There are some incontestable certainties about Britain that the Scottish people will wake up to today. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s still actually there. As an outside observer to the YES and NO arguments, I might have assumed the physical location of the land mass was going to change; to be anchored further out to sea, making it even harder for the other people to get to. Secondly, the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west. Although – this being Scotland, after all – you may have to take that for granted rather than witness it with your own eyes. Thirdly – and of no interest to you at all, I’m sure – I will have been here in this wonderful country for exactly fifty-six days.
My experiences, attitudes, understanding, perspectives, etc, have changed in that short time. This change, subtle though it may be, has come about through my interactions with people from different walks of life. My profession (photography) is fundamentally about people. At its best, it records, empathizes with and understands social and cultural need. My work seeks to appreciate the values of cohesion and community, regardless of location. It aspires to capture environments that explain the quality (or lack thereof) of people’s everyday lives, regardless of ethnicity, class or boundary.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. I’ve had the chance to put whatever skills I have in these areas to positive use in many culturally diverse places in the United States of America. Whether it’s been in poverty-stricken parts of New York City, or in the various sensitivities of San Francisco, or in the forgotten Mid-West where an irrational fear of the ‘other’ drives otherwise rational people to violence, photography has provided a common language that tries to understand people and their hopes, fears, dreams, and concerns.
I was born and grew up in a small part of Houston, Texas, commonly and lazily described as ‘socially-deprived’. While life in Humble remains challenging for many, there’s a warmth and richness in the community to echo that of the other places I’ve been lucky enough to live and work in. Although I didn’t appreciate it when I should have, my hometown has intangible values that are a part of my soul and are the essence of the pictures I’ve taken. During the all-too brief period I’ve been here, I’ve seen people in Glasgow communities – not unlike those my forebears originated from – struggle daily with the pressures of simply living and existing. Addressing the unfairness and inequality in such situations should be the principal driver for those in elected positions of power. But sadly, it seems to me, that isn’t the case in the United Kingdom of today. Other more self-interested and parochial priorities now exist, excluding those most in need of prioritising.
I am not a nationalist, very far from it … more – despite my limited travel experiences – an internationalist. I am suspicious of boundaries, too aware that race or religion or class are often the basis of such exclusion. Too many in Westminster are ideologically opposed to the core philosophy of welfare and equality that rebuilt post-war Britain. However, the ‘Britain’ of 2014 is an outdated and divided conceit. It certainly isn’t ‘Great’. A more liberal, left-leaning and federalist desire to share out opportunity equally isn’t reflected in an English-nationalist-driven United Kingdom where maximising shareholder profit and promoting low rates of corporate taxation are the apparent priorities.
The people, places, music, literature, arts, and culture that are resolutely international as opposed to solely British, they aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be there to thrill and inspire an independent Scotland for the coming generations. I’ve interviewed and discussed the issue with many people in the past few days, and they’ve all expressed a level of uncertainty about both the immediate future, and about the prospects for the notion of a union. Whether now, or in future years, an independent Scotland is inevitable, they feel. Both sides of this most divisive of debates will face difficult economic issues and I’d advise anyone to be skeptical of those who would profess – with the certainty of knowing the sun will rise on this Friday morning – to know exactly what awaits Scotland in either scenario.
But I’m a pragmatic thinker and an optimistic dreamer in equal measure. As unlikely as it might seem now, an opportunity to help create the type of caring, socially responsible and equal society that I would want to live the remainder of my life in will always exist. For the people of Scotland, it might just be within a smaller context. Their future must become about people. And all people, not just the more privileged few. That’s an aspiration worth striving for.
I hope that becomes the unifying ethos of Scotland’s brave new world.