About six months ago I came to a decision about Scottish Independence.
It seemed completely natural that, as my reading on the subject intensified and I grew more and more interested in the Yes Campaign and their work, that I would want to show my support in some way. So I made a small donation, and received a light green ‘Yes’ badge in return.
The lettering on the badge is very close together, so that the characters are nearly touching. It’s still clearly readable as the word ‘yes’ but with the joined letters it almost becomes one shape. You begin to see – as artists are trained to do – the space around the lines. This gives it an abstract sort of quality. It’s memorable. And instantly recognisable. It’s excellent marketing.
But what exactly are you marketing with just a word? How can three tiny letters sum up years’ worth of research, campaigning… arguing; every countless variable or issue that would face a brand new country. Surely then, the wearer has to come into the picture. When I wear that badge I become a walking billboard for the Yes Campaign. And what sort of image exactly am I presenting, of your typical Nationalist?
When I started pinning it to my jacket people began treating me differently. This seems obvious in hindsight, admittedly, but it was still a slight surprise to me. So my political statement became something more of an experiment.
There were a couple of notable incidents during the three weeks in which I wore it. The more aggressive of these tended to happen in pubs. I was dragged into drunken discussions – without ever consenting – about the Euro or Salmond’s Wimbledon Saltire.
I was called the ‘c’ word once, but I may have skipped that guy in the queue for the bar. I was called a ‘racist ‘c’ word’ by a Rangers fan (the irony) on Paisley Road, as he hung perilously out an Astra window, so moved was he by the tiny green circle on my chest. (I can’t be racist to the English. I am English.)
Disappointingly, though, that was the subtotal of reactions to my new found political convictions. Honestly, I thought I would cause more of a stir.
What’s the point of me wearing it anyway? A walking billboard, sure, but one subject to my editorial decisions, not Salmond’s or Jenkins’. I, as both the subject and the art director, have full control over the image presented. The more people wear the badge, the more others are confronted with the debate, right? The more they are left questioning what they actually believe. This can only be a good thing, but it’s an empty statement. Good marketing, maybe. But there was no reason to vote yes inherent in my badge. It was simply a proposition.
I began to wonder if I was perhaps subconsciously trying to entice people to my side of the argument with my ‘look.’ Would people who already admired me (assuming there is anyone) be more likely to vote Yes because I was? Surely not. Would people who completely hated how I looked be enraged at my support of the Yes Campaign? Maybe if they were already Nationalists and my lanky teenage frame decked in double denim and stupidly bright trainers went against their ideal. That could be confusing to them. The Unionists though, I imagine, would simply nod and say ‘yep, he looks like a prick. And look, he’s voting yes. Well of course he is. The prick’
Another thing that struck me was how selective I became about when and where I wore the badge. I wouldn’t wear it to work, obviously, but I also found a certain anxiety about wearing it in front of my best friends – even though they already knew my preferences. I was fine with complete strangers knowing but not casual aquaintances where a friendship might’ve developed. Nor, actually, girls that I found attractive. I somehow couldn’t risk it.
Shop staff presented another contradiction. I was fine in Urban Outfitters (where a ‘typical Yes voter’ might shop) but House of Fraser presented a different anxiety. Clearly the stereotype of a Yes voter – and the places he should be – was as alive in my head as it was in anyone else’s. That badge meant I suddenly had to conform to everyone else’s prejudices. It was clearly not the symbol of rebellion I had hoped it would be.
This is perhaps because someone who feels the need to put their politics on their chest isn’t confident in their ability to defend their decision themselves. I came to the conclusion that wearing the badge was an easy out. It gave people my answer before they asked. It meant I didn’t have to think too hard about what I was supporting.
I looked more like I’d been sold the idea of independence rather than coming to it on my own. But after some more thinking and reading and a few more loud barstool discussions, I nailed down exactly what I stood for, and with that came confidence. Real conviction.
In the end, I wasn’t trying to sway anyone, except myself.