I was born in Dresden in the former East Germany and came to Scotland in 1993 to study at Glasgow University. What was initially intended to be a year abroad became eventually my home. After enjoying my student years I started working in the public sector to help to develop and distribute funding for colleges and universities in Scotland. I also still teach a little and have always been passionate about the value that further and higher education can bring to enrich our lives, to learn to think and to be able to see through the rhetoric and ideologies that are thrown at us wherever we go these days. That public good, higher education, is now seriously under threat in Scotland. England has already gone down the route of privatisation. In Scotland we still have a choice to maintain free further and higher education, as the cuts to public sector spending by Westminster will mean a much reduced funding envelope for Scotland in the future.
As much as I am an optimist about the future in general, as a father of three lovely little boys, I am also quite worried about their opportunities and the type of country and society that they will have to live in as they grow up. What do we leave them with and what is left for them? I am not just talking about public services here, or the ginormous national debt, but also about the environment, democracy and a place in this world.
As I am considering my choice in the referendum I also look at the past 21 years of living and working in Scotland. When I came here Scottish identity, if there was such a thing, was mostly based on blaming England for everything. The creation of our Parliament, albeit with limited powers, has begun the process of taking greater responsibility for our own affairs. Except for a few glimmers of hope, the UK, economically and socially, has been for many years on a downward path. Instead of greater integration with Europe, they want mid Atlantic separation and isolation. Instead of building democracy and social equality, the British state is unwilling to reform and pursues privatisation of our public goods instead. Communities are isolated and xenophobia is becoming tolerated, Instead of international cooperation and peaceful understanding, the British state still pursues an aggressive foreign policy and does little by way of bringing our influence to bear on protecting our environment from global disaster.
Most modern countries either had a revolution or, by losing a war, had to painfully rethink their place in the world, their social structures and had to rebuild their economies. Britain has managed to resist political reform and has done little to restructure its economy after the massive crash of 2008.
The amazing level of democratic engagement of people in Scotland on both sides of the debate has brought to the fore core values and fundamental issues in terms of the social fabric of Scotland and the UK and the democratic deficit that many of us feel if we continue to be part of the archaic halls of Westminster, which are not only far removed from ordinary people but also ridicule and disrespect the electorate. Of course whether Scotland as an independent country would succeed is not a given. But those who think that voting “No” would secure the status quo and prevent change from happening are also wrong. Brought to light by the referendum we have engaged, debated, reflected and challenged… Democracy for Scotland is the real winner here, no matter the result on 18 September. The world is already different because we are beginning to see through the rhetoric, the fake promises, and the scare mongering.
When, as a foreign national having seen the changes in Germany after 1989, I consider the argument for solidarity and being “better together” in the UK, I also wonder about all the things that the Union has failed to deliver over the past 50 years. You only need to look at other smaller nations across Europe to see how they thrive. An independent Scotland isn’t isolation from our friends and neighbours, it doesn’t mean we no longer care about poverty and social injustice in the Rest of the UK, but it gives us the important means and the democratic institutions to determine our own future. Of course, a lot of things aren’t clear yet and there are no doubt big challenges ahead. But the way to run a marathon and to be confident in finishing it isn’t to sit on your sofa, worry and ponder whether or not you will even make it half way. Just go, start running! You will learn all you need to know on your way, including how to get through “the wall” and how to feed yourself. Every step you take into the unknown will make you more confident and stronger. You will be a different and a better person afterward and no one can take this away from you…and your children will be proud of you…You can’t fail!