels a bit like an ‘anti’ Independence Referendum and I wonder what the impact will be. It’s a murky game politics, domestic and international. And we shouldn’t just sit back and think it’s nothing to do with us.
Because if nothing else, I think the current Ukrainian situation suggests that bad things can happen when Independence is squashed. And when people give up hope or give up caring or give up believing.
And while I don’t think my comments particularly important or informed, earlier I found myself thinking: What would Tony Benn have said?
Because today, although I have to say it’s not been ‘splashed’ anywhere I’ve been looking, more a comment I thought I half overheard on the radio and then a wee side header on the internet (maybe I am just surfing/listening in all the wrong places) I discovered that Tony Benn has died. I don’t often get ‘moved’ by important/famous/celebrity deaths – but with the passing of Nelson Mandela and now Tony Benn I can’t help but feel the world is shifting just ever so much more towards ‘the dark side.’ Nelson and Tony were (to my mind) not celebrities, not even really ‘famous’ people though both certainly influential, but (to me at least) they represent something of what I increasingly feel is an ‘old style’ view of the world. A world where content was king. Where backing up what you said by who you were – a personal morality behind the marketing – was important. So I for one am sorry that Tony Benn has died. And will take some time to reflect on his legacy.
And I suspect I’ll be sorry about the result of the Ukrainian Referendum, I accept that my ignorance on this is far greater than perhaps it should be and that I'm succumbing to the ‘arsehole opinion’* version of viewing our world in even posting today. But then probably no one is reading anyway, so it doesn't really matter (question: how much DOES it really matter what we say in blogs?)
On that happy note I’ll leave you to work out your own opinions on the passing of a great statesman and the world becoming just that little bit less independent for a whole load of people – and find your own message in that.
For me, it’s all just a bit more grist to the research mill on my own Long Road to Independence.
(* if you've still not understood that it's: we all have one but perhaps we’d best not put it out there on display.)