I live at present with a constant ache. In my imagination I can see a different Scotland, I can feel it in my heart, I can almost taste it. In this Scotland I walk taller in the knowledge that we are at last one of that grown-up family of nations that run their own affairs. My pulse races at the thought of grasping responsibility, real responsibility, for the decisions we will take and the mistakes we will make. I thrill to the prospect of re-examining and challenging the attitudes and institutions and systems that hold us back. In my mind’s eye the seed of change is already pushing up resolutely through the earth and breathing the new, fresh air.
I know there are others, many others, for whom the same imagined miracle is taking place. But where is it validated? Where is the grand public echo of these private imaginings? Where are we being offered the vision that really speaks to us, that sparks an empathetic response, that stirs those emotions that pass through the filters of reason to become decisions?
Not in the media. A visiting alien whose first port of call was a news-stand could be forgiven for thinking that this is all about Alex Salmond and the pound. This is NOT all about Alex Salmond and the pound. By some measures, in fact, it is not AT ALL about Alex Salmond and the pound. It is not about the plausibility, the likeability (or lack of it), of one man; nor the possibility, the likelihood (or lack of it), of a particular economic arrangement. It is about something that runs far broader and deeper than these – which amount to no more than the desperately, tragically reductive view the No campaign resorts to because it has nothing positive to offer in its place.
The nearest thing to a positive argument I’ve heard is that there are good old ties that bind us, though even that comes with the implied threat of estrangement should we presume to separate. London was my home for 20 years. My half-sister and three of my four children now live in London (the fourth lives in Wales). My sister lives in Kent and I have many friends in England. I don’t see those as good enough reasons to pass up the opportunity for Scotland to become its own place, a better place – and I can’t for the life of me see that those bonds of love, friendship and familiarity would be weakened by independence.
I think I can understand the sense of sadness with which some of my English friends view the prospect of separation – perhaps a little like saying goodbye to my two young daughters on a Sunday evening when my first wife and I were first divorced; though knowing also that I’d see them again soon enough. But in my experience we tend to get over the things that make us sad and sometimes even something good comes from them.
If there is one sound reason, just one piece of visionary thinking, to suggest that continued union would bring benefit to Scotland, I will gladly listen to it; and by benefit I don’t mean that of the Margaret Thatcher variety. When asked what was the carrot she would offer Argentina just before the outbreak of the Falklands War, she replied that the carrot was that she wouldn’t use the stick. And so far, it seems, week after week, Scotland has been offered nothing but the stick. So when there are sudden protestations of affection, the cynic in me can’t help thinking that the principle reason the powers-that-be might be keen to keep us, the realpolitik of this whole business, is oil revenue and a handy anchorage for Trident.
Which is one side of the coin – and the negativity of No has me swinging from outrage to despair on an almost daily basis. But back to the other side, the vision of Yes – or lack of it, for which I despair no less. Where we are not hearing it is on the public stage. Where we are is off the page. We are hearing it on doorsteps, in village halls, in town squares, in housing schemes. I am hearing it in conversations with neighbours, who admit to being so preoccupied by it that they can no longer sleep. I am hearing it at events and in casual exchanges with fellow authors at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I have been most of this week. And I am hearing it from activists of all stripes.
Earlier in the week I went out with our local Westminster MP, Pete Wishart (SNP). It was a filthy day, cold and pelting with rain. We visited three town centres – Dunkeld, Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. In each we set up our little Yes tent, switched on the portable PA, sang a few songs then handed over to Pete to speak. Three times he addressed passing traffic, half-empty streets, a few rainswept shoppers, a couple of bedraggled dogs. But he spoke undauntedly and passionately of the future Scotland he imagines. He spoke straight from the heart, as he did earlier on in the year to a sniggering, jeering audience of MPs in the House of Commons. If you have the stomach for it you can watch his speech here – and if that doesn’t leave you thinking there’s something disgraceful about the way the business of contemporary democracy is done in the UK, nothing will.
But that was a rare moment and nowhere else in the mainstream do we hear the words that stir us imaginatively. The No campaign will surely do its best to keep it that way since it controls the channels of debate, where a relentless focus on the technicalities holds any possibility of inspiration at bay.
So it’s down to us to do what we can over our garden fences, on buses, in pubs and coffee shops and at local gatherings. And we do it precisely because we have something good and grand and shining to imagine. That’s where it starts, and that’s where it will continue, whatever the outcome on 18 September, and long after the current toxic cloud of contempt for a perfectly reasonable and decent aspiration has been blown away on the wind.
Click here for a collection of all my posts on the referendum to date.
I watched the video Jamie and I am conflicted. Back in the dawn of time when I was studying Economics A levels, I argued passionately about the impact disadvantages of joining the EEC against a tide of optimism. Fast forward around 40 years and there are similar arguments cultural, economic and political. Except for me the financials are less clear. I am also conflicted because I still believe in the concept of a United Kingdom but I have Scottish ancestry. I am a Forbes.
I like the passion of your fellow who was emotional but eloquent in the palace of corpulence and complacency. So as I love your writing I will dust off my Economics books and try not to get too emotional as I read your posts in the coming weeks.
I feel like I’m about to sound like a voice in the shadows whispering, “Keep going lad, keep going.”
I’ve enjoyed reading your blog over the last few months.
I don’t know if you’ve had much feedback. Please know I have certainly spent my weeks looking forward to my Friday fix.
It’s beautifully written, but we’ve come to expect that.
(I say “we” because I’m sure I’m not the only person sieving through the internet on a weekly basis hoping to uncover gold, or at least a well-turned argument.)
I am humbled by your quiet, well-articulated passion.
Modern debate seems to be a constant ping-ponging of “You’re wrong and I’m loud.”
Yours at least seems an invitation to a conversation.
I wish you well. And I hope the referendum turns your way.
My heritage is mostly Scot.
There’s a touch of Maori in there but it’s mostly border mongrel.
I have always loved stories of the heather and the highlands and damp, skirted men sitting in caves staring at spiders.
Growing up in South Australia, we were taught English history.
History written by Angles and Saxons and Anglophiles, filed to fit into English history books.
Darwin and Hume and Stevenson and Doyle. They were roses. I’m sure, these days, they’re taught as British. But, in my short-panted memories, these were English giants.)
The Wallace and The Bruce and Burns and The Jims, One and Six. Different names. Scottish names. Spoken of in hushed tones by my grandfather around a fire, waving a flaming stick of a sword, sparking revolution and collapsing, drawn and quartered, into his armchair.
Welcome tae your gory bed.
Or tae victory.
We loved those stories, not because they were anti-English, but because they were about purpose, and identity.
This is my point, I think.
It seems to be, from this vantage, the crux of your referendum.
To claim your identity.
It should be an easier task than it seems.
Your side wants to be Scottish.
The other side wants to be British.
(Something even the English have trouble with at times.)
Identity takes courage; to recognise it, to celebrate it and to defend it.
I wish you well.
Not just in the claiming of it, but in the growing of it.
It’s not often we realise the days we’re living will be part of history.
I hope you and yours will have the courage to write across the coming pages, “We are Scotland.”
And then one day, I can tell and re-tell the next chapter of Scottish identity to my grandchildren, in hushed tones, sitting around a fire. Writing on a referendum slip with a flaming flourish.
Good luck, Jamie.
Keep going lad.
Typo’s can be interesting & amusing. Recently I have been emailing friends & family discussing the pro’s & con’s of independence. On two occasions I typed Westmonster instead of Westminster, and it happened after I had watched the Pete Wishart Westminster (got it right that time, or did I?) speech.
On the one hand the NO campaign tell us they’re desperate to keep the Union together right after they have strongly inferred we’re an economic basket case and couldn’t possibly survive on our own. So my only conclusion can be that you’re right Jamie. They don’t really give a monkeys about us but they do want the oil revenue (wind forward 50 years and that will be renewable energy revenue) and a place for Trident.
I don’t understand why we haven’t heard that vision that you so eloquently right about. The Scots are a passionate people and would surely respond to it. Perhaps Alex Salmond is leaving this compelling message until the week before the referendum when it will hit hardest, be heard more widely and stay in the memory long enough to still be resonating on the day.
There are two ironies embedded in this debate.
The first is about self-determination. The influence of Scottish MPs (not to mention Scottish Prime Ministers) on British politics has been completely out of proportion for decades. As have Scotland’s voting patterns, which have most often been the deciding factor in electing a Labour government, when the English had voted Conservative.
The other irony – or it could just be wishful thinking – is the idea that Scottish politicians, given an independent Scotland to rule over, will behave any differently in Scotland to the way they behave at Westminster. Why will they?
The quality of politicians everywhere today is risibly low. There is no basis for believing they will be getting better any time soon.
Finally, Jamie, the English don’t give a toss where Trident is; generally don’t even know WHY it is. As for oil revenues, we’re all being lied to. Scotland either is or isn’t a net contributor to Britain’s tax revenues. You couldn’t tell me with certainty one way or the other; and I couldn’t tell you either.
There is one conclusion to be drawn from this: that the difference, whether it’s plus or minus, is so marginal that in a £trillion economy it’s loose change.
Good luck on the 18th. I’m at the point now where I hope you get what you want. I don’t want the Union splitting; in a world moving ever closer to global rather than local focus, smaller seems retrograde.
But the only way to settle this argument is for Scotland to vote Yes. If it goes the other way, the argument will continue, Scotland will get devo max, and the English will have to put up with another decade of hearing how awful our government is whilst watching the likes of Alex Salmond – a charlatan of the first order – walk the world stage being taken seriously by people who don’t know any better.
So – vote Yes, by all means. But be careful what you wish for.
You’re absolutely right, by the way, that in terms of friendships and families, it won’t make a scrap of difference. When push comes to shove, that’s the really important stuff.
By the way, I’ve never voted conversative in my life. Just in case anyone thinks I’m a Tory!
You a Tory, me a Martian, Paul. You’re quite right about the effect of the Scottish vote in electing Labour governments (though whether you’d call it disproportionate, I’m not sure). Anyway, on that basis Cameron and pals should be rubbing their hands at the prospect of Scotland leaving. On the second point, I was very careful to say democracy ‘in the UK’, in other words currently to encompass Holyrood – where the behaviour, I agree, is not much better. As for Trident, they don’t give a toss because it’s not in their back yard. I respectfully suggest that they might if it were. And oor Alec a charlatan? That’s a little harsh …
Some wonderful responses Jamie. You have struck a chord at an appropriate moment.