The View From the Ground in Aberdeen
It could be any other lazy, late summer afternoon today in Aberdeen. Sunlight is attempting to squeeze its way through the clouds, seagulls are circling in droves, and ship horns are belching at the city’s bulging harbour. Right on cue, the haar has begun to roll in off the North Sea, making the crowd of the oil industry’s supply ships anchored off the coast look spectacularly ghostly.
But there’s something peculiar in the air today. The view from my window looks out on to one of Aberdeen’s relics from the not-so-distant past – a magnificent 1950s council tower block, that’s today dotted with saltires and simple one-worded banners. I kid you not, I can also hear the sound of someone playing Flower of Scotland on the bagpipes somewhere down the street. Today the atmosphere in Aberdeen, and indeed all over Scotland, is a mash of anxious-electric-hope as we all sit on the very edge of history.
I’m roughly 17,800 kilometers from my hometown of Rotorua, New Zealand. Sitting here today in the North East of Scotland, I somehow have landed myself right at the crossroads of what is one of the most important moments in this country’s already exceptional history. And thanks to my London-born father I’m one of those lucky buggers with dual-citizenship, which alongside my Scottish address gives me the right to vote in Thursday’s Independence Referendum.
New Zealand’s path to independence from the UK is, I’m rather embarrassed to admit, one of national confusion. We don’t even have an Independence Day, because no one can agree on when it actually happened. However we’re still part of the Commonwealth – which to me means that a well-to-do woman from London graces us with her presence on our coins and banknotes.
Our independence came about after well over 150 years worth of baby steps, beginning with the signing of the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ in 1840. The Treaty is a hotly contested topic at home to this day, and depending on who you speak to, it’s either the official date that we became a Crown Colony of Britain, or, when Maori chiefs gained sovereignty over the Crown. See why we’re so confused?
Over the next century, following our own war, then two world wars, our relationship with Old Blighty eroded as we slowly found our own feet in the world. We established and gained more and more degrees of self-rule, until finally, one day in 1986 the last remaining shreds of apron strings that stretched to the other side of the globe were cut. We developed our own constitution, removing the residual power of the UK to legislate.
A few weeks before I moved to Scotland almost two years ago, I watched from the other corner of the globe as Mr Cameron and Mr Salmond signed the Edinburgh Agreement. I remember thinking that Cameron seemed a little too calm in his post-signatory interview, and wondered why the prospect of the break-up of perhaps the mightiest Union in history didn’t seem to bother him. I thought perhaps the campaign for independence was too small and wasn’t perceived as a serious matter by Downing Street.
It’s now two years later, and let me tell you that this matter is so very far from small. Never mind what the people in suits have said – whichever side of the campaign ordinary folk are on, the sheer engagement and engrossment by every man, woman and child in the future of this land has been unprecedented. It’s been a truly electrifying and galvanising experience that I will cherish with all my heart for the rest of my days.
And so here I sit in my adopted home, right in the thick of it, poised and ready with poll card in hand.
I look around me at the gigantic gap between the rich and the poor in this city and wonder how the outcome on Thursday will affect the people who are visibly struggling to make ends meet. I look at the single mother and her daughter who walk past my door on the way to school each morning and wonder if my vote will affect that girl’s education prospects. And the wee old man who gives me a wave from his window every afternoon on my way home from work, how will this affect his pension scraps?
On Thursday morning I will place a tick beside the box marked Yes. Because I believe that there is a real genuine hunger in this country for something better. And I believe that the alternative is something that we will all be better off without. How incredibly fortunate we all are, that we have the right to choose.
As we say in my home – Kia kaha, Scotland. It means stay strong. If little old New Zealand can do it, then you sure as hell can too. Grab your independence by the baws and aim for the stars.Tagged