An Air of Optimism?

I posted an article earlier on the BBC’s IndyRef Debate that took place last night, but it was mostly a synopsis of the debate itself. The debate, whilst interesting, was long and complex and I felt it needed a bit of a post of its own; but what I am most interested in is something entirely different. I’m interested in the reaction it got and in the discussions and thoughts that came about as a result of it.

I’ve complained in the past about what is seemingly a decline in student interest in politics, with more and more students refusing to debate politics in case they offend anyone. With the referendum debate coming along, I’d have thought things would pick up a little bit, but still there seemed to be very little interest in general. 

As you can imagine, then, I was quite nicely surprised when I hear that the SRC had organised a live screening of the BBC’s debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond in the Queen Margaret Union. I was also quite impressed by the turnout; as I arrived in the bar is was already buzzing with conversation. The SRC had even set up a table with voter registration forms, encouraging as many people to register and take part as possible.

As I said in my last post, the crowd was firmly with Alex Salmond. By the end of the whole thing, the “No” supporters, if there were any left, were being very quiet.

The reason for this, in my mind, was quite simple; Alex Salmond put across an argument of optimism. He didn’t talk at length of scare stories in the BT fashion, instead he spoke of great opportunities and the chance of a better future. “The No campaign have nothing positive…”

Salmond received cheers from both the studio audience and the audience of students in the bar all the way through, and the cheering and clapping only got louder as more and more people took to the idea of optimism over pessimism. In contrast, the support for Alistair Darling was intermittent and seemed quieter and more reluctant each time – his scare tactics may have been wearing a little thin with the audiences.

The end of the debate was met a return of the buzz of conversation, the press jumped in with their camera and began asking some of those present some questions. I caught one chap in a “Yes” badge saying something that many of us are thinking: “Currency, for me, is a non-issue.”

Okay, it’s maybe not a complete “non-issue”, however he raised an important point; no matter what happens, even if we end up having to use the pound unofficially (like the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Gibraltar, Ireland before the Euro… etc) we’d still have a currency, even if it’s just in the short term. What ever happens, it’s not like we’ll be left without a currency. And the idea that we should give up the biggest political decision in our history for such a comparatively small matter is ludicrous.

Alistair Darling said during the debate that “every country’s starting point is currency”, much to the dismay of those watching. The starting point for every country is surely democracy? I would have thought a Labour man would know this, but apparently not. And it was things like this that began to turn people off.

Salmond mentioned his contingency plans for a currency, but maintained that he was doing his job as First Minister to fight for what he believed to be the best option. Fight for second best, and you’ll get second best.

The final polls out of the debate said it all really, 71% of people said Salmond won the debate with only 29% thinking that Darling was the winner. And it was all down to the optimistic approach of the “Yes” side of things, because the atmosphere in the bar afterwards was not one of concern or fear, it was one of optimism.

I sincerely feel that this is what was being felt up and down the country after the debate finished, people in Scotland are beginning to grow weary of the scare tactics of the No campaign, they are growing to the idea of taking our own future into our own hands.

The message of hope over fear is one that is being embraced by more and more people, the idea that we should be ready to take that chance and control our own affairs. And if this air of optimism sticks about then we may just be able to take that chance.

And what of student politics then? More and more students, even those reluctant to talk politics are beginning to open up, ask questions and get involved in the discussions and more and more of them are responding to the positive messages of the Yes campaign.

Young people don’t want to be told “you can’t” and students certainly don’t want an environment, much like that of the UK, where they are less and less likely to have a good job at the end of their studies. Students are naturally optimists (we have to be, otherwise we’d go insane) and I think more and more of them are sympathising with the Yes side.

I do hope to see more and more students get involved in the last three weeks before the vote. Students are the future of our country in many ways, let’s hope they choose to become an optimistic future.


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