Sometimes an idea grips you in the guts and won’t let go. No amount of reasoning will dislodge it and in time one comes to accept it as a personal truth. So it is for me with Scottish independence. Wherever my thinking takes me I come back every time to a feeling that it’s against the natural order of things that any distinct nation should not be free to determine its own destiny. Sovereignty seems to me the national equivalent of freedom of speech or the franchise.
I imagine that this idea, and whatever its opposites may be, are just as deeply felt by the many others who have already decided how they will vote on 18 September – JK Rowling, for example, whose letter to The Telegraph this week, explaining her decision to donate £1 million to the Better Together campaign, has been praised by commentators on both sides for its considered and civilised tone.
That is what is good about this referendum. The temperature may be rising, there may be some outbursts of nastiness, but it is still democracy in action. Scotland’s future will be decided not by the bullet, like Iraq’s, but at the ballot box. To paraphrase the former SNP deputy leader, Jim Sillars, no matter what the outcome, between 7am and 10pm on 18 September 2014 we Scots will be truly sovereign, our future will be in our hands.
But that doesn’t mean that personal truths, or the prospect of sovereignty, are comfortable things to live with. And the more time passes the more unsettling it all feels. In many ways I can’t wait for the next 96 days to be over. I have never been that interested in politics per se, and I’m not good at arguing. I become too emotionally involved and end up taking things too personally. And in some respects I’m as surprised as anyone at the strength of my own feeling about independence.
I had an upper middle class upbringing in which any political shade other than blue was unthinkable. My parents opened the house to members of Alec Douglas-Home’s campaign team (including a young speechwriter called Nigel Lawson) during the 1963 Kinross and West Perthshire by-election. Ten years later my newly acquired stepfather, a hereditary peer, briefly held office as Minister of State for Scotland in the final years of the Heath government.
My experience of Scotland in childhood was the genteel New Town of Edinburgh followed, from the age of nine, by the Perthshire countryside; four months of the year at home among the children mostly of landowners, many of whom I still consider my friends, and eight months at boarding school, first in Scotland, later in England, being privately educated in a system in which Scottish history and culture barely figured. Following three years reading law at Aberdeen University, from which I emerged unsullied by political or cultural engagement of almost any kind, I spent the first 20 years of my working life in London, where Scotland was simply somewhere I went for holidays.
So what changed? It would be easy to say that all the while the maverick great-great uncle was whispering radical thoughts from the far side. RB Cunninghame Graham, my mother’s uncle, was a flamboyant aristocrat who helped Keir Hardie found the Scottish Labour Party and later became the founding president of the Scottish National Party. He loomed large in my childhood – but it wasn’t him. My mother had already bagged the old boy for herself and I gladly left him to her.
What changed was the coincidence of returning from London at the time of devolution. I found a different country to the one I had left. Scotland had become galvanised culturally, socially, economically. Through my involvement with the literary world, and more viscerally through my connection with traditional music, I discovered a Scotland I hadn’t known before, a place where there was new energy, a new sense of possibility, of achievement and pride in what was happening in the here and now. I began to connect more deeply with the country of my birth on many different levels and to understand more and more what a remarkable place it is. With that came a growing understanding that the status quo didn’t always serve Scotland well and that it could be more remarkable still if it were free to fully develop its own potential. Who, after all, would not want the country they live in to be the best place it can be?
But while I can’t deny my own deep feelings, I’m also aware that they don’t sit comfortably with many people I know and like and respect. I don’t, for example, run a business with customers in England or overseas. I don’t own land or an estate. I’m not involved in scientific or medical research. I don’t have a pension. And I don’t underestimate the anxieties of those who do or are, or pretend that independence doesn’t carry with it risk. It troubles me that our interests conflict, that this issue has the potential to come between us. So all I can offer is my best and heartfelt explanation of why I will be voting as I will on 18 September.
I will be voting Yes because I believe that everything begins in the imagination and only by imagining a better future do we stand a chance of having one; because my experience of working for many private and public sector organisations in Scotland leads me to believe that we have the energy, the creativity, the resourcefulness and the resources to realise that future; because in an ever more divided world we have a chance to redress the balance thanks to a genuine, widespread and deep-rooted Scots desire for a kind of social democracy that will never emanate from Westminster; because there is no shame in being small if one can contribute in a constructive, decent and dignified manner; and finally because not to vote Yes is to run the risk of being taken down a path I would hate to see Scotland follow. That to my mind is a greater risk than all the others put together.
Well then, good luck to you Jamie. We come from such different sets of circumstance – I was raised in a falling down slum, with one cold water tap for seven people who shared three beds regardless of sex. My family was proper working class, staunchly Labour and heavily trades union. My instinctive support for socialism slowly turned to disappointment in my 20s (three day week etc) and can now, in my mid-60s, best be described as fervent disdain. The movement towards ‘Yes’ has been so significant in recent weeks (from the low 30s to the mid 40s) that I think you can win it. The arithmetic is against you establishing a successful socialist state along the Scandinavian model (your tax bill will need to rise by 50%, and I can’t see where the income is going to come on which to tax in the first place). But, hey, we live in interesting times and may it long continue. I look forward to being proved wrong, on all fronts.
Good response. I agree. I think the tax bill will be much higher too, though no one can seem to agree on that. And I wonder…. I get the idea that Scotland can make itself better argument, but I also fear it will be a less influential country, small and less significant. See interesting article in Guardian by Vermon Bogdanor on Monday 23rd June.
Jamie, we agree on just about everything but this. Independence seems a bit of a romantic myth but for me interdependence is much more powerful and necessary. I’ll be desperately sad if Scotland cuts adrift because it will diminish Scotland and the rest of these islands. Two quotes spring to my mind – they’ll be familiar to you: “No man is an island” (John Donne and “Only connect” (EM Forster). See you in Spain, whatever our nationality at the time.
I heard someone from Norway saying they needed more of what we have at present in Scotland because life in Norway is dull …… this seemed to be relevant to the independence question… I so agree with the person who wrote that they are pro interdependence. To split off from the rest of the U.K at this point takes away from the richness we have by all being connected within this beautiful isle. It is an equally emotional point that we could loose the joined up feeling of all one and become a fragment of our current togetherness. It is my belief that we can all help each other in evolving as one for the benefit of all. We are, after all the same species, do we really need divisiveness in these times of rapid change in the world .. our amzing planet.
Beautifully written, Jamie, and a pleasure to read. Picking out Jim Sillars’ quote really gets to the heart of the matter: For 15 hours on 18th September 2014 the peoples of Scotland will have true democratic sovereignty for the first time in our history. The question is really whether we hold on to it or give it back.
When it comes down to it this referendum is about that and that only; oil funds, free childcare, even the rejection of nuclear weapons are policies we may or may not vote to pursue thereafter, clothes we choose to suit the weather, styles we may choose to adopt. The important thing is the body politic – the body of a nation. Should we choose to embody our sovereighty in a democratic Scotland? Like you, I say Yes.
Well said, Jamie. I will also be voting Yes, mainly because I have always liked breaking things. See you around!
I am not Scots so don’t have a vote but if I were, I would be with you.The telling point you make is the chance of having the sort of social democracy that we in England will always be denied because of the inbuilt Establishment and natural English conservatism and Conservatism. Oh, to be a scot….
This decision has always been about two questions for me. What do I want to change to create a better future?…….and……..What system will give me the best opportunity to realise these changes? This is why I will be voting YES on the 18th. Imagining is indeed the key!
I also come from a very different place -England – and a very different background – middle class – but will be voting yes. This is where I have made my life and found a much greater sense of community and social justice than where I was born.
If Scotland votes no, I see what we value being eroded even further by Westminster. If we vote yes, we have the chance to build the country of our dreams.
Still leaning toward Better Together!! If you found Scotland so changed for the better after devolution, then why does Devo Max not enthuse you even more, with the additional security of the Better Together arguments of deeper pockets to weather the storms, more influence in Europe, etc etc?? I agree with johnsimmons and his argument for a more and more global world… Why get smaller and more insular? I also fear, though you seem to have more optimism about the decency of the campaigns, the divisiveness of this whole debate!! I have heard ardent Yes campaigners say (when I have suggested that they might find No win out on Sept 18th!) that if that is the case they will be very bitter especially because they think the No campaign is based on lies and deceit from the ‘fearties’, as you noted in next post, as they continually call the Better Togethers (note they never credit the No campaign with that title!!). I fear this divisive speak and thinking, unfortunately it is still out there. And I fear those type in power!! Nationalist in the bad sense!!
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