Shaun Milne: Indyref changed my life but after the last year I'm losing hope

On the anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum Shaun Milne says that while indyref helped tranform his life, a year down the line he questions whether change will ever come

I WASN'T going to write this. There's enough navel gazing, remembrance and 'wisdom' being spouted as the cultural commentators - both professional and amateur - look back upon the indyref campaign, that I felt making any of you suffer through my thoughts would be superfluous and downright wanky (which is what this has ended up as anyway).

Another voice echoing the brave sentiments of yet another glorious Scottish defeat. How utterly fucking tragic is that?

Yet, as my brain fixes itself and I actually look at a calendar and realise Friday is the 18th, not Saturday (hey, I'm not the brightest bulb), all those indyref thoughts and feelings come flooding back like the start of the rainy season.

The hope was almost tangible: it was riding the air, a carnival of democracy in the brightest, happiest, most colourful sense. Scotland stood on the brink of making history.

A year ago, on Wednesday the 17th of September, I stood in George Square celebrating the eve of the referendum vote with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other Scots.

The indyref was a long campaign and looking back at what the Yes side from the grassroots to the dozens of offshoot groups achieved, well, that is worth celebrating.

It was worth standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people who you'd never met, to sing and dance and laugh. To share stories of debates and meetings and canvasses. To listen as people told you their stories of how they arrived at their decision and how so much of what they said echoed your own experience.

I stood in that square - after giving an interview to a couple of journalism students who were up from London covering the indyref - and I was filled with hope. I was fit to burst. I listened as rapper Loki took to the stage and spoke with such passion, such clarity of thought, such fucking inspiration, that I truly believed Scotland would vote Yes.

The hope was almost tangible: it was riding the air, a carnival of democracy in the brightest, happiest, most colourful sense. Scotland stood on the brink of making history.

After soaking up the atmosphere, taking loads of pictures, me and my younger brother headed home, grinning from ear to ear. Our treacherous journey back to the sticks of South Lanarkshire was filled with passing saltire-clad groups of singing, dancing, happy people, Yes badges galore.

I believed we could do this. I couldn't see it going any other way. Upon returning to the back-end of nowhere, my family and I celebrated the eve of the referendum with drinks and dancing and singing.

We laughed and cried, and listened to Scottish songs from the Corries, Runrig and the Proclaimers to Franz Ferdinand. We stood in the garden, huddled in a circle and we drunkenly belted out Caledonia for all the world to hear. That's a good memory.

"I don't know if you can see, the changes that have come over me."

I was a different person that night compared to just a few short years ago. I'd crawled from the dark cold embrace of political apathy and disinterest to becoming a fully-engaged political anorak like so many others.

I was a different person that night compared to just a few short years ago. I'd crawled from the dark cold embrace of political apathy and disinterest to becoming a fully-engaged political anorak like so many others.

I believed, for the first time in my adult life, that politics mattered, that people mattered, that there was more to the world, to Britain, than the cold calculating clutches of profiteering corporations and self-interested bastards that paraded themselves as politicians.

I thought, maybe naively, that Scotland could change the world. We could be the beacon of hope, the sign to the rest of the British isles and further afield that this shite way of life wasn't how it had to be.

This wasn't flag waving, 'narrow-nationalism' on my part. I was a long sufferer of the Scottish cringe so my turn to Yes was based on a better life, a better society for everyone who lived here, regardless of where the hell they came from.

I stayed up until about 5am on the morning of the 19th. Seeing the way the results were coming in, I got that cold feeling in my stomach - Scotland had fucked it, utterly.

I slithered off to bed, miserable, crushed, eyes welling up. I woke up the next day to my mother at my door, downtrodden, and we hugged. The dream was over. All that hope, all that belief had just been snuffed out.

It felt like how I imagine getting your soul sucked out by a Dementor must've felt in Harry Potter. Every piece of happiness, every good thought and feeling just fled. I was a husk. The dream was deid.

Now, a year on, and not much has changed. Most of the apocalyptic predictions that we were told would come to pass with a Yes vote came to pass anyway. As time wore on, the Better Together campaign was revealed for the shite-peddling, horse-manure shovelling con artists they were.

I woke up the next day to my mother at my door, downtrodden, and we hugged. The dream was over. All that hope, all that belief had just been snuffed out.

But it didn't matter. Scotland voted No. That's all the powers-that-be really wanted in the end. Everything else, all the promises made by unionist politicians (and that's not including the waffly pish of the Vow) were as substantial as a fart in the wind.

I've had an incredibly, incredibly shite year since the referendum. Long-term relationships ending. Long bouts of unemployment. Utterly miserable months of severe depression, family illness and, sadly, a rather crushing family death.

I look back at the past year and it has felt like nothing more than a never-ending bad dream. There may be glimmers of hope, like the way in which Yes folk picked themselves back up on 19 September and carried on fighting.

Or the SNP's tsunami of a General Election result. The rise of the Scottish alternative/new/not-mainstream/different/non-specifically-titled media, such as Commonspace, has also been a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak year.

Yet it just seems as if everything and nothing has changed. The SNP has taken the place of Scottish Labour and that has brought with it attacks and criticism from the left.

'They're not real socialists!' and all that stuff, which is fair enough. Politics returns to normal. Party allegiances take precedence, yet for non-party people such as myself, it just bores. The pettiness, the snark, the point scoring.

For all they claim to be better than the SNP, the SSP and Greens are capable of the same shite they often criticise SNP supporters for.

"Oh, but it's not tribalism if it's coming from MY progressive party."

It just wears on me, as much as the SNP fundamentalist zoomers crowing on and on about UDI! UDI! UDI!

It just seems as if everything and nothing has changed. The SNP has taken the place of Scottish Labour and that has brought with it attacks and criticism from the left.

And the thing is, those who were engaged by Yes during the indyref remain, for the most part, engaged. That's where the SNP victory comes from, that's where the rise in pro-indy party membership comes from.

And that's great, but the rest of Scotland? Well, minus a few switherers it seems that the 55 per cent who voted No aren't really all that fussed about the Tory policies that'll destroy the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.

They don't seem fussed by the erosion of workers' rights or the explosion in foodbank use - which will only get worse as the Tory policies start to really bite.

It makes me think that we're not the progressive country most of us on the left like to think we are. I'm reminded of all the hope I felt last year, all the belief in a fairer Scotland, and that maybe people don't connect with that ideology as much as I'd like them too.

Maybe some buy into the narrative that those on benefits are scroungers, that self-interest trumps all, that Scotland is just too poor and stupid to stand on its feet.

"We may have foodbanks, a Tory majority and billions of cuts to come but hey! At least we didn't go for full separation!"

While this may be a rather despondent reflection compared to others, it's simply how I feel one year on from the vote. The memories of the campaign I have are fantastic. I grew as a person. I became a better person because of it, putting aside a lot of selfishness and cynicism and opening my eyes to the plight of the poorest in this country.

I became confident enough in myself to not be afraid to share my thoughts, to submit articles, to put political comment and satire out there for people to judge.

As someone who had the confidence of a hermit snail, that stuff is huge. I learned to hold my own debating adults who apparently 'knew better'. I learned to look behind the curtain of the 'bloody MSM!' and seek out information for myself. I matured in that carnival of democracy and I was filled with belief.

It's like a spell has been broken. The glow has shattered into a million pieces and while we pick ourselves up trying to piece it together, it's a huge task and we've worn ourselves out so much already.

One year on, those memories are still there, but I feel like I've regressed, like I've lost something of myself over the past year. The confidence took a knock, the belief is now nothing but embers - still there but there's not enough warmth to offer comfort.

It's like a spell has been broken. The glow has shattered into a million pieces and while we pick ourselves up trying to piece it together, it's a huge task and we've worn ourselves out so much already.

The indyref vote occurred just after I had graduated from university and so I was under two different exciting visions for the future, personal and political. In their own way, both sets of dreams I had have been crushed. This past year has worn down my belief.

It's like having the light and brightness of the world at your feet suddenly shrink to a tiny window in a dark cell. Hope disappears and despite the voice in the back of your head that whispers 'things will get better', you don't believe it.

The doubt creeps in from the corners of your mind, step by step, until it seems to be the only thing left. I look around and no longer recognise this country I call home. It feels alien in parts, changed in some small way that unnerves me like it didn't before. It saddens me that I don't see a future here.

I'm one of those wanky creative types and I've got ideas spilling out my ears. Ideas set here, in Scotland. Epic stories told here, about us. Yet as I look at the avenues to our creative industries in this country (with few exceptions) I see the cringe's stranglehold.

We still don't have that cultural confidence. We're still feart. Still bowing on our knees. And as much as it pains me to say this, I can't see it improving any time soon. And I fear, like many Scots before me, I'll have to emigrate because the opportunities just aren't here. We still don't believe in ourselves.

I fear, like many Scots before me, I'll have to emigrate because the opportunities just aren't here. We still don't believe in ourselves.

For all our successes in the referendum, for all our progress since, I just don't think it's enough. Not yet, maybe not ever. It's not enough to cling to the dream of indy at some point in the future as if it'll magically cure our ills.

I'd vote Yes tomorrow or 10 years from now, there's no doubt to that. But that doesn't change the here and now.

Hell, who knows? Maybe the anniversary is just getting to me. It's oh so difficult not to feel bitterness.

Bloody No voters*.

*Yes I know we're not supposed to say that.

Picture: CommonSpace